Squarefootball Diary; Wenger

Squarefootball Diary - Tuesday April 8 2008

Liverpool’s mystifying grip on the Champions League is again in evidence as Arsenal’s dreams die on another vintage European night at Anfield.

Far the better side for much of the first half, Arsenal take the lead on the night and on aggregate when Abou Diaby crashes a low drive past the chocolate fingered Pepe Reina. Yet on 30 minutes veteran defender Sami Hyypia evades the admittedly slack attentions of Philippe Senderos to place a perfect header over the head of Cesc Fabregas on the line.

The teams are much of a muchness until Fernando Torres turns the luckless Senderos before crashing in a sublime drive on 69 minutes. Arsene Wenger’s side are forced to chase the game once more and look to have succeeded in doing so when Theo Walcott embarks on a sizzling 80-yard dash before squaring for Emmanuel Adebayor to equalise with just seven minutes remaining. The Togo international’s goal puts Arsenal ahead on the away goals rule, and leaves Liverpool’s Champions League hopes hanging by a thread. A thread is all this lot need in Europe.

Seconds after Adebayor’s goal Ryan Babel squirms past a couple of defenders before drawing contact from Kolo Toure inside the box. Referee Peter Frojdfeldt has no hesitation in awarding a penalty, converted by an apparently nerveless Steven Gerrard. With Arsenal now growing more desperate by the minute Dirk Kuyt’s agricultural hack is chased down by Babel, who goes on to outpace a fatigued Fabregas and fire past Manuel Almunia;

“When we went to 2-2 so near the end, my players showed tremendous character and desire to get up off the ground to win the tie.” says Rafa, as excited and inspired as an eight year-old who has just been to watch Rocky III at the cinema.

Wenger points the blame in the direction that is most often favoured by managers of recently defeated top four Premier League sides;

“I felt the game was over at 2-2. Then there was a dodgy penalty and we started to lose concentration.” he cries, adding;

“It was not a penalty. I have seen the replay but we were denied a clear penalty last week. That was a real penalty, this one wasn't.”

The Premier League is guaranteed a representative in the Champions League final in Moscow after Chelsea earn another semi-final shot at Liverpool. Avram Grant’s side overturn a 2-1 first leg deficit thanks to goals from Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge;

“We needed to win and we did. In Turkey we played better than we did today, but the result was the important thing.” croaks Grant, a bright white caterpillar-type creature jumping around on his shoulder;

“I don't know the future but we will do our best to be in the final.” he says, careful not to make the promises so beloved by his predecessor.

FA Cup finalists Portsmouth make more progress in the Premier League, winning 1-0 at West Ham United. Niko Krancjar’s second half goal is enough to see off the beach-gazing hammers and keep Portsmouth within cooey of fifth placed Everton;

“I took West Ham to fifth spot once when I was here and it would be nice to do the same with Portsmouth.” reflects Churchill (what? I meant Winston), narrowly failing to fit the word “I” into his sentence for the third time.

There are two key Championship games to report on, affecting both the top and the bottom of the table. West Bromwich Albion return to the top of the tree with a 3-1 win at Blackpool which leaves the Seasiders still very much involved in the relegation shake-up;

“I feel somewhat devastated. We played really well against a side which has been put together in a much more expensive manner than ours.” offers Blackpool boss Simon Grayson after swallowing a thesaurus.

Sheffield Wednesday cannot take full advantage of Blackpool’s defeat but remain outside the drop zone despite blowing a 2-0 lead in the Sheffield derby. James Beattie’s free-kick with five minutes left breaks Wednesday hearts, and keeps the Blades in the dizzy heights of 13th;

“The first thought that came into my mind was disappointment. When you're 2-0 up it's shut-up shop time.” observes Wednesday boss Brian Laws, making a list of missing valuables.

League One action sees Swansea City still waiting to confirm their promotion to the Championship, but stretch their lead to four points after a goalless draw at Carlisle United. Southend United jump above Nottingham Forest into fourth place with a 2-0 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at Roots Hall, coupled with Forest’s 1-1 home draw with Bristol Rovers.

Milton Keynes Dons climb back to the top of League Two with a 4-1 romp over an apparently doomed Wrexham. Rochdale hold on to a place in the play-offs after beating Notts County 4-2, a result that leaves the league’s oldest clubs just three points off the prospect of spinning out of it. One-one draws between Bradford City and Barnet and Morecambe and Shrewsbury Town are likely to never ever be remembered by anyone.

By Stephen Orford

10 April 2008