‘Half happy … half unhappy’

After viewing yesterday’s epic match at Anfield, the one image I’ll remember most is the one above, of Andrey Arshavin almost quizzically flashing four fingers to the crowd after smashing home his fourth goal of the night in the 90th minute of one of the most exciting matches of this Premiership season.

The diminutive Russian, who has now scored seven goals in seven games, was easily the evening’s shining star in what should have been an Arsenal win over Liverpool to move closer to third place in the league table. But once again, some shaky defending at the back just moments after a goal saw the Gunners lose two points late, thus leaving Anfield with a 4-4 draw.

In a game that included some shoddy defending from both sides, an incredible seven goals were knocked home in the second half alone, with Arshavin’s second of the night the most brilliant of the bunch. Nipping in to swipe an errant ‘Pool pass, he unleashed a spectacular long-range effort in the 67th minute to level the Merseyside match. Moments like that and his last-minute sprint and strike off a Theo Walcott feed have led to some supporters (on a web forum I frequent) already breaking out the “Arsenal legend” claims about our new number 23, even while they’re feeling a bit upset about the night’s final result.

Considering Arshavin’s performance, it was surprising to see comments of his own after the match, as he still believes he needs work on adapting to the Premiership game. The Russian told arsenal.com’s Richard Clarke that “If you look at the first half you never saw me except for one moment when I scored. It is difficult for me but I will try and I need time.”

Believing that “everybody else is ‘common’ to play with each other,” Arshavin added that he still has “to go through pre-season and after that everything will be in a good place. “I feel good but also disappointed because we did not get the result,” he told the club’s official site.

Goals from Arshavin actually gave Arsenal leads three different times during the eight-goal affair against Liverpool, but the injury-time equaliser from Yossi Benayoun left the Russian and his manager with mixed emotions.

“When we pressed forward we played good but when we dropped back it was very dangerous for us because Torres and some tall players won the ball,” stated Arshavin. “They got the second ball and tried to shoot but everybody must take responsibility for losing balls not just the defence and the goalkeeper. Everyone must help.”

Arsene Wenger was “half happy and half unhappy” with the result. Speaking about the night of mixed emotions, the manager believed “it was a game of a frenetic pace, and of top quality. Both teams created many chances and you can see when you play on a good pitch you can play football in the Premier League.”

Wenger comments on the club’s web site continued with him saying “we are  half-happy because we scored four goals but we are half-unhappy because we conceded four. As well, to be 4-3 up with two minutes to go, the team is disappointed. It was another great performance tonight and Liverpool maybe thought a draw was a fair result. The big regret we have is that 10 minutes into the second half we are 2-1 down, but not from something created by Liverpool; from balls we didn’t clear properly from the back.”

Leading up to last night’s match, most Gooners anticipating the encounter in Liverpool would certainly have had history on their minds recalling that most memorable of Arsenal matches twenty years ago at Anfield when the Gunners snatched the league title away from its rivals. Yet the morning after this latest Liverpool fixture, I compare it to two more recent games — the 3-3 draw against Leicester (in 1997?) which featured Dennis Bergkamp’s amazing hat trick, and the 4-4 scoreline earlier this season versus Spurs — both of which saw stoppage time goals by the opponents to wipe away seeming victories. Like my memories from those pulsating contests, I’ll remember some brilliant goals by an Arsenal star in this one only for a resultant three points to be reduced to one.

Such comparisons only add to the disappointment felt after Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal loss at Wembley, and point to the unsettling feeling and related questions concerning the current state of the Arsenal back four leading into the Champions League semifinals. Could Mikael Silvestre have been any worse the past game and a half? How soon will Djourou (and Almunia) be back from injury? Even with Alex Song’s recent strong performances in midfield, should he potentially be (or have been) used to partner Kolo Toure in defense? How can Wenger’s men tighten things at the back for the matches with Man United?

Even without Arshavin available for the CL, I am confident that Arsenal will score against the Red Devils. During and after the quarterfinal round, I heard a few pundits pick the Gunners to advance past Man U and into the final in Rome. But that was before the Gallas and Djourou injuries; I’m not sure the experts’ predictions will remain the same.

The situation and outlook is one that’s been repeated often in recent years: With the young Gunners once again building in confidence and attack, can the defense be tightened up and the inexperience overcome to prevail in big matches and actually win something? I guess we’ve heard that question too many times lately from naysayers, though even the most ardent of supporters must also have similar concerns.

But I’ll conclude by going back to Arsene Wenger’s post-match comments, where he noted that the fact his players “came into the dressing room very, very disappointed says a lot about their character. It shows they wanted to win and that we go for it every time. It takes quality to respond like we did today, only three days after the [FA Cup].”

During the club’s recent run of performances, I would agree with those thoughts and do believe that the character displayed in 2009 is a positive for the club as it heads into the CL semis. Like Wenger, I am also half-happy and half-unhappy with the result last night, yet still do believe in Arsenal’s efforts to build on the experiences the past few seasons and come away with some type of trophy come the end of May.

Let’s make the first piece of silverware in four years the big-eared one that crowns the champions of Europe!


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