Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
Johnson (og) 50’
I should have gone to the basketball game.
A great first half, but an awful second half. And Liverpool lose despite taking the lead thanks to said awful second half. Complete and utter impotence when driving for a late goal, the exact opposite of last season’s team. Sound familiar?
A furious, high-pressing start almost saw Liverpool score twice before 15 minutes were off the clock. That’s the tempo and ambition we needed from the team; a 12th minute break between Gerrard and Torres ended with a tame Torres shot too close to Almunia before Gerrard should have won a penalty a minute later, with Webb ignoring Gallas’ reckless challenge because, I can only assume, Gerrard had pushed the ball too far forward.
Mascherano was in the middle of all of it, and a 25th minute injury, for which Denilson saw yellow, brought the tempo down. Yet, as Arsenal grew into the game, Liverpool found a way to take the lead four minutes before halftime, from a set play, through the much-maligned Kuyt. Aurelio’s deep central free kick found Lucas, who headed too close to Almunia. But Kuyt was there to clean up, poking home while Lucas stayed inactive in an offside position, for his sixth goal of the season.
But Arsenal came out of the blocks far stronger in the second half, and it didn’t take Liverpool long to pay for it. As usual. It’s utterly amazing how many times Liverpool’s forgotten that it’s a game of two halves, and they've paid for it in every single one.
First, an unfortunate fluke own goal from Johnson after Nasri’s cross took two deflections and Glen’s errant touch wrong-footed Reina. Eight minutes later, that man Arshavin punished Liverpool at Anfield yet again with a goal from nothing. His control on a deep cross took him around Johnson and a typical hammered shot with no backlift beat Reina. Fuck me running.
Aquilani’s entrance, for Mascherano on 66 minutes, saw Liverpool shift into a 4-1-4-1 formation, but Arsenal still saw more possession when shutting up shop, and the home side once again found it hard to break through. Ngog, on for the subpar Benayoun in the 79th, changed it again, to 4-4-2, but with little difference to the play. I’m struggling to think of any second half shots on target. Benayoun was invisible, while Torres’ clearly needs match fitness (as does Gerrard). Those are Liverpool’s three main attacking options, and when they suck, so does Liverpool. Finally having the first choice backline still saw Liverpool ship two goals, with Johnson mainly at fault for both (although Arsenal’s second was classic Arshavin).
This is a bad, bad loss. There’s no overemphasizing that. It’s the worst in the league – worse than Fulham or Sunderland – and probably only comparable to the late loss against Lyon. I’m furious at Howard Webb for the non-penalty, and every 50-50 call went Arsenal’s way, but this is AGAIN of Liverpool’s own making.
This win puts Arsenal in third by two points with a game in hand, and opens the chasm between them and the chasing pack. This loss makes fourth place infinitely harder, and it was already a challenge only halfway through December. The next three games are against Wigan, Wolves, and Pompey, before a trip to Villa on December 29. Liverpool simply cannot take anything other than 12 points from those four, or the season really is well and truly over.