Diaby resuscitates title hopes
Arsenal returned to winning ways after Abou Diaby's scored to beat an organised Liverpool.
Last Updated: 10/02/10 10:14pm
Arsenal returned to winning ways in the Premier League on Wednesday night after Abou Diaby's second half header defeated an organised Liverpool side at Emirates Stadium.
Having lost their previous two games against Manchester United and Chelsea, the pressure was on the Gunners to revive their dwindling title hopes.
After a largely forgettable first half, the second period was vastly improved with both sides creating chances early on while Nicklas Bendtner was booked for diving after going down in the penalty area.
Then in the 72nd minute midfielder Diaby thundered in a header from close range following Tomas Rosicky's fine cross from the right channel.
A cagey ending then ensued, with Ryan Babel smacking the bar from range and Liverpool appealing for a late penalty, but Arsenal held on for a massive three points on a night when second-placed United drew and leaders Chelsea lost.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger made changes from the side beaten by Chelsea at the weekend, which left them some nine points off the leaders, However, the Blues' subsequent defeat by Everton on Wednesday means that deficit was quickly reduced.
Theo Walcott dropped to the bench, as Bendtner, who had been out following groin surgery, made a welcome first start since October.
While Arsenal had been faltering, Liverpool slowly moved themselves back up into the top four.
The Gunners' frailty at the back was exposed again on five minutes when a free-kick bobbled alarmingly around the six-yard box before Manuel Almunia gathered.
At the other end, William Gallas - yet to confirm whether he will be staying with Arsenal - headed over.
Liverpool remained patient, although David Ngog snatched at his shot after working some space at the edge of the Arsenal area.
Much like at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the Gunners had plenty of possession, but without looking dangerous in the final third.
Samir Nasri's low ball in from the right was cut out by Martin Skrtel, as Bendtner arrived behind him through the six-yard box.
The Dane was then played in by Andrey Arshavin, but shot over.
Arsenal were finally having a decent spell, with Nasri's shot charged down by Emiliano Insua.
The Argentina defender then saw his goal-bound effort deflect off Thomas Vermaelen.
On 34 minutes, Nasri, who earlier appeared to take a blow to the side of his face, was replaced by Tomas Rosicky.
Neither side were able to make the most of some promising build-up play as the first half drew to a close.
Arsenal, though, had more urgency following the restart, as Arshavin drilled the ball into the side-netting.
At the other end, Lucas Leiva drilled his angled shot over after being played into the right side of the Arsenal penalty area by Dirk Kuyt.
Steven Gerrard's determination released Ngog down the middle, but Gallas recovered to make a brilliant saving tackle just inside the 18-yard box.
Rosicky's touch was then too heavy after the Czech Republic winger was put clear down the left channel by Arshavin.
Arsenal were in the ascendancy now.
Bendtner's deft chip almost crept over the line after Jose Reina could only make a partial save, but Daniel Agger cleared.
However, on 63 minutes, referee Howard Webb showed Bendtner a yellow card for diving under a challenge by Agger, although replays suggested there may have been minimum contact.
Arshavin missed his kick when arriving at pace in the penalty area to meet Gael Clichy's cross, with Rosicky blasting the loose ball over.
Arsenal made the breakthrough after 72 minutes, when Diaby arrived on cue at the far post to head in Rosicky's right-wing cross.
Liverpool felt they had a strong penalty claim when Gerrard went down under a mass of red shirts, appearing to be blocked by Diaby, but the referee waved play on.
The visitors almost snatched an equaliser with four minutes left, but Almunia tipped a dipping drive from substitute Babel onto the crossbar.
In stoppage time, there was more controversy when a dubious free-kick from Gerrard appeared to strike Cesc Fabregas on the hand, but referee Webb was not interested.