17 April 2011

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal

Reina
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Suarez Carroll

Goals:
van Persie 90+8' (pen)
Kuyt 90+12' (pen)

Football. Sometimes it's just so indescribably ludicrous. Which is what makes it so wonderful.

It looked like Liverpool had dropped points in injury time for the second-straight meeting. After holding out for 97 minutes, through injuries to Carragher and Aurelio and despite heavy Arsenal pressure, Spearing – arguably the man of the match – brought down Fabregas in the box. Notched in the last minute of added time, Liverpool looked sunk.

A last gasp spell of pressure following the requited hoof down ended with a ray of hope when Lucas won a free kick just outside the top of the box. Just outside. Suarez sent the effort into the wall, but Eboue's moment of madness – bundling over Lucas with the ball going away from goal and Marriner's whistle at his lips – gave Liverpool a second reprieve. Kuyt stepped up to maintain his 100% record from the spot with the last kick of the game.

It was one of those rare examples that this might be a just universe. The word "deserves" is meaningless when it comes to sport, but Liverpool deserved a point today. After a impressive opening 10 minutes, Arsenal took the game to Liverpool for long stretches. Arsenal's increasing onslaught was aided by Aurelio's 20th-minute injury, replaced by Jack Robinson, but the tide had turned before the substitution.

Liverpool deserves this point because of how resolutely they defended, forced to use two teenage fullbacks for 80 minutes, each making his second appearance. With Flanagan up against Nasri and Robinson facing Walcott, each had an enormous task. Liverpool changed formation following Robinson's entrance, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 with Suarez wide left and Meireles behind Carroll, which helped blunt Fabregas and Wilshere in the middle, but led to Arsenal repeatedly attacking Robinson through Walcott. It's hard to overrate the young defender's effort, but Walcott's usual horrific final ball admittedly helped matters.

Make no mistake, Arsenal had chances. Arsenal always have chances. Koscielny cannoned a header off the crossbar in the 16th, van Persie had a goal rightfully ruled out for offside in the 25th, Fabregas shot wide of the near post in the 29th, and Skrtel barely blocked Eboue's injury-time effort. Liverpool rarely countered with the midfield forced so deep, made worse by Suarez and Carroll's surprising disconnect. Each side also had a first-half penalty shout rightfully turned down, foreshadowing the game's preposterous finish: Spearing was fouled by Djourou during Liverpool's early flurry, but appeared to handle in the build-up; Kuyt was lucky not to be called for handball in the 16th when Walcott's shot hit his chest then arm.

Liverpool were better after the interval, reverting to 4-2-2-2, but Carragher's horrific 57th minute injury, colliding with Flanagan, killed any burgeoning momentum. The extended stoppage would end up helping Liverpool, but it didn't look that way with Carragher frighteningly carried off, replaced by Kyrgiakos, and Arsenal resuming its pressure. Carroll went off soon after, having picked up an earlier knee knock, replaced by Shelvey with Kuyt shifting up front.

Van Persie created two half-chances, while Suarez forced Szczesny into a decent save on the break, before each side nearly won it before the 90th minute. First, Reina incredibly stopped van Persie's close-range shot, onside and through, before Suarez wastefully tried to replicate his Sunderland wonder-goal to decidedly worse effect.

Deep into injury time, with Liverpool looking likely to hold on, Spearing stuck out a leg and Fabregas made the most of it. But then Arsenal crumbled, as Arsenal is wont to do, Eboue did something crazy, as Eboue is wont to do, and Kuyt smashed in the equalizing spot kick, as Kuyt is wont to do. Happy days.

Admittedly, a point does Liverpool little good in its Sisyphean attempt to qualify for Europe. It's worse for Arsenal's "title chase," but Liverpool would probably have to win its final five games, with Tottenham losing at least two in addition to going down at Anfield.

And yet, there's no reason to be unhappy with that performance or result. Liverpool's response to adversity was its best of the season. Liverpool lost its sole senior fullback in the 20th minute and its organizing center-back captain in the 57th. The average age of the team which finished the match was 24, the back-line 23, and that's including 31-year-old Kyrgiakos. Having Flanagan, Robinson, Spearing, and Shelvey – all homegrown, all under 22 – bodes incredibly well for the future. Spearing, Lucas, and Skrtel were outstanding, while Liverpool turned in one of its best defensive performances of the season despite the incredibly-makeshift back four.

This season has been a wash at best, unforgettably horrible at times. But the future's bright, the future's red.

5 comments:

mardia said...

The fight and determination showed by our team, especially after Carra's horrific injury, was so impressive and heartening. When you consider the first half, the teenage fullbacks whose jobs were to defend Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott--amazing.

Raatzie said...

I know this is an annual rite of passage, but a decent chunk of change (not City- or Chelsea-sized, but decent), spent well, and the other challengers to the throne all being in Europe, could really yield great things.

Anonymous said...

That was something to see. Such a hard fought match. Hope Carra is not out for long.

What do you think of Shelvey? As impressed as I've been with youngsters like Kelly, Flanagan, Robinson...Shelvey looks out of place whenever he comes on. He just looks very stiff and doesn't remind me of any of other attacking midfielder I've ever seen in his movements, pace, decisions. I know hes very young and I don't know much about him. Am I totally off here?

nate said...

@Anonymous:

Today was a bad example: return from injury, out of position (forced to defend), and under serious Arsenal pressure for almost his entire spell on the pitch.

But I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you. It's a small sample size, but I've been more impressed with all three defenders, as well as Spearing of late. I'm hesitant to criticize any player so young, but I agree, he just seems "slow" (in both play and decision-making) too often. His range of passing is very good when he picks the right option, he gets in good attacking positions (see his tenacious role in the run-up to Lucas winning the late free kick), and he's certainly not lacking in confidence.

There has to be a reason he's gotten so many substitute opportunities from both Hodgson (regardless of Roy's other faults...) and Dalglish while Pacheco went out on loan to Norwich, and it's not just the nationality on his passport. I assume there's more I'm missing.

waldo said...

What a game from Robinson!!! In several opportunities he ran down Theo Walcott (yeah I typed that correctly), and looked comfortable at the left back, which is a great need in our current team. Could we depend on a Kelly, Skrtel, Carrager, Robinson back line for the future? I would like a slightly better center back but the defensive future looks bright with Flanny, Kelly, and Robinson. All three have looked young at worst and stout at best.