Liverpool turn on style for third Champions League semi-final in four years again with Chelsea
For the neutrals, the game had goals and controversy regarding a penalty claim yet again between these two sides. The Arsenal - Liverpool trilogy at an end, fixtures that set an enthralling anticipation at who will be the victor in all three games, with Premier League points and Champions League progression at stake. Fundamentally, the underdogs in all three games, practically in most fixtures between the two, in Liverpool would have to thoroughly impress to maybe match, if not overawe, the stern Gunners team.
Arsenal were the better side in the 1st leg, and last night they carried a quicker start and stronger fight for the first 25mins, culminating in Abou Diaby's goal early on. As much as Arsenal are known for not giving up, coming back from being behind, sometimes quickly, Liverpool are less know for that and to do so within 17mins of Diaby's goal was crucial, Phillippe Senderos outwitted by Sami Hyypia for the Finn's placed header off the post.
Liverpool scored a crucial second goal via Peter Crouch's flick-on for who else but Fernando Torres to chest control, turn and fire past Manuel Alminua. A fiercely taken goal from the Spaniard. Arsene Wenger made prominent changes in bringing on Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie for Emmanuel Eboue and Diaby some 20mins from full time, while Liverpool made their first in Ryan Babel for Crouch, both proving pivotal. A mis-kick by Steven Gerrard found Walcott with a run that bounced off Liverpool players and a pass that just escaped Martin Skrtel to find Emanuel Adebayor for Arsenal's equaliser. Arsenal were then six minutes from the semi-final and Liverpool looked to face what they had to in the 2007 final, the need to find a goal in mere minutes before the whistle.
And they did, from their first attack thereafter. The apparent adage is you are more vulnerable after you score, and here that adage is debatable. Babel went between two players and emerged into the box, only to stumble down. Kolo Toure was the nearest at the time and he was judged to have impeded the Dutchman, was booked and a penalty given. I felt it was genuine enough, less genuine than Alexander Hleb's in the first leg, and the captain stepped up, in front of the Kop, to score. Very very important.
Arsenal had to push for an equaliser again and having all gone up to leave Fabregas alone in their half to deliver a free-kick, the ball was cleared out superbly by Dirk Kuyt towards Babel, and with Fabregas failing to thwart him even with a pull of the shirt, Babel remained strong and determined to deposit Liverpool's 4th goal in late injury time. Having faced Juventus and Chelsea, Barcelona and Chelsea and now Arsenal, Liverpool have emerged from some of the best in Europe to face another in Chelsea, again, one step away from the final. It's a good feeling.
Arsenal look to pick up their season quickly to focus on a travel to Old Trafford at the weekend, another crucial game. Utd face Roma in their 2nd leg tonight.
Chelsea booked their semi-final place with a 2-0 win over Fenerbahce. With the aggregate at 2-1 to the Turkish side, there was a small element of concern Fenerbahce would be as difficult at The Bridge as they made it at Sevilla, but with an early header by Michael Ballack Chelsea held the advantage and had to soak up a number of Fenerbahce pressure which stand-in keeper Hilario, in for hamstring victim Carlo Cudicini, did great to thwart and keep confidence in the side. Late towards the end Michael Essien remained rugged to deny challenges by the touchline to thread a pass into the box, Frank Lampard touching in from yards.