15 August 2010

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal

Reina
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kuyt Gerrard Mascherano Jovanovic
Cole
Ngog

Goals:
Ngog 46'
Reina (og) 90'

So many conflicting emotions. Honestly, I'd have taken (and predicted) a draw before kickoff, and would have been thrilled with one after Joe Cole marked his league debut with a straight red on the stroke of halftime. But then Ngog scored a absolute stunner a minute after the restart and Liverpool were holding on despite Arsenal's increasing possession and Atkinson's one-sided refereeing. And then Glen Johnson cheekily tried to win a throw-in, conceding possession, and Reina somehow fumbled the subsequent cross into his own net when Chamakh could have been called for a foul. In the last minute of regular time. When Almunia got a similar foul call during a corner where Kuyt should have won a penalty. Naturally. No matter the managerial or personnel changes, Liverpool's luck stays exactly the same.

It was an auspicious start in many ways. Arsenal were a far stronger side for the majority of the opening half, Vermaelen testing Reina with a fierce fifth minute free kick while the home side struggled to maintain possession or string passes together. Slowly but surely, Liverpool improved, with Johnson forcing Almunia to tip a lefty shot over before Clichy cleared Ngog's header from the corner off the line. But then came Joe Cole's moment of madness. Chasing down Koscielny in the corner, clearly amped up in front of the Anfield crowd, Cole stupidly dove in, scissoring the debutant defender. I've seen that given yellow, but I've seen it given red more often. It was a horror tackle stemming from a desire to do too much. And now he'll miss the next three matches.

While we feared that Liverpool would fold under pressure in the second half, the team had other ideas. Mascherano cleverly picked up an errant pass when Arsenal trying to play their way out of defense and slotted perfectly for Ngog, who smashed a near post shot over Almunia. Sheer brilliance. But with Liverpool still on the front foot, with Arsenal clearly rattled by conceding, the Frenchman missed a free header that arguably would have iced the game ten minutes later. That's the young striker, almost any young striker, in a nutshell.

The Arsenal pressure, rising over the last half-hour, was inevitable. Liverpool were increasingly pushed deeper, with Arsenal bringing on Rosicky, Walcott, and van Persie. But they looked like courageously holding on, with Skrtel bravely blocking a Nasri shot while Reina saved Walcott's free kick and Rosicky's blast. Koscielny could have been off for hauling down a through Torres in the 83th (on for Ngog in the 74th), but Atkinson saw nothing; Rosicky could have been off for a horror tackle on Gerrard two minutes later, but only saw yellow. And then a hero became the goat. I've seen Reina make some bad errors, and this might be the worse, but that's the life of a goalkeeper. I still wouldn't trade him for any other.

Even though I'm not in a mood for picking out star players after the way that match ended, special mention must go out to Mascherano, Kuyt, and Ngog. Ngog's was a wonderful goal, and he worked hard as a sole outlet against a high backline. Kuyt's presence and constant running on the right were absolutely crucial at times. And Mascherano was a terror as usual, chipping in with an excellent assist. I may been sick of his transfer maneuvering, but he's still a tremendous player and an tremendous professional. Skrtel and Carragher (outside of a couple early shaky moments from Jamie) were also excellent against the supposedly aerially-dominant Chamakh.

So nothing won but nothing lost. Arsenal will claim a draw's deserved, but when it takes some terrible refereeing and a Reina mistake to get that draw, I'm dubious of the claim. Liverpool ended the first half with the better chances, and were better than the opposition in the second despite the man disadvantage. Like happened all too often last season, we're ruing luck and late goals conceded. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But my worry that this match could be a huge morale blow didn't come to fruition. Liverpool can take strength from the performance – especially in the second half – and a chip on their shoulder from the outcome. There are signs that this can be an excellent side, at least at Anfield; no matter who Arsenal were missing, they're still one of the best in the league. But there's also a lot of work still to be done.

