Johnson Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kuyt Gerrard Mascherano Jovanovic
Reina (og) 90'
So many conflicting emotions. Honestly, I'd have taken (and predicted) a draw before kickoff, and would have been thrilled with one after Joe Cole marked his league debut with a straight red on the stroke of halftime. But then Ngog scored a absolute stunner a minute after the restart and Liverpool were holding on despite Arsenal's increasing possession and Atkinson's one-sided refereeing. And then Glen Johnson cheekily tried to win a throw-in, conceding possession, and Reina somehow fumbled the subsequent cross into his own net when Chamakh could have been called for a foul. In the last minute of regular time. When Almunia got a similar foul call during a corner where Kuyt should have won a penalty. Naturally. No matter the managerial or personnel changes, Liverpool's luck stays exactly the same.
It was an auspicious start in many ways. Arsenal were a far stronger side for the majority of the opening half, Vermaelen testing Reina with a fierce fifth minute free kick while the home side struggled to maintain possession or string passes together. Slowly but surely, Liverpool improved, with Johnson forcing Almunia to tip a lefty shot over before Clichy cleared Ngog's header from the corner off the line. But then came Joe Cole's moment of madness. Chasing down Koscielny in the corner, clearly amped up in front of the Anfield crowd, Cole stupidly dove in, scissoring the debutant defender. I've seen that given yellow, but I've seen it given red more often. It was a horror tackle stemming from a desire to do too much. And now he'll miss the next three matches.
While we feared that Liverpool would fold under pressure in the second half, the team had other ideas. Mascherano cleverly picked up an errant pass when Arsenal trying to play their way out of defense and slotted perfectly for Ngog, who smashed a near post shot over Almunia. Sheer brilliance. But with Liverpool still on the front foot, with Arsenal clearly rattled by conceding, the Frenchman missed a free header that arguably would have iced the game ten minutes later. That's the young striker, almost any young striker, in a nutshell.
The Arsenal pressure, rising over the last half-hour, was inevitable. Liverpool were increasingly pushed deeper, with Arsenal bringing on Rosicky, Walcott, and van Persie. But they looked like courageously holding on, with Skrtel bravely blocking a Nasri shot while Reina saved Walcott's free kick and Rosicky's blast. Koscielny could have been off for hauling down a through Torres in the 83th (on for Ngog in the 74th), but Atkinson saw nothing; Rosicky could have been off for a horror tackle on Gerrard two minutes later, but only saw yellow. And then a hero became the goat. I've seen Reina make some bad errors, and this might be the worse, but that's the life of a goalkeeper. I still wouldn't trade him for any other.
Even though I'm not in a mood for picking out star players after the way that match ended, special mention must go out to Mascherano, Kuyt, and Ngog. Ngog's was a wonderful goal, and he worked hard as a sole outlet against a high backline. Kuyt's presence and constant running on the right were absolutely crucial at times. And Mascherano was a terror as usual, chipping in with an excellent assist. I may been sick of his transfer maneuvering, but he's still a tremendous player and an tremendous professional. Skrtel and Carragher (outside of a couple early shaky moments from Jamie) were also excellent against the supposedly aerially-dominant Chamakh.
So nothing won but nothing lost. Arsenal will claim a draw's deserved, but when it takes some terrible refereeing and a Reina mistake to get that draw, I'm dubious of the claim. Liverpool ended the first half with the better chances, and were better than the opposition in the second despite the man disadvantage. Like happened all too often last season, we're ruing luck and late goals conceded. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
But my worry that this match could be a huge morale blow didn't come to fruition. Liverpool can take strength from the performance – especially in the second half – and a chip on their shoulder from the outcome. There are signs that this can be an excellent side, at least at Anfield; no matter who Arsenal were missing, they're still one of the best in the league. But there's also a lot of work still to be done.