By Matt Fortune
Part one of the Liverpool trilogy has been played out. It will
recommence on Saturday. The focus will now switch from Europe to
the Premier League and, unlike the midweek game, the two sides have
very different targets.
Liverpool seem favourites to clinch fourth spot after a win in last weekend's Merseyside derby - a draw would probably be seen as a good result for them. Arsenal, though, need to win. Anything less and their title charge may be over.
We spoke, once again, to Tony Barrett of the Liverpool Echo to gauge his reaction to Wednesday night's events, as well as look ahead to Saturday's match. Read on for his thoughts on Hleb's penalty shout, the importance of Gerrard, why Mascherano's absence could be a blessing and how he expects Benitez to ring the changes.
What is your reaction to Wednesday's Champions League first-leg tie?
"It is pretty much the perfect result for Liverpool. It is
exactly what they were looking for. Getting the away goal will have
a massive impact on how the team approach the tie. It is far from
over. It will be huge at Anfield. Arsenal played fantastic in the
second half, really pinned Liverpool back and it was a combination
of good defending, some poor finishing and a little bit of luck
that kept it level. Liverpool will be delighted with the draw and
they will be confident in the second leg."
Are you at all worried that Arsenal seemed to create numerous chances against a Liverpool side that had set out to defend?
"They did create chances. I think people expected that
because Arsenal do play good football and they do have a great
creativity about them so I wasn't surprised with the chances
they had. The fact was that the majority came in a bundle, a lot in
the second half over about 15 minutes but once that was finished,
Liverpool were a lot more confident than might have been expected.
Arsenal will do the same at Anfield which was why the away goal was
so crucial. Arsenal are capable of scoring at Anfield, just like
they will anywhere."
What was your view of Alex Hleb's penalty appeal?
"It was a penalty. As soon as I saw it, I watched Hleb come
across Kuyt and his arm does come out and he catches Hleb. There is
a tug there but the referee missed it. It is one of those you can
say that Liverpool got away with it and I wouldn't begin to
contest that one."
It appeared that the failure of zonal marking cost Liverpool on the goal. Do you agree?
"No. Adebayor's movement is very good. He starts on the
goalkeeper and then backs away about five yards. When he gets there
he is totally free and unmarked which means there is a clear
failure on some part. I spoke to Sami Hyypia after the game he said
he would take responsibility for that one. He said that initially
he didn't think Adebayor would get over it but he did and it
was fantastic header, the keeper had no chance. A poor goal to
concede from Liverpool's point of view though."
Once again it was Steven Gerrard to the rescue. How vital is he for the club?
"Top class player who can deliver on the big stage. We have seen it so many times before and no doubt we will see it again. The run was fantastic, he surged through a couple of challenges and showed that he can be pretty much unstoppable when he gets his head down and runs at players. He took players out of the equation and the ball across was perfect. But I must say full credit to Dirk Kuyt who still had players in attendance but managed to squeeze it in - a poacher's finish from him."
What did you make of Torres' performance?
"I am not so sure Torres had a quiet night, it was just a
different night. David Moyes said it is like having two centre
forwards up there because he occupies so many members of the back
four at one time. Liverpool tired to go on the break, I think too
early at times, and Torres had to do a lot of leg work. He
didn't have the kind of dramatic effect he has had on games
recently but what he did do is tied the Arsenal back four down
quite a lot. That stopped Clichy getting forward as much as he
would like to for example. Although I did think Clichy was
fantastic, Arsenal's best player on the night."
Did Benitez get his tactics spot-on?
"The result says he did. If you go to Arsenal at any time
and get a draw you have done well. If you go there in Europe and
get a draw and an away goal it sets us up perfectly so I would see
it was right. You will have to ride your luck because you won't
go to Arsenal and have it all your own way. I think he will be
looking to do the same in the home leg because Liverpool don't
need to score now."
Turning to Saturday, are there any injury worries?
"Fabio Aurelio took a knock towards the end and Torres went
off to but I think he was just exhausted. There are no real
injuries; it is just exhaustion that Liverpool will have to be wary
Do you think it will more of the same come Saturday?
"I think there will be a few changes. The League game is much more important to Arsenal than it is to Liverpool at this stage so I don't think Wenger can rest as many players. I think you might see quite a different Liverpool side to the one that played on Wednesday.
"I think they will be similarly set-up on Saturday, just a change in playing personnel. Peter Crouch could start. Perhaps there will be two up front, with Andriy Voronin who needs some minutes under his belt. The defence too could be different. I still think Rafa will want to keep it tight and hit Arsenal on the break, but perhaps with a 4-4-2."
But there will be no Javier Mascherano. Is that a problem?
"Not really. It means he will be really fresh for the
second leg of the European tie which is important with Cesc
Fabregas in the Arsenal ranks. It is a big plus to have someone as
fresh as Mascherano to look after him."
Would what be a good result for Liverpool?
"I think a draw will be an excellent result because Arsenal are obviously are going for the title and they will be pushing hard. For Liverpool the need is not so great having won the derby they have that five-point cushion so I think the way they set up will be with on eye on the return leg on Tuesday. They will be looking for a point, at the very least, but maybe the Champions League will take precedent.
"I don't think a loss will have any affect at all to be honest. If you look back on the years when Liverpool have done well in Europe they have lost to some of the lesser teams in the Premier League. One time against Crystal Palace, who were fighting relegation, Liverpool lost and came back string to reach the European Final. There is a whole list of occasions when Liverpool have let themselves down in the League and them three or four days later they have proved people wrong. I don't know how they do it because if you're short of form you shouldn't be able to pick yourselves up as easily as they do."Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source