James Lawton: This was not a great game, nor was it English

How can it be 'our game' when top owners, players and coaches come from abroad?

Andrei Arshavin's finishing was as beautiful as it was technically perfect – and it is not diminished because the match that housed it was so irredeemably flawed, the claim that it was a great one has to be thrown into the nearest bin.

Accompanying it, sadly but unavoidably, must also be the assertion that it was fresh evidence of the growing superiority of English football.

The game was absorbing and often thrilling but it wasn't great because it lacked a vital ingredient: the balance and challenge imposed by a decent level of defence. In such circumstances you can have mesmerising entertainment but not great football. Great football has to be tested, it has to be forged. It is why the game is played on grass not sand.

No it wasn't great and nor was it English because Liverpool and Arsenal started a total of one Englishman each – Jamie Carragher and Kieran Gibbs, both defenders, both made to suffer what they will no doubt hope is the worst embarrassment of their careers.

This is not another cry for a Little England. But what was special was not, as one headline proclaimed Our Game, but that of Spain, for Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso, of Israel, for the waspish aggression of Yossi Benayoun, and of Russia, for the sublime, two-footed touch of Arshavin.

English football, we shouldn't apologise for sometimes removing the fact from its wraps, was again a distinctly marginal presence.

It supplied two defenders – and the best substitute, Theo Walcott, plainly a player of brilliant substance in his winning battle against odds that have become so onerous his compatriots can now only hope to fill one third of vacancies in their country's top league, and nowhere so much of a break in its highest echelons.

Though it has to be said that if Steven Gerrard had been on the field rather than in the TV studio the absence of English influence would inevitably have been less stark, one set of statistics nevertheless put into the most dismal perspective some of the wilder claims about the benefits heaped upon the national game by the Premier League.

In the starting line-ups, the English presence was ranked alongside those of Denmark and Africa, and below Spain (six players), one less than France and South America, and just one above Israel, Poland, the Netherlands and Russia.

Our game? No, we cannot say that because if our money pays for it through the turnstiles and TV subscriptions, it doesn't control it. Russian and American money does that, and foreign managers picked the teams and the tactics on Tuesday night.

None of these facts which are so often flicked from sight in the rush to celebrate a situation which, unquestionably, produces compelling spectacle, reduced the level of entertainment at Anfield. But, surely the artistry of such as Arshavin and the elemental force of Torres did not completely banish the most fundamental worries about the future of both the national team and the development of young English players who, decades after the best of French prospects were installed in a custom-made establishment in a forest clearing south of Paris, still wait for some of the Premier League largesse to trickle down into a proper English training centre.

Instead, we have a Wembley pitch unfit for the spectacular purpose of Arshavin on Liverpool's excellent surface this week.

Arshavin produced some of the most spectacular marksmanship since the demise of Wyatt Earp. So why do we not enshrine his superb performance in the memory of a great match?

It is because of that missing element which left Liverpool's manager Rafa Benitez (left) understandably numb with frustration at what might well have been the end of his side's challenge to Manchester United. His team had attacked with a passion which has marked so much of their play since the demolition of Real Madrid and the dismemberment of United's defence at Old Trafford last month, but against Arsenal it was betrayed by appalling defence.

Yes, Arshavin was magnificent in confirming an ability which has been seen frequently enough in the past – and not least when he stole in to ransack the much lauded Dutch in last summer's European Championship finals. But Liverpool forgot to produce even a modicum of sound defence and when some say that eight goals inevitably make a great match they repeat the mistake so often made at ringside when the punches of a winner are not properly measured against the adequacy of the resistance they broke down.

A truly great match can produce no more than one goal – it happened in Guadalajara in the 1970 World Cup, when Pele embraced England's Bobby Moore at the end of Brazil's 1-0 victory. The man generally accepted as the greatest player of all time hailed Moore for a performance of superb defence and character – and said that indeed he had never had a tougher battle.

When Arshavin shook his head and laughed and raised four fingers for four chances and four goals he had some good reasons for elation: you cannot, after all, do more than take your chances, and show the range of skill and timing you can bring to the game's most vital art. This remains true however easy the pickings.

United Nations: Countries on show at Anfield

Spain Alonso, Arbeloa, Reina, Riera, Torres (Liverpool), Fabregas (Arsenal)

France Nasri, Sagna, Silvestre (A)

Brazil Aurelio (L), Denilson (A)

Denmark Agger (L), Bendtner (A)

England Carragher (L) Gibbs (A)

Others Mascherano (L, Argentina), Benayoun (L, Israel), Kuyt (L, Netherlands), Fabianski (A, Poland), Touré (A, Ivory Coast), Arshavin (A, Russia), Song (A, Cameroon)

Substitutes used: France Diaby (A), England Walcott (A), Morroco El Zhar (L), Netherlands Babel (L)

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing

Other places that have held independence referendums
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week