Written by Wonderman
It was encouraging to learn the team news by way of sky sports as I came out of Highbury and Islington station. Both Szczesny and Djourou had been restored to the starting line up as had been hinted earlier in the week and Song was passed fit.
I was concerned with the new found confidence of Carroll and Djourou was just the ticket. The only bad news was that Sagna was still injured, but after Eboue’s performance last week I was not overly concerned ( how ill judged that would prove).
Before the game a minute silence was impeccably observed in tribute to the late Asrenal Director Danny Fiszman and those Liverpool supporters who died at Hillsborough.
We started with Szczesny in goal, Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny and Clichy in defence. A midfield of Cesc, Diaby and Wilshere, with Walcott,Van Persie and Nasri up top. The first couple of minutes saw us trying to get our passing going with mixed success. We were either passing the ball to the opposition or under passing leaving our players at risk of injury.
Liverpool had set up defensively with the view to counter, a tactic that everyone except Barca bring to the Emirates. They were trying to use Reina’s massive kicking ability to get in behind our defense, but Djourou was not having a bar of it. He set his stall out early and Caroll was pretty ineffective whilst on the pitch. In the 6th minute Suarez took a free kick but hit it straight at Szczesny. Arsenal continued to attempt to penetrate Liverpool’s defense but they were compact and aggressive, ensuring that the danger areas that we liked to exploit were negated.
In the 15th minute Kosser had a header hit the bar with Reina in no man’s land. The 19th minute saw great interplay between Cesc and Nasri which ended with a fantastic cross from Nasri which Reina did well to pluck out of the air before Walcott was waiting to pounce. A similar move in the 23rd minute on the other side between Walcott and Cesc had the same result. Two minutes later the ball was in the back of the Liverpool net through a trademark Cesc/Van Persie combination, but Robin was correctly adjudged to be offside.
Suarez and Caroll were trying to combine but we kept them dysfunctional and ineffective. It was apparent to me how bereft of pace the Liverpool front line was and we were containing them comfortably. By this time we were dominating possession Robin chased the channel followed by Reina but was unable to keep the ball in play with the goalie way out of his goal. The final 10 minutes of the half saw us enjoy what must have been 70% possession but creating no clear cut chances.
At half time, I felt it had gone exactly as I thought it would, except I had expected more of a threat from Caroll and Suarez. I was pleased with Diaby’s contribution, he was incisive and effective, no dawdling or pirouettes and early passes meeting their intended destination. Djourou and Kosser were in control. Eboue was causing real concern to Liverpool along with Walcott on the right hand side.
In the second half Liverpool looked to have a willingness to attack with more intent and continued to try to catch us on the break but not without neglecting solid defensive play. The 54th minute saw Eboue’s achilles trodden on in one of their attacks and he went down like he had been shot leaving their left midfielder to advance.
We continued to probe without success and a clash between Carragher and his right back left him semi unconscious for what seemed ages, which didn’t help preserve our momentum. He left on a stretcher and luckily wasn’t seriously injured . So here we were with two novice teenagers playing full backs and their main leader / communicator off on a stretcher replaced by the pony tailed one , bloodbath time you would presume….wrong in the 71st minute Walcott and Wilshere were replaced by Bendtner and Arshavin.
Arshavin immediately injected that urgency that our attacks had started to lack, he ran at defenders, committing them attempting to disrupt their two banks of 4 with some success, but I thought our movement in reaction to this was poor and in some cases non existent. Robin rarely threatened the near post and Bendtner out wide right is a mystery to me. By the 80th minute Diaby was beginning to revert to type, probably through tiredness and was correctly replaced by Song .
The crowd were beginning to show signs of nervousness and the Liverpool away support were getting louder than our 55,000 plus fans. The removal of Walcott was like a shot in the arm for the Liverpool defense. Gone was the worry of the ball over the top, gone was the worry of road runner coming at them at 900mph. In the 82nd minute a good delivery from Clichy saw Robin glance a header goalwards, but no danger . Two minutes later Clichy to Cesc to Nasri to Robin again all one touch saw the gilt edge chance we had been waiting for, but Reina earned his corn and stood big.
