This is serious. This is BIG. A clash of the titans. The greatest show on earth. Star wars. The Battle Of Britain. The Day Of The Triffids. It’s the quarter finals of the European Cup, and it’s all back to Anfield after last week’s underwhelming draw between Liverpool and Arsenal. The two sides, of course, also played out a 1-1 draw on Saturday (though Arsenal deserved to win that one), but tonight is different. It’s winner takes all. The final countdown. And so on. actually, these all-English European Cup matches are considerably less exciting than they used to be, in no small part because they seem to come around every year now, and because it’s always the same four teams involved. I’m taking a guess that Manchester United supporters will be rooting for Arsenal tonight, while Chelsea supporters (and this is presuming that they’re not preoccupied with their own team’s needlessly tricky home match against Fenerbahce this evening) will presumably be supporting Liverpool. Me? I couldn’t care less, really. The winners will be playing Chelsea in the semi-finals, so the neutral should probably be getting behind Arsenal, if for no other reason than at least it gives the semi-final a tenth of a chance of not being a complete and utter shitfest in the semi-final should Chelsea do what they should do this evening and see off their Turkish opposition. The teams line up as follows:
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Torres, Kuyt, Crouch.
Arsenal: Almunia, Toure, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy, Eboue, Flamini, Fabregas, Diaby, Hleb, Adebayor.
Back soon for at least ninety minutes of high-octane football excitement!
19.45: Kick-off. Liverpool in red, and Arsenal in their change kit of white and that colour that isn’t quite red but isn’t really burgundy either. Arsenal are attacking the Kop end in the first half. Not literally “attacking”, obviously. Eleven men against 15,000? That would be madness.
19.48: “It’s no night for neutrals”, says Clive Tyldesley. Oh, is it, Clive? Perhaps the millions of us watching that don’t support Liverpool or Arsenal should switch over and watch “Location Location Location” instead. Idiot.
19.52: “Peter Crouch scored a wonderful hat-trick for Liverpool against Arsenal last year”. If Peter Crouch scores a hat-trick tonight, I’ll kill a seagull with my bare hands and eat it.
19.56: Emmanuel Adebayor has been caught offside twice already. I can’t but think that he is going to score tonight. Meanwhile, Chelsea have, with depressing predictability. scored against Fenerbahce at Stamford Bridge. They’re ahead on away goals now.
19.58: GOAL – Liverpool 0-1 Arsenal: Well, that was predictable enough. Diaby exposes Reina’s near post frailty with a powerful shot that looked, at first glance, as if it might even have passed in through the side netting. It didn’t, though. Poor goalkeeping, and Liverpool’s away goal has gone *poof*.
20.02: Yellow card for Senderos. More for a procession of itchy, annoying fouls than for anything else. Eboue’s deflected shot is saved comfortably by Reina, but Arsenal look comfortably better than Liverpool in every department at the moment.
20.06: Diaby’s cross is scrambled clear by Reina with Adebayor leaping for the ball like a ballerina who has forgotten 90% of everything she learnt whilst with the Bolshoi. Again, there’s space down that left-hand side for Arsenal – every time they go forward, they’re cutting through Liverpool like a hot knife through butter.
20.11: Kuyt lunges for the ball with Diaby and goes down like a sack of potatoes, and momentarily looks like the greatest injustice in the history of mankind has been perpetrated against him. The replay, of course, confirms that Diaby played the ball.
20.16: GOAL – Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal: Possibly the least deserved goal I’ve ever seen. Gerrard crosses deeply from a corner, Senderos gets distracted (presumably by something shiny) and Sammi Hyypia heads in from about twelve yards out.
20.21: Arsenal have wobbled slightly since the goal. They’re looking a little bit more panicky, as one might expect from the team that hasn’t been playing especially well recently. Fortunately for them, though, Liverpool still seem likely to lose the ball every single time they get possession of it.
20.25: A couple of scores from elsewhere. As you may already know, Stoke lost their crucial game against Crystal Palace last night. West Bromwich Albion, however, are a goal down at Blackpool. It’s as if they’ve all had a look at Derby County this season and decided that they don’t actually want promotion. Meanwhile, if Torquay lose at home to Oxford and Aldershot win at Ebbsfleet, Aldershot will be promoted into the Football League, but both sides are losing 1-0 at the moment.
