It was inevitable.
A lot of heart shown by all the players, the crowd – fair play to most of them – rose to the occasion, young guns despite their obvious inexperience performed admirably, those in a limbo showed their professionalism, but in the end it all came to nought.
Another once-in-a-lifetime freak goal conceded by Arsenal gave Liverpool the edge in the final quarter-hour of the game when it looked like the ten men might just hold on. And the visitors garnished the result with a neat little second as the Gunners went in search of the equalizer.
Arsene started with Nasri in the midfield with Jenkinson on the right and Sagna as left-back. The line-up looked fairly strong albeit not the kind one would wish to see as the first team.
The opening exchanges were even but there were signs of things to come. In the 6th minute Arshavin found himself unmarked on the edge of the box when a corner was deflected to him. His touch was disappointing and the opportunity was lost. The awkward height of the ball cannot be an excuse at this level. That extra bit of quality in moments that could have been decisive was to lack throughout the game.
A couple of minutes later Frimpong went into the Referees book for a strange offence. He squared up to Kuyt who was about to take a throw-in. Seemed needless and was perhaps the result of his youthful over exuberance. Even that early on, there were genuine fears a red card was coming.
Soon after, Koscielny hobbled off with a back spasm leading to the introduction of Ignasi Miquel. He was the only defender on the bench!
Szczesny’s first big save came in the 20th minute when a cross from the Liverpool left found Carroll in the middle. His header was powerful but not well-directed.
For the rest of the first half, Liverpool pushed Arsenal back and created a number of half chances. Thomas Vermaelen stood tall and virtually owned the penalty box. Other defenders did their bit in helping the Belgian. The visitors appeared to dominate without providing a genuine threat.
Arsenal had precious few chances in attack and on occasions when they did get a chance the final ball was missing. Starting with Van Persie very early in the game when he almost put Walcott through from deep in Arsenal’s half, too many Gunners either put too much or too little weight on their final ball/cross.
Frimpong tested Reina and Nasri went close with long range shots after powering runs down the middle.
That was it for the first half. Liverpool didn’t look great for a side with so many additions. Arsenal didn’t look that far away even with three youngsters in defensive positions.
The second half was played at a slower pace. It appeared to me that the visitors were sitting back a lot more. This provided Arsenal more time on the ball but once again there was no cohesion or incision to the attack.
The ball was moved wide after too many touches and the wingers were always crowded out. When they did get a cross in there was hardly anybody in the box. Not only that, it was far too easy for Liverpool to move from defending a cross to putting one in of their own.
On one such occasion, in the 55th minute an over-hit cross from Jenkinson led to a counter-attack with his Liverpool counterpart Kelly hitting the post.
There were one or two attempts at playing down the middle but the players were not on the same wavelength and their one-touch lay-offs were easily intercepted.
The game had fizzled out when Arshavin created an opportunity after a physical battle, which appeared to be a foul by the Russian, but Van Persie’s attempt was saved by Reina.
Moments later the match roared into life as Frimpong went into another needless tackle which brought him a predictable and avoidable second booking. From that point on it was all Liverpool.
Wenger introduced another youngster as Lansbury came on for Arshavin. Arsenal were working hard but Liverpool created a couple of chances within minutes of gaining the numerical advantage. The introduction of the wily Suarez made the difference as he first forced save from Szczesny and then set Downing up for another strike on target.
The first goal came in the 78th minute. Meireles played in Suarez who was off-side but only just. Miquel came back to intercept the ball but his attempted clearance bounced from the chest of Ramsey and over Szczesny.
How often have you seen the assist and goal both coming from the defending team that too from an off-side situation? It was really harsh on the players but one cannot deny Arsenal make themselves susceptible to such disasters more often than any other side. Therein lies the real problem.
Wenger introduced Bendtner for Theo but where 11 men failed 10 just had no chance.
Liverpool got the second in the final minute of normal time. The midfielders were tired and had given up on tracking back by then which made it easy for the visitors to pass the ball around a couple of defenders to open up the goal for a tap-in. It usually happens when ten men are chasing a game.
