03 March 2012

Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal

Koscielny (og) 23'
van Persie 31' 90+3'

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Liverpool are the better side but score only once despite multiple chances, missing a penalty (and the rebound) and hitting the woodwork twice. Then Liverpool concede on the lone opposition opportunity when van Persie gets in front of Carragher far too easily. And that was just the first half. It got worse in the second.

One you haven't heard is that all this led to a Liverpool loss, the first of the season at Anfield and the first Liverpool's suffered after taking the lead. Of course, eight of the other 12 home matches finished level. Which is why Liverpool are where they are. The dream that's been deferred by draw after draw finally seems dead.

We worried about Carragher against van Persie, and the worries proved truer than feared. Liverpool's stand-in captain bears much of the blame for both Arsenal's goals, but both were outstandingly taken by the league's top scorer. Still, he's only part of the reason why Liverpool lost, and probably not even the biggest reason. The team with the league's best finisher, despite defensive frailties and injury issues, beats the "better" team who can't score for love or money. Stop the presses!

With Gerrard, Johnson, and Agger unavailable, Liverpool deployed a 4-2-3-1 as expected, but with Kuyt lurking behind Suarez and Henderson ostensibly on the right. And tactically, Liverpool's plan "worked": keeping possession, creating chances, and limiting Arsenal's. Until van Persie struck almost solely on his own. Liverpool truly were the better side in everything but the goals and it's hard to fault the tactics for the forwards' utter profligacy.

Granted, Liverpool's lone goal was incredibly lucky, a disappointing low Henderson cross which Koscielny fortunately turned into his own net, but once again, there's opportunity after opportunity to lament. The first epitomized Liverpool's intent, a Reina punt bypassing midfield, Koscielny's error letting Suarez in, but Downing whiffed on his attempted 25-yard volley into an open net. Suarez and Henderson contrived to foul up a fast break four minutes later, over-intricate and mis-controlled by the midfielder.

Then came the penalty fiasco. Suarez won it after a smart one-two with Kuyt, going down on Szczesny's stupid lunge despite minimal, if any, contact. It was still a cast-iron penalty. Which Kuyt sent too close to the keeper, also seeing his weak rebound well-saved, Liverpool's sixth miss (eight if you count the Carling Cup spot-kicks) in nine attempts this season. Koscielny's own goal four minutes later looked a reprieve, karma for the early blown opportunities, but Liverpool failed to take advantage, continuing to spurn shots for the rest of the half, in keeping with the totality of the season so far.

It could have been two two minutes after the opener. Another break led to Kuyt smartly finding an open Henderson. Szczesny saved his effort, Suarez put the rebound onto the post. Six minutes after that, Arsenal were level. Sagna had too much space to cross, and van Persie easily got in front of Carragher, unstoppably heading past Reina from close range. The rest of the chances in the half were Liverpool's, as usual: Szczesny palmed Suarez's poke behind after a magic jinking run, Skrtel headed the subsequent corner over, and Kuyt hit the post with the last kick of the half after redirecting Adam's low cross.

Arteta's frightening injury soon after the restart blunted the home side more than Arsenal had to that point, with the Gunners keeping possession far better (but with few sights of goal) after a six-minute delay. Each side had two excellent chances in the final half-an-hour. Kelly whiffed on Kuyt's cross from yards out after regrouping following a corner and a long ball five minutes later released Downing and Suarez behind Arsenal's defense but the winger's center that should have led to an open goal was too close to the keeper. Those opportunities sandwiched Walcott's near goal, brilliantly saved by Reina after Gibbs got behind Kelly.

Liverpool continued to have the majority of possession after those quick-fire chances, but without any of the earlier opportunities. As the team was playing "well" (coupled with unnecessary midweek exertions), Liverpool waited until very late to make changes, replacing Downing with Bellamy in the 86th. But then van Persie struck in added time, coolly taking Arsenal's second excellent chance of the half, as you'd expect from the league's runaway top-scorer. Song's ball over the top found van Persie in space between Carragher and Kelly, uncovered by either, with his volley sweetly (and too easily) past Reina at the near post. Two shots, two goals. That's the difference between these sides. Pretty much the only difference. Liverpool had 12 shots to Arsenal's 10 in total, but seven of Arsenal's 10 were on target, compared to Liverpool's four of 12. Liverpool had 12 corners to Arsenal's zero. Zero.

Admittedly, you can criticize some of Dalglish's selections. Carragher instead of Coates was a worry, but nearly every manager ever is going to go with a veteran club legend (despite his obvious flaws) rather than a promising 21-year-old who's made all of two league appearances, especially if Liverpool's regular captain is out injured. If Suarez is playing as a lone striker, Maxi should probably play given how well the two link up. But it's hard to criticize Liverpool's tactics, which mostly stifled an XI which rampaged over third-placed Tottenham last week. Had Liverpool converted one of those chances in the first 75 minutes, Liverpool probably wins the game. Again, that's the difference between these sides.

