Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gerrard shares the glory with Fabregas

After swapping goals and sharing points, Steven Gerrard and Cesc Fabregas instinctively sought each other out at the end of this compelling encounter. Liverpool's personification of total commitment embraced the embodiment of Arsenal's Total Football. Respect ruled.
Gerrard and Fabregas uttered a few words of praise, and parted, returning to team-mates who were experiencing conflicting emotions. Liverpool had surrendered the lead to Fabregas' late equaliser and lost Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres to injury.
Liverpool's 1,000th league draw saw them slide from fourth to sixth over the weekend, with Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers on the rise, but they will take heart from some stirring performances from Jamie Carragher, Mascherano, Gerrard and Peter Crouch's lively second-half contribution. Equally encouragingly was a timely reminder of Rafa Benitez's ability to set up teams intelligently in shape and mood.
Urgency characterised Liverpool's play, Benitez's men snapping into tackles from the first hint of Howard Webb's whistle. Andrei Voronin nailed Fabregas early on and was booked, rightly so by the excellent Webb.
The message from the men in red was clear. Liverpool were determined to turn their season around, silencing the growing dissent towards Benitez over his controversial rotation policy. Of the 2,243 entrants who hazarded a guess at Benitez's line-up on, the website dedicated to the manager's whims, only three cracked the code.
With Alonso and Mascherano anchoring a 4-2-3-1 formation, Gerrard was given the attacking platform he craved. With Dirk Kuyt and Voronin stretching the midfield and Torres the target man, Gerrard enjoyed space, setting the stage for his sixth-minute strike.
A system beloved by sides in Benitez's native Spain accommodates Liverpool's most talented central midfielders (Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard), so Alonso's cruel re-acquaintance with the nightmare of the metatarsal means Benitez may have to place the strategy on hold (unless he gambles with Momo Sissoko). Alonso injured himself landing awkwardly in pursuing a dropping Gerrard free-kick, again raising questions over the strength of the modern boot to withstand high-speed impact.
If mixed feelings over a good point earned at a cost suffused Gerrard and company, Fabregas' team did not know whether to punch the air in joy or beat the ground in frustration. Delighted by their recovery from Gerrard's stunning opener and the late reward for their fine passing and moving, Arsenal still left Anfield believing they should have scored more.
The ambition in the visitors' ranks was voiced by Fabregas. "We always played good football, but we didn't win," said the Spaniard, whose team head the Premier League table on goals scored. "We are disappointed. I scored but I also hit the post. We could have been two points in front with one less game played than Manchester United."
Sir Alex Ferguson had vacated his seat in the directors' box by the time Fabregas struck, but United's manager will have seen enough to know next Saturday's summit meeting at the Emirates will be typically feisty. Whether it will also be a spectacle of flowing football remains to be seen.
What is guaranteed is that neither Ferguson nor Wenger will compromise.Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez will work their moves around Manuel Almunia's box just as Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Alexander Hleb and Gael Clichy will raid into Edwin van der Sar's box.
If Wenger can teach Emmanuel Adebayor how to avoid the offside trap over the next five days, Arsenal will be an even greater threat on Saturday. The bonfire party weekend promises so many fireworks, that anything less than 90 minutes of sparklers in North London will feel like a damp squib.
Unless Rooney lets fly, the match may not see a goal as thunderous as Gerrard's here, the ball touching 70mph as it sped into Almunia's net. Gerrard played the catalyst and the executioner. A thumping challenge on Mathieu Flamini brought the ball into Liverpool's sway. An initial shot caused chaos and, in the ensuing mess, Fabregas tripped Alonso and Gerrard had his set-piece chance from 20 yards.
Arsenal's wall was poor, the human barrier dissolving into a loose confederation of bodies, and Gerrard took full advantage. Running onto John Arne Riise's tapped pass, Gerrard targeted a gap and the ball disappeared past Almunia.
Euphoria and relief swept around Anfield. Yet as the fans celebrated, wiser heads knew Liverpool really needed the insurance of a second. Even a goal down away from home, Arsenal did not panic. They just sought to pass Liverpool to death, producing the type of one-touch movement that must have revived memories on the Kop of past Liverpool sides.
Pepe Reina saved from Adebayor, following a superb pass from Fabregas. Arsenal's pressure was relentless, forcing Gerrard into some magnificent tackles on Hleb and Kolo Toure. Carragher made some vital clearances.

Even though Liverpool had good chances through Gerrard, Crouch and Riise, Arsenal got their deserved equaliser following a wonderful dribble by Hleb. He picked out the run of Fabregas, who calmly placed the ball past Reina. Fabregas and Gerrard both had great chances to settle it, but the honours were rightly shared.

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