We then broke again but Cesc made the wrong choice of pass, frustration/ nerves were beginning to kick in. Shortly after Suarez got in with a blindside run behind Clichy with no midfielder tracking him and rather than cut it back to two Liverpool players who surely would have tested the goalkeeper or even scored he blasted high, wide and handsome. We continued to press but my concern was the gaps Eboue was leaving behind and his poor recovery runs to get back, all of Liverpool’s attacks were exploiting that space. Because of the injury there were 8 minutes extra time signalled.
In the 96th Cesc was brought down in the box after some cute footwork Penalty ! Van Persie despatched it coolly followed by a feeling of absolute relief/jubilation in the stadium 1-0. BUT it was at this point that we rubbed our little magic lamp and summoned St Self destruct. Straight from the restart Liverpool desperately tried to shoot. Szczesny parried and was closed down by Suarez forcing him to pick up. Suarez then turned his back on the goalie giving him the chance to take the ball to the opposite side of the box and use up some valuable time. Instead he kicked the ball to the half way line back to Liverpool whilst the defence were still pushing up.
Liverpool then went long with 3 players against our 4 defenders and Meireles running past the non reacting Bendtner. Song had two chances to clear, Kosser had a chance to clear both unconvincing, the ensuing scramble saw a free kick correctly awarded for a foul at the edge of the box. Suarez hit the wall with his effort and it ballooned to our right where Lucas was closely followed by Eboue running towards the corner flag with his back to goal. From where I sat 110 metres or so at the other end of the pitch, it looked like Eboue had put his hand on his back and then fell on top of him, stonewall penalty, to make it worse after protestations of innocence Eboue had that ridiculous grin on his face. Kuyt despatched his penalty 1-1 ….the stadium began to empty almost immediately
Szczesny – 7 Looked assured and was safe in his handling. Kicking still requires some work and he needs to add ‘game craft ‘ to his locker
Eboue -6 Did not have a bad game but made a very bad decision that cost us 2 points to do what he did was just typical of us this season. Still has the tendency to make injury seem worse than it is which annoys the hell out of me.
Djourou – 8:5 My man of the match I shudder to think what would have happened had he not recovered from injury today. Carroll knew he was in a game today
Kosser – 8 did not do much wrong but still has a tendency to try and win an unwinnable ball , but what a first season
Clichy -7 Energetic as usual and got forward well, but still worries me when he has time on the ball in our defensive third
Diaby – 8 pushed Djourou hard for MoM put in a very good shift today linking play quickly and efficiently, was subbed at the right time but should be pleased with today’s work
Wilshere – 7 not his best game as there were many stray passes today. But the sign of a class player is one who always wants the ball no matter how many mistakes he makes. Kept going until he was subbed
Cesc – 7.5 almost identical to Wilshere but was instrumental in winning our penalty
Nasri-7 not his best game and is beginning to look battle weary
Walcott- 7 was no where near as effective as I expected , especially playing against an 18 year old novice. Is not a winger
Van Persie – 8 battled all game usually against 4 defenders, had balls of steele to take our penalty at the 11th hour
Arshavin – 7.5 Looked dangerous when he came on and tried to raise the tempo. Perhaps should have started bearing in mind his record against Liverpool
Bendtner -7 is not a wide player, does not look or play like one, so why do we insist on putting him there ?
Song -7.5 Solid return from injury
In closing, there is continual talk of buying this player or that player but in my opinion no matter who we buy or who plays, when we continue to commit such fundamental errors of judgement life will always be more difficult than it needs to be. Mathematically the title is not absolutely dead as I still think there will be a twist or two, but whilst we remain unbeaten in the league this year we don’t appear to have the required momentum to be champions…but I could be wrong
St Self Destruct strikes again !!