Title race over, part five. Double turds.
Two heartbreakers in one week, but also two of the most exciting matches I've seen Liverpool in since Rafa's been in charge. The sting of this one is particularly profound, though, coupled with United's 2-0 win over Portsmouth. There was always hope after Liverpool's run in the last month, and in recent days that hope had hit a zenith. United had staggered, Liverpool couldn't stop scoring, and the first title in 19 years wasn't a completely ridiculous idea. Twenty-four hours later, the idea just got a whole lot more ridiculouser. That's a word.
Liverpool flew out of the gates and really should have been up at least one after twenty minutes when Lucasz Fabianski saved well on a piledriver from Fernando Torres. Despite giving up four on the day, Fabianski saved Arsenal's hide in the first half. Contrast to last Saturday, when he was wearing the Scarlet G. Liverpool had a flurry of attempts and half-chances, but it was Andrei Arshavin who nicked the opener in the 39th minute against the run of play. Obviously Masch was at fault for giving away possession, but some clever passing on the right side of the box played in Cesc Fabregas, who picked out Arshavin in the middle. The Russian poked home to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead headed into the half.
The second half started much the same as the first, but this time Liverpool had something to show for it. Fernando Torres scored on a magnificent header in the 49th minute to level things at 1-1, and minutes later Yossi Benayoun bundled home to give Liverpool the lead, 2-1. Eleven minutes later it was Arshavin again for Arsenal, scoring on an absolute thunderbolt after stripping Alvaro Arbeloa on the left side. Within minutes he had another, this time benefiting from a Fabio Aurelio give-away to put it past Pepe Reina. 3-2 and a hat trick for the January signing. To make matters worse, each goal was celebrated with a dainty finger to the mouth. Some 5'5" has never made me so angry.
The despair of going down a goal was quickly lifted, however, as it was Fernando Torres again to the rescue. In the 72nd minute he controlled well from Albert Riera's low cross, feinted around Silvestre, and smashed past Fabianski to level the score again. After a couple more Liverpool chances missed, Arshavin scored his fourth on the break, catching Liverpool with too many men forward. Credit to him, he was a ghost for 86 minutes, but the finest footballer on the planet for four. As has been the case with Liverpool all season, though, injury time proved to be vital. Yossi Benayoun scrambled home a loose ball from a Javier Mascherano header, wrapping things up 4-4.
I think the worst thing about the draw yesterday was how simultaneously thrilling and maddening it was to watch. There were moments of sheer brilliance followed by moments of utter stupidity. Liverpool were exploited defensively against Chelsea, mostly on the counter, but there were no direct mistakes as there were yesterday. Three giveaways that result in a goal...granted there was plenty of work to do on two of them, but this is something that we've only seen recently. Yesterday wasn't a matter of over-committing the fullbacks (except for the last goal, when they had to over-commit to try to find a winner), it was just a matter of an inability to clear the ball or maintain possession in the Liverpool half. It was a different story in attack, as Dirk Kuyt worked his fine looking face into the ground, and the interplay between him, Fernando Torres, and Yossi Benayoun was phenomenal.
This is the point of the season when it's all about results, and unfortunately Liverpool could not find the right one yesterday. It's unlikely that we'll see United drop two in league before the end of the season, but stranger things have happened. Saturday at Hull will be a good one-they still have a lot to play for, and I hope Liverpool don't let up despite the title seemingly out of reach. Everton's draw with Chelsea means the Reds are still firmly in second place, but I'd hate to see any trail off the rest of the season.