With the tie finely poised at 1-1 after the first-leg, Liverpool and Arsenal played out a helter skelter of a return fixture to determine who made it to the Champions League semi-final.
Liverpool 4 Arsenal 2 (agg 5-3)
Liverpool headed into the second-leg with a slight advantage thanks to Dirk Kuyt’s away goal at the Emirates, and as a result Arsenal looked to gain the ascendancy from the off. Injury-prone midfielder gave the Gunners the lead early on, beating Pepe Reina at the goalkeeper’s near post after bursting into the box.
The tie was squared up on the half-hour mark when Reds stalwart Sami Hyypia evaded Philippe Senderos at a corner to head the hosts level. At this point the momentum swung in Liverpool’s favour, and after a sustained period on the front foot, Fernando Torres made it 2-1 on the night with a superb goal. Latching on to Peter Crouch’s knock down, the Spaniard managed to find space to turn, before unleashing a thunderous effort into the top corner.
Despite trailing 3-2 on aggregate, Arsenal only needed one goal to qualify on away goals, and it looked like though they were heading to the semi-finals after a moment of magic from Theo Walcott with 84 minutes played. Walcott produced arguably his finest moment in an Arsenal shirt, breaking from inside his own half, beating five Arsenal players and keeping his composure to leave Emmanuel Adebayor with a simple finish.
But the drama had yet to end, and only two minutes later Kolo Toure was adjudged to have fouled substitute Ryan Babel inside the area, allowing Steven Gerrard to restore Liverpool’s advantage from the spot.
And Dutch forward Babel had the final say, showing remarkable pace to hit the Gunners on the break and beat Manuel Almunia with a tidy finish.
Liverpool: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Hyypia, Aurelio, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Kuyt (Arbeloa 90), Torres (Riise 87), Crouch (Babel 78)
Goals: Hyypia 30, Torres 69, Gerrard 86 pen, Babel 90
Arsenal: Almunia, Toure, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy, Eboue (Walcott 72), Flamini (Gilberto 42), Fabregas, Diaby (Van Persie 72), Hleb, Adebayor
Goals: Diaby 13, Adebayor 84
What they said
Rafa Benitez lauded the character of his Liverpool players:
“I was delighted with the belief, particularly in the second half.
“When we went to 2-2 so near the end, my players showed tremendous character and desire to get up off the ground to win the tie.
“We had been so poor before the break, but so much better in the second half.”
Arsene Wenger blamed Arsenal’s elimination on poor refereeing decisions over the two legs:
“I felt the game was over at 2-2. Then there was a dodgy penalty and we started to lose concentration.
“Over the two games this is hard to swallow. The big decisions over penalties have gone against us.
“It is difficult to take, the players in the dressing room are very down because they believe week after week the decisions are going against them.”