Arsenal 1, Liverpool FC 0: full time report
FROM derby joy to Diaby despair. Just when it appeared Liverpool had turned the corner, they found themselves up a familiar cul-de-sac last night... Another visit to the Emirates ended in another disappointing evening for Rafael Benitez's side as their winter revival came shuddering to a halt. So much for talk of closing the gap on third-placed Arsenal.. This, if any were necessary, was a reminder the Anfield outfit are still facing an almighty scrap to claim that fourth and final Champion League qualification berth. The defensive resolve that guided them to victory over neighbours Everton at the weekend had looked set to gain at least a point from their meeting with Arsene Wenger's side. But once Jamie Carragher was forced to limp off shortly after the interval with a suspected hamstring problem, matters began to unravel with Abou Diaby capping concerted home pressure by heading in a Tomas Rosicky cross for the only goal of the game with 18 minutes remaining. Arsenal were never quite the 'wounded animal' that Steven Gerrard had warned of following the recent collapse, and it is hard to shift the nagging suspicion Liverpool spurned an opportunity to extend their seven-game unbeaten Premier League run. Instead, they have now not won in six visits to the Emirates and not since February 2000 have they returned to Merseyside with three points from Arsenal. Liverpool only seriously threatened once going behind, but it took a fine save from Manuel Almunia and the width of the crossbar to prevent substitute Ryan Babel netting a sensational equaliser. The injury to Carragher further deepened the gloom for Benitez, the absence of another first-team regular the last thing the manager needs with Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson and Yossi Benayoun all still sidelined for at least the next three weeks. Going into last night's game, Liverpool's encouraging form was in stark contrast to Arsenal, who had seen their domestic campaign crumble in the three weeks, an FA Cup exit at Stoke City followed by a goalless draw at Aston Villa and back-to-back defeats to championship rivals Manchester United and Chelsea. It increased the pressure on Gunners manager Arsene Wenger with his team's five-year wait for silverware in great danger of being extended by another year. With Sotirios Kyrgiakos beginning a three-match suspension following his derby dismissal, Martin Skrtel replacing the Greek centre-back in the only change from Saturday's victory. After the medieval battle with Everton at the weekend, the first half was a much more sedate affair last night. Arsenal, confidence shaken by recent results, were slow out of the blocks and it allowed Liverpool to gain an early grip on proceedings that, by and large, they maintained until the interval. The fine destructive efforts of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva protected the defence with the home side rarely threatening Pepe Reina's goal. Liverpool were handed an early warning in the seventh minute when slack marking at a Cesc Fabregas free-kick from the right allowed William Gallas the space to send a free header over from eight yards. The nearest the home side came was in the 26th minute when Liverpool nemesis Andrey Arshavin slipped a pass in for Nicklas Bendtner, only for the recalled striker to shoot wildly from the angle.
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