LONDON, February 11 – Abou Diaby revived Arsenal's hopes of playing a major role in this season's title race with the 72nd minute header that secured a 1-0 victory over Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium here on Wednesday.Arsene Wenger’s side had collected just one point from their previous three games but this win ensured they maintained the pressure on the Premier League top two of Chelsea and Manchester United.
Defeat for Liverpool ended their seven game unbeaten run although Rafael Benitez’s side felt they were denied a last minute penalty when Cesc Fabregas appeared to handle from Steven Gerrard’s free-kick.
They now sit fourth, level on points with fifth-placed Manchester City but having played two games more.
Wenger insisted there were a lot of positives to be drawn from the weekend defeat at Chelsea but the manager’s optimism appeared not to have filtered through to his players.
Perhaps understandably, given the testing two weeks they have endured that have seen the Gunners fall off the pace in the title race, Wenger’s side looked hesitant and nervy in a scrappy opening, not that Liverpool were more fluent.
Wenger reshaped his side after the back-to-back defeats by Chelsea and Manchester United, when Arsenal had been vulnerable on the break.
Alex Song and Diaby were employed as holding midfielders yet while the formation provided the home back four with more protection, Arsenal were less convincing further forward.
Even so, they still created the better first half opportunities and should have been ahead after just seven minutes when the unmarked William Gallas headed over from Fabregas’s free-kick.
Earlier in the day, reports emerging from Spain once again linked Fabregas with a move to Barcelona.
Fabregas, though, showed no signs of being affected when he burst forward to collect a neat back heel from Nicklas Bendtner and was brought down by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel on the edge of the visitors’ box.
The free-kick was wasted, but the move appeared to show Arsenal the way through the Reds back-line.
Bendtner was making his first start since a lengthy lay-off with a groin problem and while his presence gave Arsenal a more physical threat, his finishing was distinctly ring-rusty when he fired over in the 26th minute.
But the game finally opened up after the interval.
Andrey Arshavin served early notice of Arsenal’s more positive approach when he fired a firm shot into the side netting from a tight angle.
Liverpool responded in kind, quickly exerting pressure on Manuel Almunia’s goal and carving out a good chance for the advancing Lucas that ended with the young Brazilian mirroring Bendtner’s miss of the first half.
Moments later Gallas produced an outstanding last-ditch tackle to deny David Ngog who had been sent clear from the halfway line by Steven Gerrard’s expertly weighted pass and the balance of the clash appeared to have shifted in the visitors’ favour.
Arsenal’s response, though, was exemplary and they upped the tempo to dominate the crucial period of the game that culminated in Diaby’s goal.
Tomas Rosicky should have done much better when he found himself bearing down on Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina and Bendtner was unlucky to see Daniel Agger hack his goalbound shot to safety.
But the two Arsenal players combined in the 72nd minute in the build-up to Diaby’s goal.
Bendtner played the ball wide to Rosicky who delivered the perfect cross for Diaby to head home from six yards out.