Rosicky and Henry leave holders empty-handed
By The Observer
Updated Sunday, 7th January 2007
Last season's Cup winners have also lost their comebackability. If Liverpool were surprised by the two first-half goals from Tomas Rosicky that left them chasing this tie, they were amazed by the coup de grace from Thierry Henry that knocked them out just as they were hauling their way back.
So Arsenal march on towards Wembley, while Liverpool will have to get past Barcelona or look to the League Cup. With another meeting between these clubs already due to take place on Tuesday in the latter competition, at least no one wanted a replay.
Arsenal did not need to worry about being physically intimidated by Liverpool - if Arsene Wenger could play teams built by Rafael Benitez every week, he would not need to complain about lack of protection from referees - though lesser sides could easily have been unnerved by their fans. To say Anfield was noisy at the start of this Cup tie would be the understatement of 2007. The Kop welcomed the television cameras as promised, with a superbly orchestrated protest over slurs on fans' behaviour at Hillsborough, recently re-aired by Kelvin MacKenzie. He was editor of the Sun at the time of the original accusations. The display lasted exactly six minutes into the game - though with grim irony, fans were warned that holding up placards during play would infringe safety regulations - then switched off with military precision, to coincide with the time when the 1989 FA Cup semi-final was abandoned. The protest was replaced by the type of sustained din usually reserved for big European nights.
When that died down and the game broke out, there was a decided edge to it and Steve Bennett was kept busy attending to small fires all over the pitch. Luis Garcia and Emmanuel Eboue were sensibly just lectured for what was little more than a shoving match, despite the Liverpool player falling to the floor as if poleaxed. But after Xabi Alonso was shown yellow for diving, Philippe Senderos and Gael Clichy swiftly followed.
The first half-hour passed fairly uneventfully, with Peter Crouch firing too high at one end and Aleksandr Hleb seeing a shot blocked at the other, before Tomas Rosicky quietened the crowd with a completely unexpected double whammy. With Liverpool gradually cranking up the pressure, Alonso had just sent a volley into the Anfield Road end when Rosicky and Hleb brought the ball up the right wing with a series of return passes. When Hleb finally looked up for a cross, he was by the corner flag and Rosicky was on the edge of the penalty area. Hleb's final return pass was threaded along the 18-yard line, from where Rosicky surprised Jerzy Dudek, not to mention the Kop, with the cutest of first-time chips that sailed high into the net.
That was bad enough for supporters who had only just finished asking 'Where's your European Cup?', but Rosicky was not finished. On the stroke of the interval, he collected a short pass and advanced towards the Liverpool area once again, Steve Finnan and Jamie Carragher unwisely standing off him until it was too late and Dudek once again having to retrieve the ball after a smartly struck shot he could not have been expecting.
Liverpool resisted the temptation to throw Craig Bellamy on for the second half, probably to the irritation of the watching John Toshack, although none of their notable comebacks in recent seasons has been achieved by panic measures. Jermaine Pennant was making good progress down the right and if Crouch or Dirk Kuyt had got on the end of one of his crosses, as both soon nearly did, the home side would have been right back in the match.
Liverpool were too wily, too, to throw everything into attack and leave space for Arsenal to exploit. Henry did get Robin van Persie away on a couple of occasions, but Dudek saved the first effort and the striker's control let him down on the second.
'It is clear we need to stay calm,' Benitez said in the programme and that is exactly what his side did, pulling a goal back midway through the second half to set up an exciting finish. A Pennant cross did the trick, though it was from a corner on the left that Crouch headed goalwards for Kuyt to gain the flick that beat Manuel Almunia on the line.
With the game now wholly taking place in Arsenal's half and Steven Gerrard beginning to show attacking menace, the visitors had to cling on. Aurelio thought he had equalised, but his far-post volley flashed wide. Thanks to towering displays by Senderos and Kolo Toure, Arsenal held out long enough for Henry to make the game safe six minutes from time, punishing Liverpool in a way few others could.
It looked at first as if Henry was merely playing for time or a respite when he pushed the ball from the centre circle towards a corner flag and set off in pursuit. Jamie Carragher might have made that mistake, too, for as both players arrived near the touchline Henry was past
Man of the match: Tomas Rosicky
Philippe Senderos and Kolo Toure were colossal at the back, Gilberto Silva everywhere in midfield, but Rosicky's first-half display was exceptional. His two well-taken goals set up the win and his workrate in getting back to help in defence was above average, too.