Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal: He saves when he wants
Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Song, Arteta, Rosicky, Benayoun, Walcott, Van Persie.
There were no surprises that Wenger opted for the same eleven that had produced our best performance against Tottenham, one full of verve, belief and energy. That meant starts for Rosicky and Benayoun, who for me were mightily impressive last weekend and our top performers in that order.
Whether that selection was the right one for Anfield though is debatable. Against Spurs the game was won by high energy, clever movement with possession a key aspect in dominating the play. It was perhaps unrealistic to expect the same possession domination and same energy levels from Benayoun and Rosicky in this tie that said dropping either would have been harsh.
Gervinho and Chamberlain were the two obvious options in contention should the manager decide to freshen things up. The former had just returned from African Cup of Nations duty whilst quite rightly Chamberlain had been given some breathing space having featured recently, understandable therefore the manager played the same hand.
Liverpool enjoyed the majority of possession in the first half as Arsenal struggled to close up to their opponents force Liverpool into mistakes, despite demands from Pat Rice to get much tighter. Arsenal rarely caught their opponents on the back foot in the first half, but the opposite was true of Arsenal who once again looked open when Liverpool broke.
Arsenal were rather fortunate to be level at the break, on a couple of occasions the hosts were denied by the upright whilst Szczesny had to be alert to come out to head clear after a long ball had evaded Koscielny. Although Arsenal had rode their luck the manner of the goal conceded was a touch unfortunate, Gibbs may be criticised for over committing I felt that Arsenal had filled the gaps, Song dropped in at left back and Koscielny was well placed in front of Liverpool forwards near post to deal with the danger but his attempted clearance sliced into his own net.
Credit to Arsenal though that they scored a very un-Arsenal like goal. Bacary Sagna crossing for Robin Van Persie to head home. Robin once again showing supreme movement and that with this headed goal that any type of finish is within his range of abilities.
The second half was a more even affair, Liverpool had put a lot into the first half and with the back room staff’s message giving Arsenal the gee up Arsenal began to get a foot hold with sustained possession in and around the Liverpool area really for the first time in the match. On 53 minutes Arteta and Henderson collided resulting in the Spaniard being stretched off on Oxygen, although the incident has been deemed accidental it is difficult to understand how the Liverpool player running behind Arteta could not have seen his opponent and replays showed there was upper body movement towards the Arsenal player. Arteta’s replacement was Abou Diaby who himself would not last the match.
The remainder of the game was rather stretched and becoming increasingly more heated, and although Arsenal had got themselves more in the match a point away in the circumstances seemed a good one indeed. But Arsenal weren’t done there, on 92 minutes Alex Song picked out Van Persie with a diagonal floated ball and captain obliged with a volley to beat Reina at his near post. It’s becoming a trademark move between the pair.
The introductions of Gervinho (74) and Chamberlain (81) came at a time where the game began to become stretched, Arsenal had struggled to put their passing game together but with were able to run the ball away from goal through both players. Chamberlain went close late on. All things being equal Wenger may well have picked one or both to start.
The good news for Arsenal is that we have stopped talking at our vulnerability at set plays. Liverpool had several corners in the match but threatened little. The back line is looking solid on that score so is it problem solved? Let’s see. On the other hand we have looked too open to counter attacks, Tottenham profited last week and Liverpool might have been 2-0 up at half time but for a touch of misfortunate with the post. The issue stems from Arsenal’s fluid style and willingness to push the full backs on. When Arsenal lose the ball the back ‘line’ has looked more like a star constellation and that has led to spaces for our opponents to exploit.
To resolve the situation Arsenal need to resolve three issues:
1) Possession – In previous seasons the defence has been possession of the ball, without Wilshere (injured) Nasri and Fabregas (both departed) against the big teams we inevitably have less ball. Wilshere’s return and summer investment in creative quality in midfield should help.
2) Tenacity in midfield – The current line up including Rosicky, Song, Arteta is perhaps a bit one paced. Coquelin, Frimpong (progression) and Wilshere’s return should help with that respect.
3) Settled back four – Vermaelen and Koscielny are playing only their fourth match together whilst Gibbs still in his formative years, is returning from injury. Time together should bring about better patterns of play.
Man of the match: Szczesny
Robin Van Persie was given the Champagne by the broadcasters but without the saves of keeper Szczesny Arsenal would simply have not been in the game. The double save from the penalty was a mixture of sheer determination and ability and the rest of his duties were performed faultlessly, mopping up crosses, a couple finger-tip saves and heading clear after a long ball had evaded Koscielny.
Moan of the match: Luis Suarez penalty
Another piece of theatrics from Suarez was hardly a surprise to any football supporters that have witnessed his antics in his career to date. The reaction to it though by broadcasters was wholly embarrassing, with justification of the slightest brush of shin pads as their vindication of the original decision. The fact the contact happened after the Liverpool player was airborne was rather ignored. When are serial cheats like Bale and Suarez going to get the retrospective punishment their cheating deserves?
Efficiency at both ends
On the balance of play Arsenal certainly nicked the points, but that Arsenal restricted Liverpool to a single own-goal and scored twice themselves (despite limited chances) suggests a more efficient Arsenal. Certainly on the goals scored side of equation that has been apparent of late.
The Final Word
One point would have been a positive result but take all three with a late winner is a huge bonus that provides breathing over Chelsea, all buts puts Liverpool out of contention to fourth and at least temporarily draws Tottenham to within 4 points. It’s now four league wins in a row that includes 16 goals. AC Milan are up next and the chance to regain some pride with at least a consolation win.
2011-12 | Match Reports