28 October 2007

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal

Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Alonso Mascherano
Kuyt Gerrard Voronin

Gerrard 7’
Fabregas 80’

Mixed emotions.

It was a game where Arsenal was probably the better side, and they've been playing out of this world as of late, but Liverpool will feel aggrieved having gotten a wonderful early goal from Gerrard’s free kick and having kept them out for 80 minutes. The team looked far better than in recent games, and were aided by the return of both Alonso and Torres. However, neither Alonso nor Torres were fully fit, and both were off the field before 70 minutes were up, which makes the draw a little tougher to stomach.

There were definitely surprises in Liverpool’s line-up. With three strikers on the team sheet, it may have looked like 4-3-3, but both Kuyt and Voronin played wider and deeper than usual. It was an experiment that didn’t quite come off; Kuyt was diligent down the right, but Voronin was mainly invisible on the left, and neither delivered the end product Liverpool needed.

What’s more worrying is that the formation leads to questions over how much Benitez trusts Babel and Benayoun. It’s probably more likely that Benitez wanted to use both as subs when Liverpool and Arsenal tired, which both did, but injuries to Alonso and Torres prevented that.

That Torres went off for Crouch at halftime, with Torres clearly not fully fit, and Alonso looked to suffer a problem after 68 minutes, with Arbeloa (neither Lucas nor Sissoko was on the bench) coming on, forced Liverpool into making changes they wouldn’t have otherwise made, and changed the shape of the entire team.

While Alonso didn’t have the best of games by his standard, he still made a huge difference in Liverpool’s fortunes, and it’s little coincidence that Arsenal got the equalizer after he departed. I sincerely hope he was taken off more as a precaution than because of any new injury, as Liverpool dearly need him in the team. Today’s much improved passing was evidence of that. Were he to be re-injured, I think that Lucas might end up seeing more time with Mascherano in midfield, as I think today proves Liverpool needs that composure in the center.

Of course, Alonso was helped by his partner in midfield. Mascherano was absolutely everywhere, tackled everything that moved, broke up Arsenal’s attacks time and time again, and was probably Liverpool’s man of the match. If it weren’t for Arsenal’s goal, I’d be tempted to include Reina in this discussion, as he claimed many of Arsenal’s crosses and came out to make himself big when warranted, but he could have done better on Fabregas’ strike.

Gerrard was much improved as well, scoring a cracker of a free kick and creating more chances, but he still sometimes took too much time on the ball or an extra touch that lost possession. But it was heartening to see the improvement, and the free role gave him much more license to create.

Crouch played well after he came on, troubled Arsenal’s defense, and only an outstanding save from Almunia prevent him a goal, but with Kuyt and Voronin (and then Benayoun) too far wide and Liverpool tiring, he was isolated too often.

The negatives, aside from the equalizer and injury worries, were how Arsenal got stronger as the game went on, and Liverpool’s tiring defense. Arsenal keeps the ball as well as any team, and deserves some credit for Liverpool wearing out, but the defense, specifically the speed of the defense, is still a bit worrying. Arbeloa’s return will help, as will Agger and Aurelio when both get fit, but it’s beginning to seem like Hyypia, Carragher, and Finnan haven’t coped well enough with the amount of time they’ve seen.

But, with as well as Arsenal played, the positives end up standing out more in my mind. Liverpool gave 100% the entire match, and looked far more like a team. Today can be a performance to build off of.

At the end of the day, it’s probably a fair result. It was an encouraging performance, and Arsenal certainly earned their point and could have scored more. However, Liverpool’s now drawn two games against the other big teams, and both happened at Anfield. There are still tough games to come at the Emirates, Old Trafford, and Stamford Bridge. And it’s annoying that Arsenal grew in ascendancy, and looked likely to get an equalizer as the game went on, as they’ve done in the past and is the mark of a good team.

But, again, it’s something to build off. The team’s working hard and creating more chances, and I do think that confidence and goals will follow. Hopefully, with players returning to fitness, it means that Liverpool is getting past the previous poor spell.

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