By Richard Clarke
Arsenal will have to invoke the spirit of the San Siro for their Champions League Quarter-Final second leg at Anfield next week.
Liverpool would appear to have gained the advantage after securing a 1-1 draw in the opening rubber at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night.
Emmanuel Adebayor gave Arsenal the lead with a thunderous header in the 23rd minute but Liverpool grabbed a vital away goal three minutes later when Dirk Kuyt scrambled home from close range following fine work by Steven Gerrard.
Arsenal bossed the second half. They might have had a penalty when Kuyt manhandled Hleb then Cesc Fabregas had a goal-bound effort inadvertently cleared off the unguarded Liverpool line by team-mate Nicklas Bendtner.
Undoubtedly, the prevailing post-match feeling was that Rafa Benitez' side have gained the whip-hand in the tie and Arsenal should have got more on the night. However the same was true in the last round when Milan came away with a 0-0 draw. Only for Arsenal to pull off the perfect 'Italian Job'.
Arsène Wenger's side now need a similar script at Anfield. The manager will argue his side his cast are more than capable.
And, despite a tinge of disappointment this evening, this story is sure to have a few more twists and turns next week.
Wenger made two changes from the side that had stormed back so splendidly at Bolton on Saturday. Adebayor returned for Bendtner up front and Emmanuel Eboue replaced Abou Diaby with Hleb switching flanks from right to left. It was a familiar 4-4-2 for Arsenal.
Liverpool had a more complex 4-2-3-1. But the 'one' was none other than Fernando Torres, the Premier League's in-form player.
In previous European meetings under Benitez, the Anfield side had been characterised by caginess but the opening stages this evening were not short of attacking intent. Although clear-cut chances were still hard to find.
In the second minute, Pepe Reina rushed out to meet Adebayor as he raced onto a long ball down the right-hand channel. The striker skipped around the keeper and for a second Liverpool looked stranded. However the Spaniard recovered and charged down Adebayor's attempted cross in the manner of the most dogged centre back.
Arsenal had their own scare when Sami Hyypia, up for a corner, was found by Xavi Alonso's angled, arrowed pass. Fortunately Fabregas muscled him off the ball before he had time to getaway a shot.
The home side created a small flurry of chances just before the midway point. First Toure flashed a header wide from a Fabregas corner then Flamini sent Van Persie clear but the Dutchman, off-balance and over stretching, flicked the ball high.
The goal followed straight afterwards. It came from a corner caused when Reina saved low from Van Persie. The Dutchman and Fabregas worked it short between them. When the ball came in, Adebayor rose on edge of the six-yard box to thunder home a header.
It was both his second goal in 10 games and his 24th of the season.
The strike was met with elation at Emirates; this tie had been billed one that would be decided by the narrowest of margins.
However, Arsenal's ascendancy would last three minutes.
Gerrard collected the ball on the left just outside the area and breezed past a couple of challenges before stabbing a low cross into the heart of the six-yard box. Despite the attentions of Clichy, Kuyt slid in the equaliser.
It was a scruffy goal but, the Arsenal fans feared, a vital one too.
Unsurprisingly the home side lost some of the edge up to half time. Ryan Babel tested Almunia with stinging low drive and Torres caused concern with a high, hanging cross to the far post.
Adebayor did have a threatening drive charged down three minutes before the break. But the rapier attacks that led to Arsenal's goal had been blunted.
There was a surprise after the interval. Van Persie did not emerge for the second half because of a reported thigh problem and Theo Walcott came off the bench. The youngster took up a position on the left flank and Hleb pushed into the centre.
Kuyt and Babel tested Almunia with low shots early on but Walcott breathed life into the Arsenal effort with a rocket of a shot 10 minutes in. Cutting on from the left, he let rip. The drive looked like it might squeeze inside the post before Reina thrust out a palm to divert the ball wide.
Liverpool responded with pressure but Arsenal were still the more incisive side. Midway through the half, Adebayor prodded a pass towards the left-hand byline and Walcott turned on the turbo to cut the ball into the area. Reina was stranded at the near post but, when the ball reached Eboue in the centre, the Ivorian slipped. His contact was poor and Liverpool cleared their lines.
However, almost immediately, the ball was returned into the visitors' area. This time Hleb latched on and looked certain to score before Kuyt hauled him back. It looked a penalty but referee Pieter Vink waved play on. A controversial moment.
Arsenal were now dominating. In the 70th minute, Adebayor skipped to the byline and chipped a high cross into the area. Fabregas arrived to poke it towards goal but Bendtner, only recently introduced off the bench, prevented the ball creeping in the far post when he was trying to help it in. However it would not have counted as the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Arsenal huffed and puffed in the final stages but they failed to blow apart the Liverpool defence. The nearest they came was when Fabregas ghosted a header into Reina's arms in injury time.
- Eboue 67
- Adebayor Goal!
- van Persie 46
- Walcott 46
- Bendtner 67
- Alonso 75
- Torres 86
- Kuyt Goal!
- Babel 57
- Benayoun 57
- Lucas 75
- Voronin 86