On the European stage at least, you can almost chart Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal history through a series of what ifs.
For many, no doubt including himself, the fact that the legendary Gunners boss never achieved continental success with the club will always be a regret, but to do that you always need a certain set of things.
Skill, definitely. Luck, certainly. But also that longed for character that marks out teams and clubs when the going gets tough on the big nights.
The Gunners have never really been famed for that, whereas Liverpool have.
The old mythical ‘Anfield European night’ thing might be something that grates with those who don’t support the Reds, but it is there for a reason and there because of nights like April 8, 2008 , when the Kop came alive and Wenger and Arsenal were left dumbstruck.
The first leg of the Champions League quarter-final at the Emirates had ended 1-1, with Emmanuel Adebayor and Dirk Kuyt exchanging quickfire first half goals before Nicklas Bendtner somehow contrived to block a goalbound effort from his own teammate Cesc Fabregas while he was stood on the line.
Talk about what ifs.
Another 1-1 draw in north London in the Premier League a few days later then gave way to the clubs’ third meeting in just under a week back at Anfield, and Arsenal looked in the mood.
The Gunners were absolutely superb in the opening exchanges, keeping the ball away from Liverpool in the Reds half as they dominated possession.
They deserved their lead on the night and in the tie, which arrived when the lively Abou Diaby stepped away from a fairly static defence and crashed a shot through Pepe Reina.
Stunned, it took Liverpool a while to compose themselves, but soon they were level at 1-1 with Arsenal for the third time in seven days when Steven Gerrard’s corner was met by the most aesthetically pleasing of headers by Sami Hyypia, who saw his effort curl towards the top corner and go in off a post.
At a time when Liverpool had come to regularly engage in Champions League battles with Chelsea – matches that were invariably tight, tense, sometimes boring affairs – the ebb and flow of the Arsenal tie was something to behold, and both sides now strained for the strike that would put them ahead on the night and in the tie.
When it arrived it was glorious, as a Peter Crouch flick-on dropped to the feet of Fernando Torres, who brilliantly sped and spun and speared a shot into the top corner at the Kop end. Bedlam.
But we weren’t done.
Liverpool held the advantage but Arsenal still held the threat, and after a Gerrard miskick when attempting a shot on the edge of the Gunners box, the ball fell to substitute Theo Walcott. What he did next still deserves more recognition.
The recently turned 19-year-old had Anfield on pins as he raced the entire length of the pitch, Liverpool defenders flailing, before squaring for Adebayor to tap in. Two-two, Arsenal lead on away goals, six minutes left. Do not let this slip.
“That was possibly one of the worst ever performances I’ve ever produced in a Liverpool shirt, but I still had the confidence to score the penalty,” Gerrard would say afterwards, still taking in the moment, two minutes after the Adebayor goal, when Kolo Toure upended Ryan Babel in front of the Kop.
The Liverpool captain stepped up and crashed the ball into the top corner, Liverpool captain style, and then in injury time the substitute Babel raced clear to make it 4-2, 5-3 on aggregate. Game over.
In a rare show of empathy, Rafa Benitez would refuse to countenance that Gerrard had had a poor game after the match, while another of the evening’s central characters was glowing.
“It was the biggest night of my career and I came to Liverpool for nights like this,” said Torres, with the end of his first Reds season now in sight.
“It is unbelievable – the high tempo of both teams, the fans, everything.
“I thought it was finished. There were only a few minutes left but with the magic of Anfield the players were able to score two more goals.”
Very Anfield. Very Liverpool.
And unfortunately for Wenger, very Arsenal too.