League leaders drop points as Manchester United lose to Aston Villa.
|Arsenal winning won’t make the headlines – but Liverpool losing will [GALLO/GETTY]|
“The season starts today”, said Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez earlier this week.
It might need to wait until tomorrow after Liverpool lost at home to rivals Arsenal in the fight for the English Premier League top four, leaving the Reds reflecting on yet another costly defeat.
The result means that Arsenal keep their title hopes alive, and Liverpool now can surely only aim to stay in the top four and European contention for next year.
Arsenal scored twice in the second half to keep the pressure on Chelsea and Manchester United.
The Gunners trailed to a 41st-minute goal by Dirk Kuyt but Liverpool defender Glen Johnson levelled the scores five minutes into the second half with an own goal.
Russian Andrei Arshavin was again the mastermind behind Liverpool’s downfall, firing home the winner eight minutes later with a shot from the edge of the area that left goalkeeper Pepe Reina stranded.
Victory lifted Arsenal to 31 points, three fewer than defending champions United and six fewer than leaders Chelsea. But the top two sides have played one game more.
It was another bitterly disappointing result for Liverpool and can only increase the pressure on Benitez.
His team were last season’s runners-up but now remain stranded in seventh place with 24 points and six losses in 16 matches.
His team did not just suffer defeat here but also another psychological blow.
Saturday December 12
Birmingham 1-0 West Ham
Sunday December 13
Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
Liverpool could easily have led by more than a single goal after dominating the first half, with Fernando Torres shooting weakly at goalkeeper Manuel Almunia when he was unmarked in front of goal.
It was a mistake by Almunia that led to Kuyt’s first goal at Anfield in three months.
Almunia punched weakly at a long-range free kick by Fabio Aurelio and the ball fell straight to Kuyt in the area. The Netherlands forward had time to control the ball with his chest and prod it into the net.
Wenger took his team to task at half-time, prompting a much tighter second-half performance from his team.
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas said coach Arsene Wenger had been appalled
at his team’s first-half performance.
“The boss screamed at us like never before,” Fabregas said.
“He said we did not deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt if we played like that.”
|Torres has made a welcome return to fitness but was unable to influence the scoreline [AFP]|
Wenger’s words obviously had some effect as Arsenal started playing more narrowly in the second period and pressured the home midfield, resulting in possession being split more evenly.
The equaliser arrived after Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas played a pass to Samir Nasri out on the right.
Jamie Carragher failed to clear the Frenchman’s cross and the ball took a slight deflection off him before hitting Johnson and rolling into the back of the net.
Arshavin, who scored four goals at Anfield last season to earn his team a 4-4 draw, then collected the ball on the edge of the area.
A defender shielded him closely and seemingly blocked his way to goal, but the Russia international took one touch, turned and hit a shot between his opponent’s legs.
Reina did not even have time to move his feet as the ball flew past him and into the net, off his right-hand post.
Arsenal’s win was especially valuable after United lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa on Saturday, when leaders Chelsea were held to a 3-3 draw by Everton.
The Gunners have a real chance of winning the title for the first time since 2004, although Arshavin limped off in injury time and may join fellow forwards Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendnter injured on the sidelines.
For Liverpool however, the way forward looks increasingly pressured.