Talk about late drama. Or talk about the ref once again stealing two points from the Arsenal. Or talk about stupidity.
When things are not going your way some minor detail, which might on another day have been insignificant, inevitably ends up being a game changer. In this case it was a clever piece of cheating by Lucas, who leaned into Eboue, that conned the ref who seemed intent on playing long enough to give Liverpool a scoring chance. But all the blame doesn’t fall on the ref; Arsenal could have and should have secured this game better.
Liverpool started the game with two strikers and that gave Arsenal control over the midfield. The visitors’ best and perhaps the only option of attack was a long hoof towards Carroll. And while the big man won a number of headers and the Liverpool players won a number of second balls, they just didn’t have enough quality to test Szczesny. Once again in 90 minutes of play the Arsenal keeper didn’t have to make even one genuine save but the points have been shared.
Arsenal played this game in a strange sort of a way from an attacking point of view. In the first half the ball was played wide quite often but there just weren’t enough players in the box. As expected Liverpool were weak down their left and Walcott won a number of corners but the Gunners need better and more runs into the box when they’re going to play the crossing game.
This tactic and the fact that Fabregas, RvP, and Wilshere were having poor halves meant that even Reina was rarely tested in the first half. The best effort came in the form of a Koscielny header that hit the bar. Theo also drew a save from a swerving shot that the Liverpool keeper could only palm away for a corner.
Contrary to lazy pundit opinions, Arsenal needed more attacks down the middle in the first half and fewer ones from the wings. This change happened late in the second half, and ironically, after Arshavin and Bendtner came on to the pitch. This rendered Bendtner’s presence on the wings rather redundant just as Walcott was being forced to cross to a penalty box that didn’t have enough targets.
The attacks down the middle in the second half led to a few chances. Van Persie should have scored when he was through on goal. Reina often leaves a gap between his legs but the Dutchman didn’t seem aware of this. He tried a difficult shot to find the far corner but the Keeper was able to save.
In the sixth minute of stoppage time Cesc was fouled in the box and Van Persie converted the penalty. It should have been game over but there is always room for some stupidity by Arsenal players.
First it was RvP who took his shirt off in celebration. Completely pointless as he didn’t even have a message on his undershirt! A booking ensued and this definitely gave the ref an excuse to add half a minute to the stoppage time.
The second moment of brainless action came from Szczesny who had the ball under control and kicked it long. The guy just doesn’t have the technique for a long kick and his shot barely reached the half-way line. None of the Arsenal players were around the ball and it came back towards the penalty box in no time.
Song conceded a free-kick as the Gunners just couldn’t maintain the right shape to defend. It was right on the edge of the box so was always going to be difficult for Suarez to hit the goal.
By the time the Uruguayan struck the wall the time had already gone past 100 minutes i.e. two minutes over the added eight. The ref really had no reason to continue but he allowed play to go on. The ball was deflected away from goal and towards the corner flag. Eboue and Lucas went for it. The Liverpool man was clever enough to ignore the ball and lean into the path of the Ivorian, who was dumb enough to barge into the midfielder.
If you watch carefully Leiva was nowhere near the ball and had no intention of playing it as he wasn’t moving towards the ball. Another ref in another place could easily have called an obstruction/foul by Lucas. But Eboue should have the sense to hold his ground in a harmless position. The coming together of the players and the elbow movement by Eboue was enough to give the ref what he wanted.
I am really disappointed with the way Van Persie picked up a booking after the goal. I am also annoyed that no one could take the ball from the keeper and hold on to it just to see out the final whistle. Szczesny should also have the sense to knock it out for a throw around the half-way line if he can’t get much distance on his goal-kick. Eboue is a dumb player and the fans have made him worse by encouraging his antics so I can’t really blame him.
Oddly enough the ref who didn’t make a call on three penalty decisions in the first half seemed too eager towards the end. Djourou might easily have had a penalty for the shirt pulling by Skrtel. Spearing might have had one for the contact by the Arsenal defender. And Walcott might have had one when his shot rolled of Kuyt’s arm. All three incidents were of the kind that I have seen given, but on rare occasions. The final penalty was certainly no more clear-cut than these three so it’s really strange that the ref would want to make such a decision after adding so much time.