12 comments:

JustinLFC10 said...

Been reading the blog for the last few years without commenting, but I guess I'll start now with a few thoughts;

~Good for N'gog. He's looked so much more confident in the preseason and qualifiers than last season. I'm glad it carried over to the league, although I was worried after the first 20 minutes or so.

~I love watching Stevie play CM, but I'm terrified that he'll see at least three straight reds this year.

~I know it was an important time, and we were already down, but I was pretty mad that Agger came back on the field. He looked utterly lost after taking the ball to the head, and it seemed like he came on against the trainer's wishes. Just seems very short-sighted, but hopefully I'm just worrying too much.

Anonymous said...

That was not supposed to happen. Bloody Atkinson.

Bella Donna.

nate said...

Glad you broke down and joined in the chorus, Justin. Seeing, and responding to, others' comments is my favorite part of this blog.

I was furious with Ngog after 20 or so minutes because of three offsides in that span, none needed if he was watching the line, but all strikers have those games. Couldn't have been prouder of his goal; if only he could have buried that free header. But I'm convinced he's going to be a very good – probably not great/world class, but very good – striker once he adding strength (his hold-up play can be great at times – key phrase "at times") and nous.

And yeah, agreed on Agger. I'm becoming worried that Masch picked up an injury, although haven't read anything definite yet, which forced that last substitutions. If Liverpool weren't already down to 10 or if there was another sub available, there's no way Agger comes back on. But under the cosh and in that situation, he pretty much had to if he could walk. Looked like concussion or heat exhaustion; hoping the latter.

And yeah, agreed on Stevie too (and Atkinson, obviously, Bella Donna).

drew said...

Gotta say, it stings a lot more that it was Reina making the telling mistake. He's my favorite player in the world, and I still wouldn't swap him for any other keeper out there--but that's the sort of save you have to make, horrible bounce or not. We don't have the squad right now to afford getting only one point out of a three-point effort, especially with the chance to take them off a direct rival for the CL spot.

I thought the game as a whole was a bit more dispiriting--the whole first half, other than Johnson, we were playing hit-and-hope at home; wasn't until Arsenal had to chase the game--when a point was no longer acceptable for them--that we made use of the space.

We'll see what happens with a fit Torres (if he were 100% Koscielny doesn't get the chance to haul him down, and we're up 2-0 after Nando makes Almunia look helpless). I really doubt though that we'll see a far different approach at City--and honestly that is probably the right call: there is every indication that their stupid assemblage of talent might be a bit slow coming together, and vulnerable to a smash-and-grab frustration. We'll have to find a way past Hart though.

Hoping this midweek to see a team with some kids out there, and a bench full of starpower to make the second leg a formality. However I'd hope Reina would get the start for this one; not that he's the sort to dwell on errors but a good shift should help him clear his head for the nouveaux riches.

dave3544 said...

I thought the straight red on Cole was a bit harsh. Maybe his history of bad challenges played a part, but there was clearly no intent in it, so a yellow and a talking to might have been sufficient.

Loved seeing the hard play in the second half. They had every reason to play on the defensive end and hope to hang on to a draw, but pushed on and put Arsenal on the back foot.

Agreed all around that I did not enjoy Agger come back on the pitch. He was clearly in distress and needed to stay off until he was sorted. The subbing of Rodriguez for Jovanovic made little sense at the time and less when it was play an injured Agger or go down to 9.

Marlon said...

Drew, you can't really be upset with Pepe because if Pepe hadn't made that amazing save on Rosicky than Liverpool would've been in real trouble. It's a bit of bad luck, but Pepe has shown he's world class so all we can do is move on.

nate said...

Have to say, I disagree with your point about Cole, Dave. History should play no part in whatever decision's made. Using past performances as a guide for diving (Drogba, Ronaldo, etc.) is one thing, but a bad tackle is a bad tackle is a bad tackle, no matter who's making it. Also, Cole doesn't really have a history of bad challenges; pretty sure Hodgson said that was the first he's been sent off in his career.

