Ref blunder cost us the game say Reds

Liverpool’s defeat against Arsenal yesterday ultimately came as a result of two inappropriate decisions. There’s no doubting that Arsenal were the better side for the first half hour, but Liverpool slowly started to get themselves back into the game. By the time referee Steve Bennett made a decision on something he clearly didn’t see, Liverpool were level and in with a chance of taking all three points. The referee sent Xabi Alonso off for a second bookable offence, when Xabi had clearly slipped. Xabi’s slip meant he collided with Mathieu Flamini but it was obvious to all who saw it that it was accidental and unavoidable. Unfortunately the referee didn’t see it, so made a guess. Bennett had his back turned and his linesman saw nothing wrong, but either the noise of the Arsenal fans or appeals from Arsenal players made his mind up for him. Without Xabi Liverpool were now looking to limit the damage. Gerrard passed the ball back to his keeper, not realising Thierry Henry was waiting to pounce.

The Liverpool captain was distraught afterwards: “We could have gone away and nicked a draw but I’ve made a stupid mistake. I thought I’d knock it back to the keeper, waste a bit of time, but Henry was hiding behind the centre-backs. If there’s only one player you don’t want to it fall to it’s Henry.”

Stevie was understandably unhappy with the referee’s decision to dismiss Xabi and all the more so after seeing the replays as he explained: “I think the referee has gone off the crowd’s reaction. You can see clearly the linesman isn’t going to give anything and the referee hasn’t even seen the incident.”

How the referee can justify making such a decision when he clearly
didn’t see the incident remains to be seen, and surely Bennett must be
called to task for this. If he’d have even taken the time to chat to
his linesman about it there would be some room to make allowances, but
the man from Kent just took the opportunity to send the Liverpool
player off, and as a result took the game away from Liverpool again.

The Liverpool manager was even more upset than his captain. Rafa
Benítez said: “Xabi has slipped over, it is clear. It was a big
mistake. He was not watching the play and was too quick to show a
yellow card. We are all disappointed. It affected the team because we
were controlling the game. The decision changed everything. It was
crazy.”

To Rafa, the sending off was “the turning point of the game.” As he
explained: “We’d just equalised. We were controlling the game and
creating chances. It was very hard after that to play with ten men
against a good team.” Rafa had seen the video and it clearly showed
Bennett facing away from the incident. He wants the referee to watch
the video now so he can see what really happened as opposed to what
he’d assumed had happened: “If he watches the video, then maybe he’ll
reach a different conclusion. Xabi slipped over. In one second it’s a
yellow card, but watch the video and you will have another idea. It was
clear. From the video you can see. It was unbelievable, I can’t
understand it, it’s the turning point in the game.”

The boss is an honest man and this kind of thing really angers him. He
knows the team started poorly, but over the ninety minutes they seemed
to be heading for at least one point if not three, until Bennett’s
intervention: “We didn’t play as we would want in the first half but we
were controlling the game in the second half and we were creating more
chances. We felt we could win. But then the referee decided to send
someone off. The referee was looking the other way and then he blew the
whistle and gave a yellow card. The linesman had his flag down so I
don’t understand it – but maybe they are telepathic, I don’t know. The
crowd shouted and maybe they have telepathy with the referee as well.”
There is no other explanation, from a referee that has chosen to remain
silent over his huge error of judgement rather than own up to it. The
result can’t be changed now, but Liverpool and their supporters want an
explanation.

Liverpool just seem to be missing out on that little bit of good luck
that any team needs from time to time. This defeat capped a bad week
that also saw them eliminated from the European Cup. Gerrard’s
back-pass gave Arsenal their winner, but Rafa wouldn’t put any blame
for the lost points on Gerrard: “It was a bad week. This kind of
mistake is bad luck, a bad decision in one moment, it is a bad result
for us but we have to keep going.”

Arsene Wenger, as ever, will not have seen any controversial incidents
that benefited his team, but he did see some good play from his own
men. There’s no doubting that Arsenal are a side that have just found
their confidence again, helped no doubt by their European win over Real
Madrid. Wenger was pleased with his team’s passing and his captain’s
all round play: “We have seen some quality passes today. He has great
vision, simplicity in his game and when you see things, football is
easier. That goal is a good example of that.”

There’s no doubt that Gerrard’s mistake allowed Henry a chance he
should never have been given, but as Wenger pointed out, not all
strikers would have taken it so easily: “It was a gift but it is part
of a striker’s job to get those chances, it was a little down to
shrewdness from a striker and defensiveness on Liverpool’s part.”

One positive from the post-match interviews was a comment from Wenger.
Perhaps a little too confidently, he claimed that his side could
overtake neighbours Tottenham and Liverpool now before the end of the
season: “It was an important win. I think we can catch Liverpool in the
table now.” That’s the kind of comment that will fire the Reds up in
their remaining games, and might just help them find the confidence
they had before Christmas.

As for the scorer of Arsenal’s goals, Henry said he knew Gerrard hadn’t
spotted him and so he hung back, as he often does, just in case: “I saw
that he could not see I was waiting. I gambled, I do it every game.”

Liverpool nearly paid for starting the game with one striker yesterday
and perhaps because of that they deserved to lose, but the decision
from Bennett is the main reason Arsenal ultimately won. Liverpool are
still a couple of players short of being a side to win the title, and
it’s important Rafa gets to buy these missing pieces this summer. Mark
González will bring some attacking flair to the side, and if Liverpool
finally manage to land Simao then they’ll have the same threat on both
wings. If only Henry were available and within Liverpool’s budget then
the Reds would probably be close to unbeatable then. Rafa needs to look
for something close to that, and it may well turn out to be Michael
Owen.