Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool
Report by: Mike Strevens
The Short Report
A defiant performance from a severely depleted team wasn’t enough to prevent Liverpool getting their first win on Arsenal soil for 11 years. Injuries and suspensions continue to heap the pressure on Wenger, who must lift the troops before Wednesday’s make or break tie in Italy.
The AL Report
Arsene Wenger is no stranger to an injury crisis, but heading into this game, he found his resources stretched as never before. With six players injured, two suspended and the gaping hole in the squad left by recent departures, he was forced to include the soon-to-depart Samir Nasri, as well as give full debuts to teenagers Carl Jenkinson and Emmanuel Frimpong.
In such grim circumstances, you could be forgiven for expecting a gloomy atmosphere around the ground. Not a bit of it. The defiant mood in the stands was reflected by a gutsy performance by the players who more than matched big-spending Liverpool in an action-packed first half.
Andrey Arshavin missed a glorious early chance, hoofing the ball high into the stands from one of our many early corners. He should also have done better a few minutes later, but wasn’t able to meet Theo Walcott’s low cross. Deputising for the suspended Alex Song, Frimpong was the star man. He crunched into tackles, drove us forward with incisive passing and nearly put us ahead with a shot that fizzed just wide of the post. His exuberance was punished by a soft yellow card that came about after a touchline confrontation with Jordan Henderson.
After seizing the early initiative, our progress was checked by a back injury to Laurent Koscielny, which meant 18-year-old Ignasi Miquel was thrown in at the deep end. Liverpool then had chances of their own, with Wojciech Szczesny brilliantly denying Andy Carroll from a corner before Charlie Adam attempted a cheeky lob from the half-way line.
Pre-match fears over the crowd’s reaction to Samir Nasri proved unwarranted. He played very well and showed us what we will be missing when a tricky run left Daniel Agger on his backside and a low-shot went just wide of the post. The crowd sung his name (without the c-word) and he was given a warm reception which he reciprocated when going up to take a corner.
The rain came pouring down as the second half kicked off, prompting a number of literal fair weather fans to retreat from the front rows. As the weather deteriorated, so did the quality of the football as neither side were able to fashion any clear cut chances or string more than a few passes together. We were more than holding our own until the moment that swung the game definitively in Liverpool’s favour. On 68 minutes, Frimpong launched himself into a rash challenge on Henderson and was given his second yellow. He was lucky not to be given a straight red, but it was still tough on the lad, who had been by far our best player until then.
Scenting blood, Kenny Dalglish threw on Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles and Szczesny was immediately called into action, parrying a shot from the Uruguayan and tipping an effort from Stewart Downing over the bar. Thomas Vermaelen, immense at the back all afternoon, then stormed through the Liverpool defence and went close with one of those thunderbolts that were the hallmark of this first season at the club. Sadly, it was the last sign of resistance as we went behind in farcical circumstances moments later.
Suarez cut inside from the right and his shot was cleared by Miquel only to bounce straight of Aaron Ramsey’s chest straight past the helpless Szczesny. It was an unfortunate moment for Miquel, whose composure until then had belied his lack of experience.
Nicklas Bendtner’s late introduction was to no avail. With a minute to go, Suarez doubled the lead from close range. To add insult to injury, replays showed that Meireles was offside when he received the ball before teeing up Suarez. It was tough justice on a team who gave everything they could, but whose efforts were ultimately in vain. As they trudged off the pitch, a number of fans stayed behind to show their appreciation, belting out “We love you Arsenal, we do!”. It was a poignant ending to what had been a strangely moving occasion.
Next up: the second leg against Udinese – a match that will go some way to defining our season.
Man of the Match
Emmanuel Frimpong’s league debut may have ended on a sour note, but for just over an hour he was magnificent. Robbing Liverpool of possession and sparking numerous counter-attacks, he was at the heart of all our best play. Sadly, his sending off was all too predictable as he continued to fly into tackles without any abandon after his early booking.
Nevertheless, he showed that he may well prove to be a crucial player for us this season. On this evidence, he could well be challenging Alex Song for his place in the team, rather than settling for being his deputy.
A few weeks ago, Samir Nasri’s lethargic display in the Emirates Cup was said to have convinced Wenger to cash in rather than keep him until the end of his contract. A move to Manchester still looks imminent, but if this was to be his swansong in an Arsenal shirt, he did himself proud. He was especially threatening in the first half and had a couple of chances to give us the lead. His relationship with the fans has fractured in recent days, but they responded warmly to his efforts. It is a real shame that his next appearance in North London could well be for Manchester City against Spurs next weekend.
Moan of the Match
Liverpool’s second goal was the product of a very slick move, but iRaul Meireles was clearly offside when he received the ball from Lucas. The flag stayed down, allowing him to present Suarez with an easy tap-in. It was just another symptom of the way things have been going for us lately.
The Final Word
We are facing many difficulties right now, some beyond our control and some self-inflicted, but it was encouraging to see a group of players show so much spirit and pride in fighting for the cause. Sadly, that alone won’t get us through the season, which could be very hard indeed unless the reinforcements arrive within the next 10 days.
Image: Wonker via Flickr (reproduced using Creative Commons License)
2011-12 | Feature | Match Reports