The only reason I can think of for the Maxi <--> Jova sub is fatigue, because Jova was running himself into the ground, but obviously can't confirm that. I adored his barging first half run, taking out two or three Arsenal players along the way. Players that take absolutely zero shit make me incredibly happy.

And I wouldn't worry about Pepe's mental state after that howler. One of his worst games was the FA Cup Final, and then he was the hero in penalties. One of the strongest characters around, and that's a big reason why he's such a good keeper. Obviously still want him to start against Trabzonspor.

vinnie said...

the substitution was made before Agger blacked out.

agree with every word you said, Nate. i hope that this wouldn't affect reina's confidence. we all could see it in his eyes that he was totally devastated.

i don't understand why he started to look uncomfortable when he almost screw up by letting the ball bounce in front of goal prior to the OG

on a side note, Woy showed his class and professionalism in the post match interview by not putting the blame on referee or luck, even though it was clear that both ref and luck weren't on our side. among all the qualities rafa possessed, i guess one of his downfall is making too many enemies by blaming on luck, referee, penalties, cards even though he was stating the truth

drew said...

@Marlon:

That's the trouble with being a keeper (and I'm speaking here from experience, though nothing more stressful than small-college games): if you're a striker, and you fluff ten chances and hit one, you're the hero. Keepers, though, can make ten fantastic saves and fluff the eleventh, and still be the villain. It's the least-appreciated position in any major sport, and mistakes have a way of hanging around far too long--remember how long it took Pepe to live down a wholly unwarranted perception of being "erratic," just on the strength of that one howler against Everton?

Pepe will know he could have done better, and he's the sort that will use that as fuel the next time out. That's what makes him one of the best; add in his skill on the ball and his peerless distribution, and he's the best bar none. (Plus I can't imagine a better teammate to have, or a better footballer to share a neighbourhood or school district with.)

All that said, you absolutely can be upset with him, as I'm sure he was upset with himself. (And that Rosicky chance, I'm pretty sure, went off Gerrard, though Pepe looked to have it covered.)

TimC said...

A good post and many good comments here. Looking ahead a little bit, I am worried about how Cole's suspension will impact the team. Today's performance was good but it was also pretty consistent with how things went under Benitez; the team defended solidly, tried to take away the opponent's clear strength, and looked to snatch a goal when the opportunity arose. They've been doing that for years and in my opinion a player like Cole just is not as important as players such as Kuyt, Jovanovic, etc., who take on significant defensive roles. I think we saw it a bit today with how little the red card impacted the team; Cole did not have major defensive duties and the ball was generally being sent over his head while in possession.

However, the games that seem to give the club the most trouble are games where Liverpool are the clear favorite. Here, they lacked under Benitez because the formula of defending solidly does not lead to much in terms of chances against an opponent doing the same. Players like Cole are vastly important in these kinds of games due to their creativity and ability to link attacks together and I see two such games coming up in WBA and Birmingham. If Liverpool are to make any kind of move up the table this season they will need three points from these games- losing Cole will make it that much harder.

Earl said...

About Reina, he's the player I'm least worried about. Zero concern there.

Cole was disappointing early, red card aside. Trying too hard maybe. Those 3 games would have been nice to work out the kinks.

Loved the effort from Ngog, he looks stronger this year. The usual suspects put in the work, Kuyt and Masch, but the Serb was a nice surprise. Much preferred over Maxi for me.

Torres being hauled down was a joke, but at least there was no injury setback. Its sad, but I'm terrified everytime he goes sprinting down the pitch.

Like you said, if I could have had a draw at the half I would have taken it. But that one hurts, especially since Chamakh was invisible for 89 minutes.

dave3544 said...

Nate, my bad on Cole's history. I seem to remember several hard challenges by him, but maybe I'm letting my distaste for anyone in Chelsea blue color my memory.