10 February 2010

Liverpool 0-1 Arsenal

Reina
Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Mascherano Lucas
Kuyt Gerrard Maxi
Ngog

Goals:
Diaby 72’

Diabolical.

Well, the game plan “worked” for 70 minutes – keep it tight, hope for the break – but Liverpool’s appalling attack play let Arsenal hang around, and they finally made the breakthrough in front of their baying fans. One defensive error – from Degen, on for Carra because of a groin strain – and it cost them. Haven’t heard that in, oh, six games. Nice while it lasted. And despite constant Liverpool pressure for the last 15 minutes – including a last minute Gerrard free kick, from a position reminiscent of the win over Villa two seasons ago, which Fabregas seemingly handled – it’s another debilitating loss.

Other than a five-minute spell a quarter of the way through the match and an early Gallas free header when Agger lost him on a corner, Arsenal posed few questions in the first half. The home side sparked to life in the 24th when Skrtel did well to cut out Nasri’s center after Insua was caught upfield. Two chances for Bendtner and a smart block on Nasri’s shot by Insua followed before we reverted to prudence for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Liverpool had absolutely nothing to write about for chances at the other end as Maxi, Kuyt, and Ngog took every possible opportunity to lose possession in the final third.

But it was far more open in the second half. Liverpool had two excellent chances within ten minutes, but Lucas shot just over after surging into the box and Ngog lingered on a breakaway from Gerrard’s throughball, allowing Gallas to get back for a wonderful tackle. But it wasn’t one-way traffic, as Arsenal marched right down the field following Ngog’s chance, with Rosicky allowing Reina to smother after overrunning Arshavin’s delicious throughball.

We’re not going to be blaming one person for that loss, but I’ll firmly maintain the turning point came when Carragher limped off in the 54th. Arsenal soon began to up the pressure, with Bendtner nearly scoring after his pass was deflected back to him, only to see Reina do just enough before the ball was cleared. And the home side grew in confidence, playing keep ball before Diaby broke the deadlock.

Arsenal must have had something like 75% possession from the hour mark until the goal. And while chances were at a premium – Bendtner seeing yellow for a dive in the box when he could have been through and a Rosicky blast just deflected over – an Arsenal goal felt imminent with the home side’s increasing dominance. And with Liverpool caught forward, Rosicky’s cross found an on-rushing Diaby, left open as Degen didn’t follow his run. Just despicable.

The goal at least prompted a response from Liverpool, with Babel replacing Lucas as Liverpool went 4-4-2 for the final 15 minutes. And it’s gonna be hard to argue against Babel after his cameo off the bench, creating about as much as the rest of the team in 75 fewer minutes. Only Almunia's fingertips prevented him an equalizer, cutting in and blasting an immense shot in the 86th, with the keeper barely tipping it onto the bar. In my defense, I think Babel’s a good option off the bench, and that’s where he did his damage from. From there, Babel headed at Almunia from the subsequent corner, Rodriguez shot straight at the keeper two minutes later, and Gerrard’s aforementioned free kick hit the wall. And now, we’re back in crisis mode. Feast or famine.

I do not understand why Maxi’s started ahead of Riera in the last two matches, and Rodriguez did absolutely nothing today meriting the 90 minutes. None of the front four worked well together, in contrast to the pre-match hopes, and Kuyt was also especially poor on the opposite flank. But Liverpool had improved with Riera back in the side, and Maxi’s inability to mesh with his teammates clearly weighed the team down. Insua was also inconsistent, but surprisingly in attack instead of defense, where he wasn't bad up against Nasri, Eboue, and Rosicky (who came on for an injured Nasri in the 37th).

I do understand – and lobbied for – the game plan. And other than that solitary goal, the defense did well; Arsenal is a tough team to face at the Emirates, even given current form, and were stifled for long stretches. But the attack was absolutely dreadful and it took Benitez 78 minutes to change things up. Even I’m infuriated. That change – some change – needed to be made 10-15 minutes sooner.

We’re not back to square one, but Liverpool’s seeing Sisyphus’ rock rolling back down the hill after a seven-game struggle to push it up. The gap between Arsenal and Liverpool is a basically-impossible-to-overhaul eight points, while City’s level with two games in hand. And City’s the next opponent.

For better or worse, there’s still a long road to hoe.

29 comments:

Matt said...

I can only imagine that Maxi starts b/c he (technically) can play all over the field, allowing interplay between he, Gerrard, and Kuyt.

Technically.

Deradful indeed.

Mike Georger said...

The Degen substitution was inexplicable and may cost us fourth. Why the fuck would you bring him on when he cannot defend at all? The last two games against Arsenal we had given up six goals and four of those were because of mistakes from the right back position (Arbeloa and Johnson), so you stick in a guy who is just a forward bomber and can't handle anyone with speed? AGAINST ARSENAL? Why the fuck didn't he put Kelly in? He had the stones to bleed him in a Champions League game, and if he isn't fit enough to play 25 minutes why the fuck is he on the bench?

