The English Premier League is constantly heralded as the best football league in the world by the British media and billions of fans globally. Since it’s formation in 1992, the Premiership has witnessed epic moments both on and off the pitch.
As we’ve flagged off the season, let’s reminisce on one of such moments. It may not be up there with Cantona’s Kung-fu kick or Kevin Keagan’s “I’ll absolutely love it, love it if we beat them” but is nonetheless impressive.
In Late April, AD 2009, arch-rivals Manchester United and Liverpool, sharing between them more than 30 league crowns, entered the final furlong of an interesting title race. United led their bitter rivals by a single point. The Reds needed to win their upcoming games to keep up the pressure. Winning their next game in particular would take them 2 points ahead of their rivals who were not in action till the next day.
Enter Arsenal, Liverpool’s opponents at Anfield for the English Premier League match held on April 14, 2009. Arsene Wenger’s team had nothing to really fight for. Having acted like they were really interested in winning the league this time, their season subsequently unravelled in the manner we’ve become well acquainted with.
With Anfield packed and the Kop in full bloom, by 7:04 pm GMT, referee Howard Webb whistled for kick off. Few could have predicted what ensued. Liverpool began the game with the urgency of a team on a mission. Fernando Torres sending Kolo Toure on an errand to get Cappuccino from the nearest Starbucks as early as the 3rd minute.
That was only before testing Lukasz Fabianski’s ability to hold a football.4 minutes later Albert Riera tested the Pole from the edge of the penalty area. He was equal to the task again.
A behaviour uncharacteristic of the part-time goalkeeper/full-time howler merchant. The pattern was set for the first 25 minutes of the game. The hosts dominating and creating chances while Arsenal defending resolutely (I am serious).
A weak penalty claim by the Liverpool players was put forward. The incident where Mikael Silvestre brought down Dirk Kuyt on the edge of the box waved away by Howard Webb. The Londoners’ 1st real chance came in the 28th minute via a quick counter. It involved Andrei Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas and
Mavin Records artiste, Nicolas Bendtner from a poorly taken Liverpool corner, Fabregas failing to test Pepe Reina as his shot flew wide.
Torres and Fabianski’s bromance continued to blossom as the goalkeeper fumbled a fierce drive from outside the area by ‘the kid.’ He was visibly relieved as Silvestre cleared with Yossi Benayoun lurking to pounce on the rebound. Few minutes later, a quick exchange of passes between Fabregas and Samir Nasri resulted in a truly against the run of play goal as Arshavin smashed the ball into the net off the underside of the cross bar from a pulled back pass by Fabregas.
Liverpool nearly responded immediately as Benayoun forced Fabianski into making a smart one handed save. Benayoun headed over the bar from Alvaro Arbeloa’s cross, as half time approached with Liverpool dominating proceedings and Benayoun in particular looking very much up for it. The score at half time was very flattering to the Gunners who led one goal to nil.
The second half began in similar fashion to how the first had gone with Liverpool dominating. It didn’t take long for the equaliser to arrive, coming 4 minutes from the restart. Bacary Sagna made a meal of a simple clearance, Dirk Kuyt intercepted, ran to the by-line and floated a good cross for Torres to place a firm header past Fabianski. 7 minutes after equalising, Anfield had its lead. Liverpool’s forwards pressured Fabianski and Gibbs who contrived to hand the ball over to the opposition. S
omething Robert Mugabe hasn’t been able to do since 1980.
Kuyt once again with the assist and Benayoun the recipient diving to head in as Fabianski made a vain attempt at clawing away the ball before it crossed the line. Xabi Alonso’s free kick in the 60th minute went wide and minutes later Riera could only find the side netting with Torres better placed inside the penalty area.
Wenger made his and the game’s first change bringing on Theo Walcott for Denilson with 25 minutes of 90 to go. A defensive error by Arbeloa who failed to control Carragher’s downward headed clearance gifted Arshavin his second goal of the evening. The Russian nicked the ball from the Spaniard and let fly from some 25 yards out beating an outstretched Reina.
Before everyone could catch their breath Arshavin was at it again, this time capitalising on a skewed clearance by Jamie Carragher to rifle a shot in from just outside the 6 yard box. Anfield was engulfed by silence wrought by disbelief. Liverpool having been in control of this game now trailed once again courtesy of the Russian’s hat trick.
The Arsenal midfielder had somehow scored more goals in this game than the 2 he’d managed in the league season up to that point. Liverpool however were not taking this intrusion lying down as Torres scored a gorgeous equaliser to take the scores to three all.
Reds gaffer Rafa Benitez brought on Ryan Babel for Riera. Bendtner had a goal correctly disallowed for offside. Kieran Gibbs made a goal line clearance from a Torres header and Carragher shot over the bar from an Fabio Aurelio cross. It was all happening as Liverpool pushed Arsenal unto the ropes in search of a knockout blow. As Torres and Co. pushed forward recklessly in search of a winner, spaces did abound behind them.
Hither came Theodore who broke at pace from a Liverpool corner down the right side of Anfield’s hallowed turf. At an opportune moment he made a delightful offering of the ball to comrade Arshavin who had kept pace with him, a most daunting pilgrimage. He received the pass with a touch to calm the ball before rifling a shot past Reina. Cue Pandemonium in the away end of Shankly’s cathedral. The clock had just chimed 90 minutes as the ball flew into the net.
Liverpool surely beaten. You wish! In the 3rd minute of added time, Javier Mascherano headed a cross across the face of the Arsenal goal with nerves jangling. The Londoners were unable to deal decisively with the danger leaving Benayoun to pop up and fire Liverpool’s 4th in to cap a mad mad night at Anfield. Everyone involved looking a cross between perplexed and exhausted at the final whistle.
What makes this game a defining moment in history is, it marked the end of Liverpool’s second genuine title challenge since their last triumph in 1990. The draw left them top only on goal difference with United yet to play Portsmouth the next day. Fergie’s men also had a game in hand.
Another wild game against Chelsea led to Champions League elimination for the Reds. Next up? A period of tumult ensued with infighting between Benitez and the owners, ridiculous transfer dealings and subsequent sale of the club to follow.
Arsenal showed in this game the quintessential qualities of Wenger’s teams of his 2nd decade in charge of the club; breathtaking attacking play,a brittle defence, promising young players performing reasonably before crumbling under pressure, and a smattering of word class talent.
Add to that an assortment of attacking midfielders in the starting XI and Theo Walcott threatening to fulfil his potential.
Also this was Arshavin’s Magnum opus, a truly virtuoso performance against genuine title heavyweights. By scoring 4 goals that night, he became the second Arsenal player to score four or more in a league game, the other being Thiery Henry.
The 4-4 draw between Liverpool and Arsenal in April 2009 had the excitement, boisterous atmosphere, thrilling football, individual brilliance, managerial jostling and all that the Premier League relentlessly markets (including Lord Bendtner) around the world as part of its brand as the greatest football league in the world.
The version of this game we saw this past weekend was exctiing but not half as exciting as our Throwback game.
Article by Ernest Bosha (@ernyy_B)