As far as I’m concerned, we passed our supposed "first test of the season" with flying colours. In all honesty though, first test my arse – our first test was when we went one-nil down to Fulham, and then there was the first visit to the North-West graveyard at Blackburn, not to mention traditionally tough derbies at the Lane and Upton Park. But I digress. Mean Lean has done a fine match review so I’m not going to dwell on the whys and wherefores of the game, I’ll just try and give you the thoughts of someone who was there.
My day began at 8am. As my alarm went off I panicked to make sure I hadn’t got it wrong ‘cos of the time change. Bleary-eyed, I made my way to Northwood to meet my regular Arsechums: Dschin and DJ. However there was soon to be a fourth member to the group…a Scouser called Nick.
We negotiated the journey up to Liverpool pretty successfully, arriving in good time to watch the boys train. Our seats were shocking though. We were at the very back of the lower tier, which is never the best of places at any time, let alone when there is a roof arching down and encroaching your view.
The travelling Gooners were in good voice, they knew that Anfield is always a good indicator of how the season turns out. Our last league victories there have come in title-winning seasons, and given our recent form a win was more than a possibility. The Scouser in our ranks had said before the game that listening to You’ll Never Walk Alone would move him to tears. Well sorry mate, you didn’t get to hear much of it! The Anfield anthem was drowned out (at least in our ears it was…) by chants of "We won the league at Merseyside" and the expected retort of "Sign on, with a pen in your hand".
Last year we had a ‘mare of a start here, conceding very early to Crouch, after which we crumbled. From where we were sitting, it was never a free-kick, but I’m now reliably informed that it was. Whoever was fouled (I think Alonso) did a helluva good swan lake impersonation though. As Stevie G lined-up the free-kick, you almost knew it was going in. I have terrible luck with away games, each one I’ve been to in the last two seasons, we’ve conceded first. At the time I didn’t know who the guilty party was for the disintegration of the wall, but let’s just say I was not best pleased. We need to sort this out, similar happened at the Lane when Bale managed to get one over the wall due to lack of jumping, we simply can’t make the same mistake again.
The rest of the first-half felt like Arsenal domination but with little end product. Liverpool had a tendency to knock it long (and that’s a euphemism); every time their keeper or defender had the ball they bypassed a very talented midfield and launched it skywards. Cries of "Oh Jonny Jonny, Jonny Jonny Jonny Jonny Wilkinson" emanated from the away end, but that was nothing compared to the undoubted chant(s) of the day: "Liverpool HOOF the ball" and "Arsenal PASS the ball". Nonetheless, it was working for the Scousers as they went in ahead at the break.
The biggest bit of positive news the travelling fans got (until the equaliser of course) came when the PA announced that our old muckers from down the road had lost at the home to Blackburn, which garnered a big cheer.
The beginning of the second-half seemed quite sloppy, neither team seemed to take full control. And then some way into the half came our first close shave as Eboue struck the post and Cesc somehow knocked the rebound over. As I’m not the tallest of guys, all I could do was take note of the reaction of the rest of the travelling fans and the Liverpool fans opposite us to gather what was going on. I vaguely seem to remember Crouch unleashing one from 20-yards which Almunia did brilliantly to tip over. The changes came and seemed to reinvigorate the team as Theo, Bendtner and Gilberto replaced Rosicky, Clichy and Eboue (who had another Jekyll and Hyde game).
I don’t remember any of the build-up to the equaliser, all I can see in my mind’s eye is Cesc breaking into the box and prodding the ball. Naturally, I couldn’t see where the ball ended up, but the wild celebrations in front of me told me all that I needed to know. Immediately me and Dschin (we’d been standing in the gangway up until that point) seeked out our mate DJ who’d gone forward a few rows. With 10 minutes left, I said to Dschin that I’d take a draw there and then, being the pessimistic git that I am. But that would underestimate the team as they came mighty close to grabbing a winner with Cesc striking the foot of the post and Bendtner blazing over the follow-up. One bit of action that seemed to go unnoticed amongst the travelling hoards was Carragher’s wrestling of Cesc in the box. I don’t think the players appealed much, and the fans in my area certainly didn’t. Just shows you how good Carragher is at doing that.
There was nearly a horrible sting in the tail as deep into injury time Gerrard broke free in our box but was denied by a lunging Willy Gallas block. Another thing I noticed at the end was the desire we exhibited to win the ball back, particular mentions go to Cesc for leaping to win a header and a magnificent sliding tackle on Gerrard by Flamini.
So it finished up at 1-1. The Gooners were in bullish mood – although we knew that we had the chances to win that, the fact that we went to Anfield and played Liverpool off the park shows how far the team have come and were still disappointed. Normally teams coming to Anfield would be delighted with a late draw, but our players had mixed emotions.
Speaking of the players, the outstanding performers were Hleb, Gallas and Toure in my eyes. Now that I’ve seen the highlights I fully appreciate Hleb’s vision and patience in creating the equaliser, whilst Kolo and Captain Willy were immense in the face of the aerial bombardment. Willy in particular, I thought, had his best game in Arsenal colours, typified by that last-ditch block on Gerrard. On a more disappointing note, Ade looked a bit off-colour and has done so for a while now. His work-rate was decent but his touch was lacking and he drifted wide too much. When playing with a partner that is all good and well, but as the lone striker I felt we needed him to provide more of a target in the middle. There were times when he had the ball out wide and the midfielders struggled to race into the box, leaving us toothless and lacking in the cutting-edge. We seemed to be a bit too intricate at times, maybe the two facts are linked? With Ade wide and no-one to aim for in the box, the ball had to go backwards or sideways a little to often.
Fans watching on the telly may have been more disappointed than those at the game because they had numerous replays of the penalty incident and I’m sure Sky showed Cesc’s and Bendtner’s open goal misses over and over again, but for those in attendance that was a magnificent performance, full of heart and spirit and no little skill either. There was little annoyance or anger at missed chances at the end of the game as we applauded our heroes in white, they had done us proud. Just like the Tottenham game, these are the ones where you look at the team’s collective character and see whether they can go on to achieve something special together. In that sense I think we may have put some doubters to bed. On the way out of the ground I said to my mates that a result and performance like that was mentally as good as a win somewhere else.
Having got out of Liverpool at around 7.30, little did we know that we’d end up back in London way past midnight. But I wasn’t too fussed: last year I went to Anfield on a sunny Saturday afternoon, had decent seats and we got battered 4-1. This year it was pissing down with rain, my seats were crap but we battled (and then some) to a more than creditable draw against one of our biggest rivals. I know which scenario I’d take any day of the week. And that’s why my glass was half-full.
*Disclaimer – these are the views of someone who had quite possibly THE worst seats at Anfield and thus opinions/facts may be incorrect/inaccurate. When it says "Severely Restricted View" on the match ticket, it ain’t joking.