Babel has to start over Ngog, he has done more in his last two cameos than Ngog has done in weeks.

I don't get what Rafa is doing. He looks like he is trying to derail us. If we don't beat City next game out, we're finished.

Absolutely sickening result.

nate said...

Agree completely re: Degen.

With how Maxi and Kuyt played (read: poorly), Babel would have been the better option tonight. But given his reticence to pass and the fact he's made far more impact off the bench, I dunno if starting him as a lone striker is the best course of action. Ngog wins more headers and tries to bring others into play. But, admittedly, it can't get much worse than today (attacking-wise, I mean. I've watched Liverpool this season; I know things can be worse than this).

Marc said...

Nate,

I can see you are really set on the whole Babel-off-the-bench thing, but it's time to rethink it.

Consider this:

We lack a reliable attack. No matter what side we put together, until Torres is back we lack offense. That means we're going to need to scrape out a lot of 1-0 games relying on defense.

It's going to be hard to get that one goal in a lot of games. Waiting until 60 or 70 minutes in to play our most dangerous threat gives us almost no chance to find the goal first -- in fact, you'll see a replay of this game over and over. We'll defend like heck, give up a late goal, and then almost score when Babel comes on.

As we showed against Everton, when we get that first goal, we're now strong enough to completely shut down teams. But we have to give ourselves a chance to score first, and that's why Babel needs to start until Torres is back.

Bless their hearts, our squad looks like a feisty mid-table team with the way they are scrapping. I'll take it over the lethargic doldrums of the first half of the year, but we need some offense to be a top 4 side.

At least we have 100% confirmation of Jovanovic for next season...

nate said...

He's had five starts this season. Spurs, Leeds, Sunderland, Arsenal (LC), and City. He was gash in all five, although injured early against City. But he's made an impact off the bench. I don't think it's a massive leap in logic.

I'm a lot more willing to consider two up top – Ngog and Kuyt – in Torres' absence than Babel starting as a lone striker. And I don't think I'm simply being stubborn.

Marc said...

Well, regardless of what we do, nothing's going to come easy the rest of the way because the horses aren't there. We're a defensive team now that just has to hope for a bounce or a break.

I'm glad a European game comes between Arse and City so we can regroup a little. Man City's previous loss at Hull means today isn't a disaster, and if we can draw or win there and they continue to shed points on the road, we can stave them off.

And hey, at least we aren't Spurs fans. ;)

Anonymous said...

No Spurs fan here man :)

Also I thought that last minute handball should have been a penalty.

drew said...

It was never a penalty, Fabregas' feet were outside the box and so his arm (lifted straight above his head) was too. However, it was an intentional handball on a goalbound shot, and as such should have been a straight red.

Poor performance and I am as baffled as anyone by Degen over Kelly (and where the hell was Aurelio when it was clear by halftime that set pieces were our only chance of scoring?), but Everton and City were always the more important matches in this string and we have to concentrate now on the weekend.

nate said...

Having finally seen replays, I don't know how Webb missed the handball. It looked to me like Fabregas was standing on the line top of the box, so penalty is arguable, but totally missing the call is unforgivable. Who remembers when Howard Webb was the best ref in the league? Now it's Mike Dean by a country mile, and he can't do Liverpool games cause he's from the Wirral. Sigh.

Also, I can't decide if having a week off before Unirea before City next Sunday is a good thing or not.

amarestoudemaxo said...

David NGog is a horrible player who brings nothing to the table and has no place in the English Premier League, especially a top four team.

Ryan Babel, inconsistent and frustrating as he is, at least opens up the front with his speed (which is great), and has some ability to finish. I mean, we were just booting it up field for a lot of the game, why not put a target man on the end of those who can make teams pay with his pace?

He can't create for others (it's not like NGog can, he looked like a frightened middle schooler playing on Varsity yesterday), so don't ask him to.

Playing him at Striker as opposed to Winger (which he usually does and is ineffective) might work better because he'll have less "Creating for others" duties flashing in from the side and can be the final pass on some attacks. Let him prove he's a homeless-to-poor man's Torres or Henry or whoever his potential draws comparisons to this week.

Ryan Babel's position is meant to be a striker, not a winger, and if it's not proven at Anfield, it will be at Ajax or Fiorentina or somewhere else.

As for Kuyt/NGog up front...I've already said what I gotta say about NGog, I'd rather have Kuyt on the wing tracking back more than he'd be able to as a Striker.

Mike Georger said...

I'd rather see Pacheco alone up top than Ngog at this point. Ngog did well earlier in the year but he's falling apart. Though it's not his fault that it's all falling on his shoulders.

And a day later, fuck Phillip Degen in the face.

drew said...

The thing about Degen is that he is clearly more comfortable as a midfield player, or a wingback at best. Playing him as a fullback and giving him strict defensive duties is just never going to work, it doesn't mesh with his limited skillset.