Is there a conspiracy against Arsenal? I don’t know. Do Arsenal suffer at the hands of the ref more than the other teams? To me it seems so. Is that the sole reason for some of the poor results? No. It’s this final question that makes these results extremely frustrating for most Gooners.
Szczesny: Caught everything that came his way including crosses and lame shots on goal. Wasn’t seriously tested but showed good judgment in coming out. His kicking is woeful and needs significant improvement.
Eboue: Mixed bag. Had some good moments on the ball. Also had some daft moments, none worse than the one that led to the penalty. Typical Eboue one could say.
Djourou: Conceded a few free-kicks against Carroll early on. Was turned way to easily by Suarez. Not a good game but no major bloopers.
Koscielny: Decent game at the back in terms of winning balls in the air, reading the game, covering behind Clichy, and he almost scored from a corner.
Clichy: Did well on the left without much support. Decent contribution in attack as well.
The back five weren’t really tested as Liverpool didn’t have enough quality or numbers in attack. Suarez was good on the ball but his passing and finishing was quite poor. Carroll didn’t offer anything except winning some balls in the air. The others weren’t able to get forward in support often enough. Only in the final few minutes was the defence stretched but they held out alright except for the final moment of madness.
It is interesting to note how the Liverpool full-backs always got the support of at least one teammate. Kuyt always got back to double up on Nasri and Lucas did the same at the other end on Walcott.
Diaby: He had a good first half and a decent second half till he was substituted. Won some tackles, provided good cover in front of the defence, and kept the ball moving with simple accurate passes.
Cesc: I was really disappointed with Cesc in the first half. It was as if he was playing like and out of form Arshavin – not running at his usual level, playing too many casual one-touch passes, and not tracking back after giving the ball away. He was better in the second half and came more into his own as the game went on. Eventually won the penalty with a good one-two in the box and a lovely turn that fooled Spearing.
Wilshere: He too had a disappointing first half. Too many touches weren’t of the standard he has set. Passing wasn’t as quick or accurate as one expects from a player of his talent. Could be that he is completely out of steam having played tirelessly for the whole season.
The midfield was quite poor in the first half. Liverpool just had Lucas and Spearing in the middle. Even thought Meireles was tucking in, the Arsenal midfielders could have dominated the ball and made a more meaningful contribution. I didn’t see anyone willing to take charge of the midfield and control the pace and direction of play. Theo wasn’t able to use his speed as the ball was never passed to him when he was in space.
There was more urgency after Wilshere went off and Nasri came into the middle. Even Cesc seemed more involved and purposeful. But that left the defence a bit exposed and Liverpool were able to create some half-chances.
Walcott: Put in some good crosses and a couple of poor ones. Had one good shot on goal and might have had a penalty for another. It was a decent game from the speedster but he might have been more influential if the passing has been sharper and/or better support in the box.
RvP: He was good with his work rate, came deep, went into the channels, and in general moved well. Set-piece delivery was inconsistent. Missed one good chance, took his penalty really well. Should not have picked up a booking after the goal and should have shown better composure and focus.
Nasri: Worked hard but wasn’t able to make an impact on the game, especially in the final third. Improved a lot in the second half like Cesc.
I thought the attacking players were trying but the midfield wasn’t linking the play at the right pace. I would have preferred better runs from Nasri and Walcott but this seemed like a game where no one would have found the runners with accurate through balls.
Subs: Arshavin tried to create something on the left and did well to track back on a number of occasions, Bendtner wasn’t used well on the right, he should have been in the middle a lot more. It was good to see Song back in the side but the Cameroonian conceded the foul on the edge of the box.
Wenger: It was a good starting eleven and I can’t really criticize the substitutions. But the manager and his staff should ensure the players know how to be focussed in the final moments after scoring a goal. They should also have a plan of seeing out the game by playing the ball to the likes of Cesc, Arshavin or Nasri i.e. guys who can just keep it and run the clock down. If they talk about this and practice is often enough, one would feel that the players would instinctively do it in the heat of the moment.