” I am number one- take that Lukasz”
A late equalizer gifted off a blunder by Pepe Reina kept Arsenal from going down at Anfield. That is the headline in most news outlets. The subtext should read a less impressive Arsenal effort.
New signing Laurent Koscielny had a solid performance and was a physical presence in the middle but there were times when he was beaten to the ball – the pace of the English game is such. His debut ended with a sending off through a handball in the dying minutes.
Marouane Chamakh had a quiet game, for a striker who scores a lot of goals through set pieces, he was practically non-threatening. He also showed a distinct lack of anticipation to some of service into the box.
Having said that Arsenal’s set pieces left much to be desired – the free kicks and corners rarely penetrated the first defender save for a Thomas Vermaelen left footed screamer that Reina was able to parry away and Theo Walcott’s superbly bending effort was again seen off by Reina.
Jack Wilshere included in the starting XI had a nondescript first half. He was scrappy going after the ball but one can’t say he contributed much to the passing game. Emmanuel Eboue coming in place of Walcott gave the customary flying through the middle displays but ran out of ideas and partners – a heavy first touch prevented him from a goalscoring opportunity and Reina was able to collect.
Arsenal was dominant in the first half, linking up better and creating quite a few problems for the Liverpool back four even as they never really came close to scoring. Samir Nasri showed a deft touch on the ball.
The biggest heart in the mouth moment came when Koscielny’s ankle got twisted up in Joe Cole’s tackle (an excessive red card) and he had to be stretchered off. Instantly, in that moment, the frailties of the Arsenal defense were exposed. Who would we turn to – our our back up options include a clearly unfit Johan Djourou struggling with months of injuries and an even less experienced Harvard Nordtviet? Luckily for us, Kosecielny came back on. Wenger will have to fill that position right away.
There were a few nerve wracking moments with Manuel Almunia dealing with set pieces, once missing a corner altogether which luckily led to no further damage but he gets credit for making a fingertip save off a cracking shot by Glen Johnson.
With the encouraging first half display in mind and Liverpool down to ten men, one would have thought the conditions were ripe for an Arsenal breakthrough in the second half.
Instead we saw yet another example of shooting oneself in the foot- with Liverpool pressing the Gunners failed to clear the ball (Tony Adams must have looked aghast) and indulged in some pretty passing which went awry as it struck Wilshere on the heel. The ball came to Mascherano – the little enforcer fed the ball to David Ngog and the French striker taking advantage of a slowly reacting Almunia lashed the ball over the goalkeeper. While virtually everyone writes off Ngog, the French striker proves he thrives in these exact same situations.
The wheels came off the Gunners for the next 10-15 minutes as we struggled to maintain coherence. Its happened before, where we lose shape and become vulnerable – it comes down to a lack of leadership. Arshavin continued his career in decline whether it is through injuries or a funk- you can see the Russian is clearly not having fun. Clichy was overmatched throughout with Glen Johnson and Dirk Kuyt having their way. Abou Diaby can only be considered a holding midfielder in an alternate reality. He is too lightweight on the ball.
Ngog came close again narrowly missing with a header and in another set piece occasion Clichy made a goalmouth clearance.
Almunia actually kept us from going further behind when he saved a goal from a dipping Steven Gerrard free kick.
Arsenal got back into some form of scoring urgency when Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott were introduced. Rosicky almost had the equalizer with a beautifully struck ball from open field but Reina brought off a spectacular save.
Still one saw Arsenal refusing to commit numbers up front – a moment illustrated when Sagna’s cross saw a goal mouth scramble resulting in Walcott being the only Gunner around to try and poke the ball into goal. There was no Van Persie, Chamakh, or Arshavin to provide additional bodies. We could not take advantage of a Daniel Agger left groggy with a fiercely struck shot to his face which in effect reduced Liverpool further.
The goal came from a Reina blunder as Rosicky’s pass was deflected by Chamakh onto the upright and from the rebound the Liverpool goalie bundled the ball over in an own goal.
Arsenal managed to salvage a draw at Anfield. One would call that creditable but there is an uneasy feeling we missed out – Liverpool is a wounded club. The three points were there for the taking but again, a lapse in concentration gifted them a goal. Deja vu to last season when we relied on a series of late comebacks. There are tremendous mental and physical costs to be paid when doing that repeatedly. We again carried a number of passengers in this match – players distinctly out of step or lethargic or a funk.
Wenger needs to sign a center and try and solve the goalkeeping conundrum- as amply provided City vs Spurs and this match, a good goalkeeper can make all the difference.
The first match maybe a bit premature to base future results on. But on the strength of this display we will have no chance overcoming Chelsea, Man Utd, and even Spurs. We will have to go after the smaller clubs and hopefully win those games.