20.32: I don’t want to say this too loudly, but… I think that Jim Beglin might have an erection.
20.33: Half-Time – Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal: Well, Arsenal had the right idea for the first twenty-five minutes, but went completely off the boil after Hyypia’s equaliser, and Liverpool have dominated things since then. Liverpool’s limitations are pretty obvious – Alonso seems to be in rehearsal for a part in a new TV series called “The Life Of Bollards”, and Steven Gerrard’s apparent impulse to shoot every time he gets the ball within thirty yards of goal lends a panicked air to their attacking. Still, they’ll go in with their heads up – impossible to say how this one will unfold in the second half.
20.49: The second half started without me even really noticing. Some neat control from Crouch, but then a tame shot which is comfortably gathered by Almunia. Jim Beglin seems to have calmed down a little, thankfully.
20.55: “George Gillett and Tom Hicks are not here this evening”, opines Tyldesley. Cue a picture of… George Gillett sitting in the stand. The ball is thrashed into the Arsenal penalty area and bounces wide off the side of Peter Crouch’s shin, and he isn’t offside. That’s England quality finishing, there.
21.05: A neat bit of trickery from Eboue to turn past Hyypia, but he shoots into the side netting. This match has gone off the boil since half time, in case you were wondering.
21.08: As if by magic, Sheffield United have pulled a goal back against Sheffield Wednesday. If Wednesday piss that two goal lead away, they deserve to go down. Meanwhile, Portsmouth have gone 1-0 up at West Ham in tonight’s sole Premier League match.
21.12: GOAL – Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal: Fernando Torres has done the sum total of bugger-all this evening. Then, suddenly, he gets the ball in the left hand corner of the penalty area and absolutely belts the ball into the top corner. Liverpool are going to get into the semi-finals of the European Cup again, aren’t they? No chance of extra-time or penalties now, either, by the way.
21.15: A long ball through and Adebayor finally springs the offside trap. He seems to get stuck in two minds between whether to shoot first time or try and bring the ball under control, and ends up doing six of one and half a dozen of the other, and the ball dribbles harmlessly wide. Walcott on for Diaby too, by the way.
21.18: A very important goal in the Conference, where Aldershot have gone 2-1 up at Ebbsfleet. With Torquay still drawing at Oxford, Aldershot will be promoted back into the Football League as Conference champions if things stay as they are.
21.25: GOAL – Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal: It had been looking as if Arsenal had completely run out of steam, but then Theo Walcott carries the ball three-quarters the length of the pitch and tees up Adebayor to score.
21.27: GOAL – Liverpool 3-2 Arsenal: Amazing stuff! Liverpool carry the ball straight up towards the Kop and win a penalty. Steven Gerrard puts the ball into the top corner from the penalty and Liverpool are back in front with five minutes to play.
21.33: As the clock ticks over 90 minutes, there are a lot of shots of Arsenal supporters at the point of being in tears. Amount of sympathy here = zero. Liverpool will play Chelsea in the semi-final – Chelsea are now 2-0 up against Fenerbahce.
21.35: GOAL – Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal: Arsenal have thrown everybody forward – Liverpool clear the ball long, and Ryan Babel breaks clear, holds off Fabregas, and scores to wrap the game up for Liverpool. In all honesty, Liverpool don’t really deserve it.
Full Time – Liverpool 4-2 Arsenal: Let’s not forget that this was not amazing fayre for the full ninety minutes. The first thirty-five minutes of the second half, for example, was dismal. They will play against Chelsea in a match that might just bore us all to death. Just think. One of those two will be most likely be playing Manchester United or Barcelona in Moscow next month. Do catch up, European football – you’re just not trying hard enough if bloody Liverpool are one of the best sides in Europe. In the Championship, West Brom ended up winning 3-1 at Blackpool, whilst Sheffield Wednesday did indeed throw away that two goal lead – it finished 2-2 at Bramall Lane. Finally, Torquay rallied to beat Oxford in the end, so the Cava will have to stay on ice for Aldershot until Saturday, at least.