Tuesday, April 19, 2011

An Orderly Cosmos

photo by frankpiersonvia PhotoRee

Columnist Scott returns to our pages, this time with a neat description of Liverpool's never-say-die comeback at the Emirates on Sunday.

April 17 / The Emirates / London, England

Liverpool has never beaten Arsenal at the Emirates, and that did not change today.  What did change is everybody’s mind who thought that Arsenal had a chance in hell of topping Manchester United in the league this year.  A flurry of penalties after the 98th minute all but ensured that Arsene Wenger’s men will remain without silverware yet another year.  Sir Fergie, beaming from the stands (or was that just his ruddy nose?), surely suppressed a round of chest thumping as he saw the only team that could catch him in the standings tap Dirk Kuyt on the shoulder a bit too roughly, thereby sealing their doomed fate.  But there was a game before the final spot kicks…

After starting with 10 minutes of conservative yet probing back and forth play, Arsenal settled into their home and ratcheted up the intensity.  A swerving shot from Walcott, followed by a header off the crossbar by Koscielny, were separated by several free kicks won just outside the Liverpool penalty area.  Then it was Reina snatching a Nasri cross from the salivating Walcott’s path.

The situation didn't improve for the Reds when the injured Fabio Aurelio was forced off and replaced by the teenage Jack Robinson, the second Liverpudlian defender with just shy of 2 decades’ worth of lifetime experience - experience that seemed to be lacking when the other chronologically challenged defender, John Flanagan, picked up a yellow card for a rash tackle.  Perhaps feeling a bit paternal and not wanting the youngster to feel too bad, the impeccably inked Skrtel followed suit three minutes later and left half the Liverpool defense on caution.

The perpetually pesky Suarez was simply sloppy for much of the first half, squandering a one-on-one opportunity by passing backward to a grateful Arsenal defender.  Nor did he and Andy Carroll seem to be in synch, hooking up fewer times than Elton John at Lilith Fair.  Fortunately, Robinson’s fiery baptism seemed a doddle to him as he snuffed out Walcott on the wing time and time again.  And, aside for the errant “punch” that allowed Koscielny’s clang off the crossbar, Reina smothered everything within a wide radius.   Not even a hand/chest block by Kuyt in the area could prevent the game being scoreless at halftime – the announcers correctly pointing out that the chest had been struck first.  But perhaps that no-call was a harbinger.

The second half started painfully as Eboue and Carroll went down, the latter giving the Liverpool fans a scare as they watched his twisting knee and ankle on the replay.  But fans of both teams were frightened by Jamie Carragher’s cranial collision with John Flanagan that left the stout fullback unconscious on the pitch (he later came to in the locker room).  These injuries forced Dalglish to replace Carragher with Kyrgiakos and Carroll’s manly mane with Shelvey’s shiny pate. 

With 15 minutes to go in regulation, you could feel Arsenal sense that the league title was slipping away.  And yet it was Liverpool who were pressing, with Suarez testing Szczesny who, albiet low on vowels, was equal to the task.  And while I can’t speak quite as colorfully as the exuberantly (and creatively) profane Arsenal fan whose seat was (perhaps for the last time) uncomfortably close to the announcers’ booth, he was correct, although I’m paraphrasing, that Cesc Fabregas and Co. seemed to be mailing in their final minutes of duty.  Until the 85th minute when a sublime touch by Nasri set Van Persie free in the box, only to have his side-footed attempt swallowed by the ravenous Reina.

Pushing the boundaries of tasteful alliteration, the 87th minute saw the selfish Suarez ignore a wide open teammate as he tried to defy physics with his shot from the endline.  This was followed in the 90th minute by Song attempting to best Suarez’s physics feat by bouncing the ball off the ground and over the goal with his header.   Then, in the 97th minute (8 minutes having been added for injury time) the real drama began….

Spearing, who had been brilliant all game, both offensively and defensively, made an ill-conceived challenge on Nasri who made sure that not only the ref, but also those who may have been viewing from the recently-demoted planet Pluto could see.  Van Persie converted and it seemed it was all over.  Until….

In the 99th minute, Liverpool, showing their resolve (and belief in an orderly cosmos – Pluto’s demotion notwithstanding), pressed forward and were fouled on Arsenal’s 18 yard line.  With each team pointing to the advantageous side of the line, the referee (perhaps with some hesitation to be manifested in a later call) signaled for a free kick literally one inch outside the box.  With the final whistle sure to blow any second, Suarez’s shot rebounded high and wide with Kuyt and Eboue scampering in its path.  Then, with a hard exhale and the aforementioned tap on the shoulder, Eboue stomped on Arsenal’s faint glimmer of league glory when Kuyt felt that tap and the concurrent air on his neck and, mimicking Nasri’s  thespian efforts, fell to the ground with more conviction than the poor, senseless Carragher had earlier.

Kuyt’s encore was a flawless penalty conversion and, like abstract art, was only appreciated by true fans, of which Aresene Wenger was not one, finding it impossible to shake hands with the understandably jovial, if not entirely professional, Dalglish.

This is farlieonfootie for April 19.

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