Arbeloa Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Van Persie 24’
Well, after Arsenal went up 1-0 within 24 minutes at the Emirates in a cagey, back-and-forth match, a comeback draw doesn’t look the worst result. Especially with Torres still absent, Mascherano missing out with flu, and Benitez remaining on Merseyside thanks to kidney stones earlier in the week. And especially considering the team’s never won at the Emirates, not to mention that three out of the four games against the Gunners ended 1-1 last year.
But when Liverpool has a man advantage for 30 minutes, and dominates possession for the majority of the second half after getting the equalizer before the break, it again feels like two points dropped.
Chances were few and far between early on, with Gerrard pretty much playing as a second striker. And it was the captain and Keane linking up in the 10th minute when the striker laid the ball off nicely, but Gerrard’s strike was straight at Almunia.
Arsenal’s passing game improved as the game went on, but it was a Nasri long ball over the top that van Persie controlled with his chest past Carragher which opened the scoring. And the goal, which was brilliantly taken, clearly emboldened the home side, who were controlling the game and the ball, but chances remained at a premium.
Liverpool never looked like being overrun, with Lucas and Alonso strong in midfield, and in the 42nd minute, an Agger long ball over the top led to an equalizer as stunning as the opener. Keane outpaced Djourou to beautifully half volley on the second bounce, giving Almunia no chance.
That goal completely changed the game, and Liverpool were unlucky not to get a second before the whistle. In the 45th, Kuyt took the ball off Clichy and centered for Gerrard, but the skipper was a step behind, and could only put a diving left-footed shot high and wide. A minute later, Kuyt forced Almunia into a low fingertips save with an on-target effort from the right corner of the box.
And it continued after the restart, although Arsenal certainly weren’t helped by Fabregas’ injury, which brought Diaby on for the second half. Lucas’s shot after Insua did well to get a cross in was well-saved by Almunia in the 47th, and Liverpool settled into their possession game. But when Adebayor was sent off in the 62nd minute for two soft yellows (yellows nonetheless, mind you), Arsenal was more content to sit back and absorb the pressure.
And Liverpool responded by playing worse. They were more reliant on long balls forward, more hesitant, and looked less likely to get the winning goal. Arsenal created more opportunities on the break than Liverpool did with an extra man, although Reina was never really tested.
Babel (for Riera in the 71st), El Zhar (for Keane in the 81st) and Ngog (for Lucas in the 88th) again came on, and once again we’re wondering why it took so long to make the changes, especially adding the second striker for a midfield player with a man advantage. Don’t get me wrong – Lucas had an excellent game, and was probably man of the match – but it seemed like Liverpool should have added more attackers and take advantage of the edge. And it was always going to be Lucas replaced instead of Alonso. El Zhar had an excellent opportunity with a header (from Insua’s cross) just wide in the 90th, but again, too little, too late.
Again, I thought Lucas, bustling and busy in midfield (and lucky not to see yellow until the 81st), was outstanding, and he looks a far better player next to Alonso in midfield, who, as usual, spread the play well when Liverpool were on top. Insua never looked out of place against a top team, and supported the attack well. And Keane had an excellent game up top, diligently running throughout, and took his goal masterfully well.
Despite getting forward well early on, Gerrard was a passenger too often, went deeper as the game went on (especially after the subs), and didn’t take a couple of good opportunities, which you don’t get many of in a game like this one. Unfortunately, Babel again did nothing off the bench, and didn’t really looked too bothered, which isn’t a good sign. And again, I’m not happy that Liverpool, with Arsenal putting two lines of defenders behind the ball, looked a step slower after going up a man.
But, honestly, I would have taken a point before the game. Yes, Liverpool’s gotten far too many draws of late, but this isn’t one of the painful ones. Going to Arsenal is never an easy match, and Arsenal’s found a way to step it up against the big sides. It’s just disappointing that Liverpool couldn’t take advantage of the edges handed to them.
It goes without saying that I hope for better on Friday.