12 November 2006

Liverpool 0-3 Arsenal

The scoreline says enough, but I’ll indulge in masochistic tendencies and add more. These are the times I absolutely detest writing reviews, but I feel duty bound. It’s not all sing when you’re winning, you know.

Arsenal well deserved the three points today. I don’t know how else to say it. Liverpool simply was not good enough to compete today.

I understand what Liverpool is trying to accomplish; the team, aside from Garcia failing a late fitness test, lined up as I had hoped. Two strikers up top, the preferred back four, Zenden in the center to stifle Fabregas and Arsenal’s play through the middle, and pace on the flanks in Gonzalez and Gerrard, with Gerrard seemingly given license to roam.

Pity it didn’t work out at all. Well, that’s not fair. For the first 40 minutes, the game went according to plan. It was evenly contested; Liverpool never seriously threatened, but neither did Arsenal. The two goals chalked off (and rightfully so) were the only real opportunities either side had. Arsenal had more possession, but that had to be expected at the Emirates. Had the game stayed at 0-0, I would have been very happy going into halftime.

It all changed with Flamini’s goal in the 41st minute, and it was the type of goal that Liverpool should have feared. Arsenal broke into space on the counter-attack; Hleb (who was easily Arsenal’s best player in the first half) found Fabregas, who had enough room to get it to Flamini with the goal at his mercy. Liverpool had to be tight defensively today, and the one time they fell asleep on the counter, they were beaten.

The second goal ended the game. Again, defensive mistakes led to Toure one-on-one with the goalkeeper, opened up by van Persie’s clever pass, and the defender did not err. The third goal was comical, as Gallas had an absolutely free header from a corner, which was the icing on the cake. Just to add to the criticism of Liverpool’s lifeless performance, now the zonal marking can be questioned as well.

Might as well spell out my biggest concerns. Liverpool clearly missed Sissoko. Zenden wasn’t as awful as he’ll be made out to be, but Bolo isn't Momo and yet he was still asked to do the exact same job. The defending down the left was shocking; Hleb skinned Riise and Gonzalez for fun. Stevie’s head went down too quickly after Arsenal’s first goal, and wasn’t able to pull Liverpool back in the game even when he moved back into his preferred position. It may be unfair to single people out, because no one had a good game today, but these three things simply stood out.

I often say that I hate questioning the manager when Liverpool loses, but the tactics did not work today. It feels odd criticizing the performance when the team and tactics turned out how I had hoped, but maybe I don’t know anything. It seems Liverpool is still progressing, and the team continues to play more and more like Rafa’s “crushing machine” at Valencia. It just isn’t working away in the Premiership, and they seem unable to deviate from that plan. When Arsenal got their first and second goals, Liverpool had no reply, and the changes in the second half, with Gerrard moving into the center and Zenden out to the wing, and the addition of Bellamy simply seemed to further unbalance the team, and heads went further down.

This is sounding far too much like a “goodbye, cruel world” commentary. It’s November. Arsenal was very good today, and they have the talent to take these opportunities when given them. Obviously, Liverpool doesn’t have enough in its locker right now to win the title, but it’s our own fault as fans and commentators for expecting and promoting the idea this early in the season, especially when the manager is still molding his team. We created the hype, not the players and not the manager.

I’m disappointed, but despite this setback, I still have faith in the gaffer, and believe the team can and will improve. The away form must, must, must get better, but the team has the talent to make it come good. The pundits who said that Liverpool hadn’t turned a corner were seemingly right, but I will continue to note how early it is in the season and the building process. I don’t think all is lost, I don’t think the team’s completely off the plot, and I do still see some progress, even in a game as bad as this. As a fan, you simply have to believe unless there’s no point in believing, and we’re certainly not there by any stretch. Hopefully the team will respond in the manner they have to: identify why the plan failed, do what you must to improve, and look forward to the next game.

Roll on Middlesbrough.

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