30 January 2013

Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal

Goals:
Suarez 5'
Henderson 60'
Giroud 64'
Walcott 67'

One week ago, Arsenal beat West Ham 5-1, with four goals in seven minutes, after being held 1-1 at halftime. One month ago, Arsenal beat Newcastle 7-3 after being held 1-1 after halftime. No side has scored more goals at home than Arsenal. So maybe it's not incredibly surprising that Arsenal scored twice in three minutes against a constantly-pinned-back Liverpool.

That said, anytime you lose a two-goal lead is a massive failure. Liverpool have now drawn two games this season after going 2-0 up: at Everton and at Arsenal. Incidentally, those are the two clubs directly ahead of Liverpool in the table. Funny how that works, huh?

Some responsibility for both of Liverpool's goals is due to Arsenal mistakes. Both of Arsenal's goals were quite well-taken. That doesn't make it better either.

It was a dream start when Liverpool scored within five minutes, and it was a comedy of errors from the home side. Sagna's slip allowed Johnson in behind when there had been no threat, Vermaelen hilariously whiffed when attempting to cut out the cross, and while Szczesny made an excellent save on Sturridge, Wilshere deflected the ball straight to Henderson, who laid off to an open Suarez, his shot finding the back of the net via Mertesacker's deflection.

Arsenal's best chance of the half came almost immediately after Liverpool scored – keep this in mind for later – that dangerous period when a contented side goes to sleep. Wilshere's excellent throughball somehow made its way to Walcott between Johnson and Agger, but Reina somehow parried the point-blank shot.

The rest of the half proceeded in a similar vein: Arsenal pressed, Arsenal attacked, Liverpool held them at bay, and Liverpool countered. Liverpool's first half possession – 40.7% – was a low for a single half this season. Until the second half.

But with Carragher and Agger defending resolutely, Suarez tracking back well down the left, Henderson shuttling all over the pitch, and Gerrard utterly immense, Arsenal struggled to find an equalizer. Reina made another save on a Walcott shot, Giroud fired wide, and Liverpool defenders blocked three dangerous chances. But it's not as if Liverpool couldn't respond, and were unlucky not to extend its lead before the interval with Arsenal's defense looking capable of a mistake at any opportunity. Suarez and Sturridge shot narrowly wide on separate counters – Sturridge's set up by a jaw-dropping pass from Suarez – Agger had a header from a corner cleared off the line, and a Henderson chip with Szczesny stranded barely ended up on the roof of the net rather than in it.

The second half started as the first half went, with Liverpool finally getting the second on the hour, again with help from Arsenal's error-prone back four. But saying that goal came from an Arsenal error doesn't do Jordan Henderson justice. Sturridge passed the ball to the midfielder with both Mertesacker and Santos blocking his path to goal. Somehow, Henderson slipped between them, leaving Mertesacker kicking at air while he held off Santos and ran at Szczesny. Ramsey blocked Henderson's first shot, but despite being out-numbered five to one by Arsenal players, Henderson was first to the rebound, slotting into the empty net.

Rather than killing the game, the second goal marked a complete transformation. Arsenal may have had near-permanent pressure throughout the match, but Liverpool arguably had the better chances until Giroud scored. That stopped being the case as soon as Arsenal pulled one, then two back in quick succession.

Once again, Liverpool somewhat shut off after scoring. Podolski could have gotten the first sooner, barely missing with a fierce blast from 20 yards out after squirming through Liverpool's midfield. Then came Giroud's set play header, left open when Agger misjudged the flight of the ball. From Arsenal's next attack came Arsenal's next goal, again from Liverpool's left. Liverpool failed to fully clear after Walcott's cross; Cazorla, Sagna, Giroud threaded the ball in front of and through Liverpool's ever-deeper defense, with Walcott firing past a surprisingly static Reina from next to no angle, finally finding the outstanding finish he'd been threatening.

From there, it was all Arsenal until Suarez almost won it in injury time. Liverpool stemmed the tide for about 15 minutes, but after the 80th, Cazorla shot across the face of goal with no Arsenal player able to tap it in, Reina denied Giroud's blast from the top of the box, and then the Frenchman missed a sitter, unable to sort his feet out to tap in Podolski's low cross. Suarez nearly won it singlehandedly at the death, winning possession in the center circle, getting the return ball from Downing, and blasting at goal, forcing a save from Szczesny and with Enrique and Henderson inches away from the rebound. As against Everton, no such luck with a late winner to save face. At least this time it wasn't cruelly and wrongly denied.

There will undoubtedly be over-the-top criticism of both Rodgers and Liverpool after losing that lead. Which is understandable given everyone's frustration. It was surprising to see Liverpool defend so deeply, happy to concede possession, almost as if we were watching Hodgson or Dalglish's wins over Chelsea in 2010-11. Which, despite the opposition, is exactly the type of game Carragher thrives in, with a man-of-the-match performance today (along with Henderson and Gerrard). Of course, it also limited Liverpool's attacking prowess, but as Oldham proved, sorting out Liverpool's midfield and defense seems slightly more important.

