(Liverpool win 5-3 on aggregate)
By Chris Harris
Arsenal's European dream ended at Anfield on Tuesday night after a contentious penalty settled a pulsating Champions League tie in Liverpool's favour.
The visitors controlled the first half-hour and deservedly went in front when Abou Diaby lashed a shot past Jose Reina after a slick exchange with Alex Hleb. That gave Arsenal a 2-1 aggregate lead and a much sought-after away goal.
Liverpool levelled when Sami Hyypia was allowed a free header from Steven Gerrard's corner and got their noses in front when Fernando Torres struck with 22 minutes left. But Arsenal hit back when a brilliant 60-yard run from substitute Theo Walcott set up a tap-in for Emmanuel Adebayor. With just seven minutes left and a second away goal in the bag, a Semi-Final spot beckoned for Arsène Wenger's side, but the match turned on its head in an instant.
Seconds after drawing level Arsenal conceded a penalty when Kolo Toure was adjudged to have fouled Ryan Babel. Gerrard fired emphatically past Manuel Almunia, then Babel scored in stoppage time to put the tie beyond doubt.
It was harsh and heartbreaking for Arsenal . Now they must pick themselves up for a game which will have a huge bearing on their Premier League fate - a trip to Manchester United on Sunday.
Wenger opted for one change from the side which started last week's first leg. Robin van Persie was back in the squad after suffering a recurrence of his thigh injury in that game but he had to be content with a place on the bench. Diaby, serving a domestic suspension, came into the side on the left while Hleb was deployed in a central role.
Before the game there was much talk of the 'Anfield factor' and how the Liverpool crowd are their team's '12th man'. It's easy to raise an eyebrow at such rhetoric but, make no mistake, the pre-match rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and the roar which greeted the two sides deserved its star billing.
It was up to Arsenal to dilute, if not mute, that noise. It took them just 12 minutes.
Cesc Fabregas and Toure linked up well on the right and the Spaniard came inside to pick out Diaby on the left. He found Adebayor but his cross was blocked by Reina. However the danger had not passed. The ball was cleared to Flamini 30 yards out and, after a touch from Fabregas, Hleb picked out Diaby's run into the box. The Frenchman fired in a low shot which clipped Reina and flew inside the near post.
That changed the whole complexion of the tie. Liverpool's away goal had earned them the 'favourites' tag after last week's 1-1 draw but Arsenal's away goal restored their aggregate lead. Indeed, another Arsenal strike would leave Liverpool needing three.
That looked increasingly likely as Arsenal continued to dominate. Four minutes after the goal Adebayor raced down the left, looked up and cut the ball back towards Eboue on the edge of the area. The Ivorian flicked the ball up with his right foot and fired in a volley with his left which took a deflection and almost rolled beyond Reina's reach.
So much for Liverpool's '12th man'. Arsenal's passing was so crisp and measured, they seemed to have 13 men on the pitch. Fabregas, Flamini and Hleb were in control and the visitors had Liverpool where they wanted them. Then they let them off the hook.
Fabio Aurelio's volley over the bar lifted spirits among the home fans and, after 29 minutes, Liverpool equalised. From Arsenal's point of view it was a soft goal. Almunia's cleared needlessly out of play and, from the resulting throw-in, had to back-pedal to tip Aurelio's cross away after a wicked deflection off Toure. Gerrard swung in the corner from the right, Philippe Senderos lost Hyypia and the Finn's firm header beat Fabregas on the line and flew in off the post.
Now Liverpool had the momentum. Kuyt's clever pass gave Xabi Alonso acres of space to measure a cross from the byline. Almunia flapped as the ball was curled into the box but Eboue headed clear while Crouch lurked behind him. Then Gerrard's pot-shot fizzed just over as Liverpool got the bit between their teeth.
Seven minutes before the break Arsenal suffered another blow when Flamini, already nursing a kick from Javier Mascherano, was caught by Gerrard. The Frenchman could play no further part and on came Gilberto. The first half finished with Liverpool in the ascendancy; the second half started in much the same way.
On 52 minutes Torres foxed Senderos, shimmied past Gael Clichy and crossed from the right byline. The ball bounced to Aurelio on the corner of the box and his first-time effort hit Crouch and rolled a few yards wide. Arsenal looked shaky and the home crowd, silenced by the visitors' opening salvos, were back in full voice.
Arsenal tried to respond. Clichy surged down the left and found Hleb inside the box with a low, driven cross. The Belarussian worked half a yard of space but his shot was instantly charged down. Then a flowing move down the right saw Toure pick out Eboue's run inside the box. The Ivorian skipped past Martin Skrtel but could only find the side-netting as Adebayor screamed for a cut-back.
Arsenal seemed to have drawn Liverpool's sting but Torres had other ideas. With 22 minutes left, the Spaniard controlled a flick-on by Crouch, held off Senderos and turned before smashing an unstoppable shot past Almunia from 12 yards. Advantage Liverpool.
Wenger acted quickly. Off came Eboue and Diaby, on came Van Persie and Walcott. Within seconds Arsenal should have been level as Hleb's diagonal pass dissected the Liverpool defence. Adebayor only had Reina to beat but screwed his shot wide. It was head-in-hands time.
Arsenal kept pressing and, with seven minutes left, Walcott conjured up a brilliant goal. Collecting the ball deep inside his own box, the teenager skipped past tackle after tackle before squaring for Adebayor to tap past Reina. Cue pandemonium in the away end.
That second away goal looked decisive but, within seconds, Toure was penalised after clashing with Babel inside the box. It looked harsh on the Ivorian but Gerrard didn't mind. He crashed the spot-kick past Almunia and Arsenal, cruelly, were out. Babel's stoppage-time effort on the break merely confirmed it.
- Senderos Yellow Card
- Toure Yellow Card
- Eboue 72
- Diaby 72 Goal!
- Flamini 42
- Adebayor Goal!
- Walcott 72
- Silva 42
- Persie 72
- Hyypia Goal!
- Gerrard Goal!
- Torres 87 Goal!
- Kuyt 90
- Crouch 78
- Arbeloa 90
- Riise 87
- Babel 78 Goal!