Kuyt flies close to the wind with Arsenal plaudits
Published 04/04/2008 | 09:11
It was cold comfort for the Gunners, the morning after a 1-1 home draw which threatened their Champions League lives, but Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt said Arsenal were "probably the best [team] playing in Europe at the moment" .
Arsène Wenger and his players are used to plaudits but at the business end of the season they want prizes. Kuyt's compliment may not have been welcome, either: the Dutchman scored Liverpool's away goal and escaped punishment after appearing to foul Alexander Hleb in the penalty area.
To add to the "phantom goal" – that still exercises Jose Mourinho – during an epic European semi-final between Chelsea and Liverpool three years ago can be added a conspiracy theory to upset Arsenal supporters.
Wednesday night's referee, Pieter Vink, hails from a town, Noorwijkerhout, five kilometres from Katwijk aan Zee – where Kuyt's family are from.
"He comes from near where I was born and grew up," the striker said. "But there have been times in Holland when he refereed my matches and things went against me. I just think he made the correct decision over the penalty claim."
Allegations of national bias are nonsense, even if Kuyt appeared to do more than simply "touch" Hleb. The Liverpool goal-scorer was more accurate when he said: "Now we play the second leg at Anfield and everybody knows what we can do there on such occasions."
European nights at Liverpool's home have mythic status and even though Arsenal have one of the better records there and have a potent away attack, as Milan discovered, the Mersey-siders hold the advantage.
Not that Arsenal feel bowed. Two of their most combative performers spoke in the wake of the first leg. The captain, William Gallas, rallied his team-mates for the "big fight" ahead and the striker Emmanuel Adebayor said they had to summon the spirit of the San Siro a few weeks ago, where Arsenal beat Milan, the holders, 2-0.
"We can get the big results when they're required and we showed that in Milan," Adebayor said. "When people write us off we have it in our minds to show them they're wrong. We did that against Milan and now it's another challenge against Liverpool, but we have to believe in ourselves. If we play our style of football we will get a lot of chances to put them under pressure.
"A lot of people said we couldn't win in Milan and we did, so we will just keep doing what we do best and keep our focus. We are sure we can do something there."
Gallas was in the Chelsea side three years ago – and appeared to hook Luis Garcia's shot away before it crossed the line. He said he had erased that match from his memory.
Asked whether he was proud to be Arsenal's captain, having had Wenger state his faith in him after criticism from others, Gallas said: "I will be happy at the end of the season if we win something. That is my job. You know I try to do my best for the team, for the club. I am happy here, I am happy because the manager supports me. Now I have to give everything until the end, so the season is not finished yet. We will see at the end."
That end may come too soon: Arsenal need to beat Liverpool twice in four days – the two sides meet in the league on Saturday – to retain any hopes of a trophy this season. That is why Kuyt's compliment means nothing.