It was less surprising to see Rodgers unwilling to make attacking substitutions. The only real complaint is that Downing again, mindbogglingly, stayed on the pitch rather than bringing on Sterling or Borini. But that Enrique replaced Sturridge in the 71st isn't one of the reasons for criticism. For one, Sturridge is still finding fitness and injuries and a lack of matches, having played 90 terrible minutes at Oldham. In addition, that substitution did what it was designed to: stop Theo Walcott, who won the free kick for the first goal and scored the second. All three of those Arsenal chances after the substitution came from the opposite flank. When Liverpool concede once, they often concede twice, and frequently concede three. At that point, keeping the 2-2 scoreline and continuing to try for the counter-attack makes a certain amount of sense, if depressing sense. A draw is disappointing after the first hour, but Liverpool could not could not could not lose that match.

Not that it matters, but would I have taken a draw before kickoff? Probably. Last year's win at Arsenal was something of an aberration, with eight key Arsenal players missing; before that, Liverpool had drawn four and lost three in the previous trips to the Emirates. And Arsenal totally mopped the floor with Liverpool in the reverse fixture. Some credit where it's due: despite those defensive errors, Arsenal were pretty good today, at least in midfield and attack; Wilshere and Ramsey were outstanding, requiring Gerrard and Henderson to be at their best (especially since Lucas wasn't), Giroud and Walcott were frequent threats.

Still, losing a two-goal lead is cause for righteous anger, throwing away what had been an excellent defensive performance. No matter the opposition, no matter the location. Liverpool, still yet to beat any side above them, desperately needed that win, and with less than half an hour to play, looked likely to register that win.

Somehow, Sunday's match at Manchester City is now even more important. Under pressure...

5 comments:

Biggestfandownunder said...

Thanks Nate. Just two things:

1. Henderson played in Suarez for the opener not Downing. 2. I think BR is playing Downing to cover young Wisdom and rightly so in my opinion. Not a Downing fan at all, but he does provide better cover than Sterling and Boroni is unlikely to be too effective on the right. Once Enrique is back to full fitness and Johnson back on the right I don't think Downing will get the same amount of game time.

Unknown said...

Great job, as always. I think Lucas' struggles were integral to the way the came took shape. It feels like Rodgers is expecting him to be the destroyer he was before the injuries, but he's quite far from that standard thus far. His slow return to form is far more understandable than Rodgers' apparent inability to recognize it.

Wolcott is a tough mark for even the fittest player, but Lucas spent the better part of the match checking out the back of his him. I don't think he saw his face until the post-game handshake. The FK for the first goal was a result of Lucas being shown a clean set of heels and hacking down Wolcott. On the second there was enough blame to go around, but among the culprits was Lucas again, unable to close down the pass to Theo.

I really like Lucas but I'm pretty mystified about how you go with a defense-first set up with your best defensive MF at far less than 100%

nate said...

Biggestfandownunder:

Shit, you're right about Henderson, fixed that. Thanks much.

Also, agree with you on Downing – at least, agree that was probably Rodgers' line of thinking, but Sterling has been pretty decent at tracking back this season. Not consistently, which isn't surprising for an 18-year-old, but better than I had expected.


Unknown:

Lucas isn't 100% but he's not been consistently below par. He's had some stellar games and some disappointing games. Which isn't surprising given the length of his injuries, both last season and this season's. Today was probably the worst of the lot.

Also, almost regardless of his form, his return has made a massive difference in Gerrard's form, whether because of Lucas' talents or simply Gerrard's comfort knowing Lucas is there.

Leaving Lucas out, whether Liverpool set up more or less defensively, almost certainly would have made Liverpool worse, even considering how mediocre the Brazilian was today.

Anonymous said...

Nate

Thanks for the write up, you tend to be my go to post game report for matches that I am unable to watch.

Seems like you were saying that Gerard had a solid game but many other places are suggesting that he had a nightmare, I guess I will have to find a replay to see why the disparity in opinion. Also I am not sure why you are giving Rodgers a pass for the defensive counter attack (no possession) set up. Regardless of the result I find it perplexing that all season he would preach and work on tiki taka possession dominating football only to complete ditch it on a one off game and expect the side to adapt on the fly, seems a bit reactionary if not worse (I am still not sold on this guy).

I did want to correct one thing that I disagreed with in the write up (well maybe not correct as challenge). I just believe your recollection of last seasons reverse fixture which you described as “And Arsenal totally mopped the floor with Liverpool in the reverse fixture” must have been a different game. Although liverpool did lose the reverse fixture last year 2-1 we in fact dominated the game so much that I recall Wenger admitting that they had been out played. Check out your own recap which mostly agrees with my recollection.

http://ohyoubeauty.blogspot.ca/2012/03/liverpool-1-2-arsenal.html


Also as I remember it that seemed to be the game that broke the team spirit. All those games that we were the better team yet were unable to take the points just appear to take a toll and this one felt like the one that pushed the team over the edge. Unfortunately history has a way of repeating itself and this could yet again be the game that breaks our season, hope Sunday wipes away this thought but after the Oldham game and this one our guys may be gassed (Stevie can possibly handle this work load can he) and there doesn’t seem to be much left to play for.

schoffle

Tom said...

Schoffle

I think Nate was referring to our 2-0 loss at Anfield in September, where Arsenal really did play us off the pitch.

So , a 3-2 loss to Oldham, then a 2-2 draw with Arsenal - surely a 2-1 win against Man City? Right?

It seems ages ago since we last drew. After the last away draw we followed it with a 2-1 loss at Spurs... I really think we need to win against a top club soon for our own confidence sake.