I know pretty much every squad has had pretty bad injury troubles this season (one reason English football is down against Spanish), but the cruel thing for Liverpool has been that every single extended injury takes out a "creative" player: Torres, Benayoun, Johnson, Aquilani, even Agger. In Shankly's terms, our piano carriers are healthy, but we've had no one to play the damn thing. (Save Gerrard and he's been off song all year, likely because he's trying to do it all himself.)

nate said...

• I have a far higher tolerance for Rafa's innate conservatism than most, and I'm still infuriated by bringing on Degen instead of Kelly.

Instead of taking a gamble on the more defensive, albeit younger and less experienced Kelly, Rafa went with 'the devil he knew' in Degen. Even though, as many have stated, we've all seen his lack of defensive ability. Attacking play is Degen's "forté," and that obviously wasn't needed in replacing Carragher.

Hell, I'd rather Mascherano moved to right back, and Spearing or Aurelio slotted into midfield – even considering the opposition and their respective qualities – than bringing on Degen in that circumstance. Ugh.

"The devil you know" is the only way I can sum it up, and that mindset cost Liverpool an exceptionally important point yesterday.

• Playing Pacheco as a lone striker is insane, as I'm sure you're aware, Georger. But, yeah, I agree Ngog's been worse of late with the team out of form and with increased responsibility. It's partly why I initially thought Kuyt might start up top if Aquilani was available.

He's only 20, and we've seen signs of a decent player. It's no surprise he struggled away from home, against Arsenal, with little help from other attackers. "A horrible player who brings nothing to the table and has no place in the English Premier League" is completely unfair hyperbole.

• Yes, yes, we all realize we can't blame injuries and every team has problems with them, but drew's piano-carriers analogy is 1000% correct.

Mike Georger said...

Shit arguably Kelly has played in a more pressure packed situation for this team than Degen had.

Pacheco up top alone would in fact be insane. But desperate times ... I mean he's probably the fastest player we have that has played for the first team, at least he could be an option off the bench. But what REALLY needs to happen is he needs to give the striker who replaces Ngog in each game more than twelve minutes of playing time.

Mike Georger said...

and then there's this

Marlon said...

It's the Daily Mail, Georger. I'll believe it when I see it.

Exactly how fast is Dani Pacheco? The problem with starting Pacheco is that he's far too small to be a lone striker, and he could play off Kuyt, but I doubt Rafa will go 4-4-2. I also doubt he'll play a young untried player during such an important stretch games.

nate said...

RAWK has some outstanding nicknames for the Daily Mail.

My favorites are the Daily Heil and the Daily Fail.

Mike Georger said...

Dani Pacheco made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.

Marlon said...

That's a really really obscure Star Wars reference Mike.

nate said...

There's such a thing as an obscure Star Wars reference?

PS: Isn't a parsec is a unit of distance, not time????

Mike Georger said...

Yes it is, though George Lucas offered some bullshit explanation about black holes, he clearly just screwed up and thought it sounded good.

nate said...

Okay, now I'm getting excessively nerdy and we're getting really off track, but I was quoting the Family Guy version of Star Wars.

I guess this is what happens when Liverpool doesn't have a weekend game.

Mike Georger said...

FUCK

I love his reaction to that question, and Brian gargling the water.

Abhiram said...

How about daily manc nickname...
Used in kopblog.

Mike Georger said...

I mean I'm not saying I could be proven insanely accurate in the near future, but I could be proven insanely accurate in the near future

drew said...

I still can't see Pacheco left to forage for himself alone up top, he's not at all a target man or a player who excels at holding up play. He's a link striker and would work just fine with Dirk up beside him or centrally in a 4-2-1-3.

It will be good for him to make the jump as he has has bossed the reserve level all season long and has nothing left to prove there; he shows every sign of becoming the player we all hoped he would when we snatched him away from Barcelona.

Mike Georger said...

Yeah I'm not sure where he will play, as he can pretty much play anywhere in an attacking role, but him being able to start soon would be outstanding. I'm guessing the second Urinea leg.

drew said...

Remember too that he is only just 19, and was actually still 18 when making his debut.

I say that not because we should treat him with kid-gloves or anything, but because that is around the age when special players really start showing it at the top level: Owen was right around 18 when he established himself in the side; Fowler was just closer 18 than 19 when he scored 5 at Fulham. Rush was not quite 20 when he nailed down his place (though had arguably been ready for at least a year), etc.

Pacheco doesn't have to be any of those three but getting blooded this season, and holding his own once in the lineup, would be terrific signs for the future.

nate said...

I'm hoping he comes on for Gerrard or Kuyt on Thursday and starts the next leg. But that might be too optimistic, although if he's being mentioned by Benitez, he's going to have a role to play. Rafa doesn't usually mince words in this regard. I reckon Dani's most likely in the "Gerrard role," but able to play anywhere along the line of three (fyi he's right-footed).