Koscielny (og) 23'
van Persie 31' 90+3'
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Liverpool are the better side but score only once despite multiple chances, missing a penalty (and the rebound) and hitting the woodwork twice. Then Liverpool concede on the lone opposition opportunity when van Persie gets in front of Carragher far too easily. And that was just the first half. It got worse in the second.
One you haven't heard is that all this led to a Liverpool loss, the first of the season at Anfield and the first Liverpool's suffered after taking the lead. Of course, eight of the other 12 home matches finished level. Which is why Liverpool are where they are. The dream that's been deferred by draw after draw finally seems dead.
We worried about Carragher against van Persie, and the worries proved truer than feared. Liverpool's stand-in captain bears much of the blame for both Arsenal's goals, but both were outstandingly taken by the league's top scorer. Still, he's only part of the reason why Liverpool lost, and probably not even the biggest reason. The team with the league's best finisher, despite defensive frailties and injury issues, beats the "better" team who can't score for love or money. Stop the presses!
With Gerrard, Johnson, and Agger unavailable, Liverpool deployed a 4-2-3-1 as expected, but with Kuyt lurking behind Suarez and Henderson ostensibly on the right. And tactically, Liverpool's plan "worked": keeping possession, creating chances, and limiting Arsenal's. Until van Persie struck almost solely on his own. Liverpool truly were the better side in everything but the goals and it's hard to fault the tactics for the forwards' utter profligacy.
Granted, Liverpool's lone goal was incredibly lucky, a disappointing low Henderson cross which Koscielny fortunately turned into his own net, but once again, there's opportunity after opportunity to lament. The first epitomized Liverpool's intent, a Reina punt bypassing midfield, Koscielny's error letting Suarez in, but Downing whiffed on his attempted 25-yard volley into an open net. Suarez and Henderson contrived to foul up a fast break four minutes later, over-intricate and mis-controlled by the midfielder.
Then came the penalty fiasco. Suarez won it after a smart one-two with Kuyt, going down on Szczesny's stupid lunge despite minimal, if any, contact. It was still a cast-iron penalty. Which Kuyt sent too close to the keeper, also seeing his weak rebound well-saved, Liverpool's sixth miss (eight if you count the Carling Cup spot-kicks) in nine attempts this season. Koscielny's own goal four minutes later looked a reprieve, karma for the early blown opportunities, but Liverpool failed to take advantage, continuing to spurn shots for the rest of the half, in keeping with the totality of the season so far.
It could have been two two minutes after the opener. Another break led to Kuyt smartly finding an open Henderson. Szczesny saved his effort, Suarez put the rebound onto the post. Six minutes after that, Arsenal were level. Sagna had too much space to cross, and van Persie easily got in front of Carragher, unstoppably heading past Reina from close range. The rest of the chances in the half were Liverpool's, as usual: Szczesny palmed Suarez's poke behind after a magic jinking run, Skrtel headed the subsequent corner over, and Kuyt hit the post with the last kick of the half after redirecting Adam's low cross.
Arteta's frightening injury soon after the restart blunted the home side more than Arsenal had to that point, with the Gunners keeping possession far better (but with few sights of goal) after a six-minute delay. Each side had two excellent chances in the final half-an-hour. Kelly whiffed on Kuyt's cross from yards out after regrouping following a corner and a long ball five minutes later released Downing and Suarez behind Arsenal's defense but the winger's center that should have led to an open goal was too close to the keeper. Those opportunities sandwiched Walcott's near goal, brilliantly saved by Reina after Gibbs got behind Kelly.
Liverpool continued to have the majority of possession after those quick-fire chances, but without any of the earlier opportunities. As the team was playing "well" (coupled with unnecessary midweek exertions), Liverpool waited until very late to make changes, replacing Downing with Bellamy in the 86th. But then van Persie struck in added time, coolly taking Arsenal's second excellent chance of the half, as you'd expect from the league's runaway top-scorer. Song's ball over the top found van Persie in space between Carragher and Kelly, uncovered by either, with his volley sweetly (and too easily) past Reina at the near post. Two shots, two goals. That's the difference between these sides. Pretty much the only difference. Liverpool had 12 shots to Arsenal's 10 in total, but seven of Arsenal's 10 were on target, compared to Liverpool's four of 12. Liverpool had 12 corners to Arsenal's zero. Zero.
Admittedly, you can criticize some of Dalglish's selections. Carragher instead of Coates was a worry, but nearly every manager ever is going to go with a veteran club legend (despite his obvious flaws) rather than a promising 21-year-old who's made all of two league appearances, especially if Liverpool's regular captain is out injured. If Suarez is playing as a lone striker, Maxi should probably play given how well the two link up. But it's hard to criticize Liverpool's tactics, which mostly stifled an XI which rampaged over third-placed Tottenham last week. Had Liverpool converted one of those chances in the first 75 minutes, Liverpool probably wins the game. Again, that's the difference between these sides.
Which is why any criticism should fall on the shoulders of the players. Kuyt, Downing, and Suarez should have tallied today, the first two far more disappointing than the latter, who actually had his best game since returning from suspension. Spearing and Henderson were excellent in midfield, Skrtel was again superlative at the back, and Enrique silenced Walcott just like in the reverse fixture. The strikers, along with Adam and Carragher, are the scapegoats. I have little defense for any of them.
But it's hard to countenance universal dismissal of this team's potential or the manager's intelligence. The changes since Dalglish and FSG took over are undeniably evident, and no matter league position or repeated disappointments, this side is vastly better than anything we saw under the previous regime. Granted, that's little consolation given the money spent, but if you can't see progress, even if Liverpool's now basically assured of missing the Champions League for the third-straight season, I can't help you.