Szczesny: Made some good saves, collection and distribution was spot-on, had a couple of lapses in judgement but those were minor ones.
Jenkinson: Struggled to prevent crosses coming in from his side but it wasn’t all his fault. He didn’t get as much support as he should have. Went up and down quite often at pace and that might have led to cramps in the 84th minute. Crossing could have been better and he could have read Suarez’s position earlier to prevent the second goal, but for a young player, having to deal with this kind of pressure is a tough ask.
Koscielny: Wasn’t around long enough to make a big contribution.
Vermaelen: Phenomenal. Won almost everything in the box, read the game well, even went forward when the opportunity arose, MotM in my book.
Miquel: Much better than his debut game against Ipswich. Seems to have matured well and looks stronger. His positioning was good, won the ball back on a number of occasions when the opponent had a loose touch, unfortunate part in the own goal but was caught out by Suarez due to his inexperience which forced him into a suicidal clearance.
Sagna: A fair fighting display in an unfamiliar position. Wasn’t able to contribute to the attack on his weaker side but that is to be expected. Positioning was good even though he struggled against Carroll’s height on a couple of occasions.
I thought the defence was shaky through the game but the defenders were not at fault. One just has to see how Liverpool blocked off Arshavin and Walcott whenever they got on the ball to understand how easy it is to attack down Arsenal’s flanks. The shape of the team is not good enough and the players are invariably chasing the ball rather than forcing opponents into a corner with their positioning.
Liverpool took very little time in getting organized when they lost the ball. Arsenal were indecisive and confused. Some players were pressing up the pitch while others were falling back. It was much easier for the visitors to play between the lines and that led to more chances for them. That they lacked the quality to make it count earlier in the game is a different matter altogether.
Frimpong: Powerful, energetic, dominant, and tenacious. But also inexperienced, over enthusiastic, and a touch out of control. The red card marred what was looking like a MotM performance. He will also miss the United game. Would like to know if someone told him to mind his tackling or not. With experience he will also improve his off the ball movement and won’t scuff the kicks as often.
Ramsey: Again can’t fault him for hard work but he was off the pace on critical moments like the time when Nasri found him in space in the middle of the Liverpool half, but Kuyt nicked the ball as Ramsey wasn’t aware. There were a number of such small details that prevented him from getting the best out of his technical abilities. It also minimized the chances Arsenal could create down the middle or the speed at which the ball could be moved.
Nasri: Have to appreciate his professionalism. He worked hard and looked like the only one who could create something. Went close after a brilliant box-to-box run. Could have done a lot more if his midfield partners moved the ball better and faster.
It was a make-shift midfield and they performed as such. Liverpool were able to force the back-five into kicking long far too often as the midfield wasn’t able to overcome the pressing. This in turn caught them in a no man’s land when the ball came back. Ultimately, there was a lot of ball chasing and not enough opportunities to move it forward in a manner that brought Arshavin or Walcott into play on their strengths.
In the second half, when the visitors sat back, the midfield wasn’t incisive enough but a lack of understanding and movement up front also contributed to that.
Walcott: Never got an early ball to use his pace. Was double-teamed every time he got the ball. Crossing wasn’t great but there were never enough targets. Should have been moved to a central position when the visitors were playing a high line.
RvP: Incredible work rate. I lost count of the runs he made without ever getting a good ball to match their quality. Put in some good corners.
Arshavin: His touch was disappointing on more occasions than one. Work rate was better and he was really trying to contribute in defence. Never got a chance to run at the defenders in a one-v-one.
I thought the system forced the wide players into a defensive position far too often. Van Persie could never win a ball in the air and hold it up. Given the struggles of the midfield, this meant the attacking opportunities were really limited. When the ball did get forward in wide areas there just weren’t enough bodies in support.
Subs: Lansbury and Bendtner could not make a big impact but it’s hardly their fault.
Wenger: He has to find a better system where the whole defence (not just the defenders) is more co-ordinated and there are clear opportunities to transition to attack. The current players just don’t suit this system which is still unproven anyway. Has also taken way too many risks and the future looks bleak when so many things go wrong at the same time. Deserves credit for picking Nasri and for motivating the players to give their all.