Which is why any criticism should fall on the shoulders of the players. Kuyt, Downing, and Suarez should have tallied today, the first two far more disappointing than the latter, who actually had his best game since returning from suspension. Spearing and Henderson were excellent in midfield, Skrtel was again superlative at the back, and Enrique silenced Walcott just like in the reverse fixture. The strikers, along with Adam and Carragher, are the scapegoats. I have little defense for any of them.

But it's hard to countenance universal dismissal of this team's potential or the manager's intelligence. The changes since Dalglish and FSG took over are undeniably evident, and no matter league position or repeated disappointments, this side is vastly better than anything we saw under the previous regime. Granted, that's little consolation given the money spent, but if you can't see progress, even if Liverpool's now basically assured of missing the Champions League for the third-straight season, I can't help you.


dARkDevX said...

"Which is why any criticism should fall on the shoulders of the players"

Wholly disagree with that statement. When we have a Uruguayan international defender in Coates, why select Carragher? For experience? The young "inexperienced" Coates, happened to have played in last year's Copa America where he faced off against the Argentinian attack. If one can defend against Messi, Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain, stopping an in-form albeit a knock-carrying Van Persie shouldn't be too much. That's where we lost the match.

jimmyshivers said...

Just an epically frustrating game today, as has been the case for most of the season. There is just no confidence in front of the net for this team, and wasted opportunities are the story of the season (apart from the underachievment and constant shoe-horning of last summer's purchases into the line-up). I'm on Team Reina but his form has definitely dipped as well this year, RVP's 2nd effort was quality but should never have beaten him near post. Kuyt, god bless him, never would have scored that with his luck this season.

Been reading this blog a long time, and was expecting a lot more vitriol from you today Nate. It's the resigned nature of your post which concerns me, their just isn't a lot to be excited about with this team this year and the signs of improvement are so fleeting that to expect consistency at this point will only result in disapointment. I think I was resigned to another CL-less season already, but an effort like today has me wondering where this ship is headed for the longterm. I'm not so sure that Europa football should even be the goal right now unless they plan on shoring up some serious depth in the offseason. There just isn't enough quality in the squad to make a serious campaign on all the current fronts plus the European NIT as well. I would like to see some of the young guys start to get more serious, meaningful minutes the rest of the way as try to continue building from within and be ready to start anew in '12-13.

nate said...

@ dARkDevX,

As I wrote, Carra over Coates proved a mistake. I really hope Seb plays in Liverpool's next match, which this match reinforced. But almost every manager who's ever managed makes that decision, because of the game's importance, because of Carra's experience, because of Carra's history with the club, and especially if Gerrard's missing (Dalglish seems more likely to play Carra if he needs to be stand-in captain). It proved unsafe, but it was the "safer" option. And that doesn't include how Coates' development could be stunted by a solitary mistake in such an important match. Lucas making a couple of notable errors in early matches turned the crowd against him and arguably set back his progress. Thankfully, he was a strong enough player to push past it.

And however top-class (and enjoyable) a competition it is, the Copa America is not the Premier League. The pace of the game is different, defenses defend differently, referees call the game differently, etc.

@ jimmyshivers,

I've been vitriolic when I think Liverpool (or individual players, or the manager) deserve it, and exculpatory when I think Liverpool (or individual players, or the manager) are getting undue criticism.

It was a disappointing but narrow loss because one side couldn't finish and one side has the best finisher in the league. Against a side buoyant after their last match who historically gives Liverpool problems at the best of times. We've seen much, much worse. I was far angrier after most of the home draws rather than after this home loss.

CL qualification waa the goal, and despite the current position, I doubt players or manager will publicly concede that goal. Yes, I'm not happy with Liverpool's league place or satisfied with the Europa League. But this result didn't ensure either. v Sunderland, v Norwich, v Swansea, v Spurs, at Stoke, v Stoke, at Fulham, v Blackburn did.

The effort was there today. The quality up front (and in two moments at the back) was not.

Mike Georger said...

Carragher as captain is worse of a reason to start him than his alleged contributions to organization. Give the armband to Pepe or Skrtel. Or if Kuyt is starting, to him.

Sami knew when to step aside. Carragher needs to accept he's on the way out.

(And wouldn't even be at this club right now if Sami hadn't propped him up for year)

Peter Elwood said...

I like how were making it sound like Carra's inability to give up his spot at the club was the reason he started, or the reason we lost. No one has shown the dedication that Carra has, not even Stevie G. And while we all were worried about Carra vs Van Persie, without Gerrard and without Agger we lost a lot of leadership and direction on pitch, and anyone who has played knows that there is not much more valuable than the guidance of someone from your back line. As good as Pepe and Skrtel are, they're not vocal leaders. I think that is a much bigger factor than people give credit. Not to mention that while Coates give 100% every minute, every game he has played for us he has made at least one massive mistake: passing the ball to a breaking forward on his debut, not clearing the ball (in an Enrique-esque style) which resulted in the Stoke goal. I don't think this was the game to drop Coates in and say 'good luck.' He isn't use to the Premiership yet and that's totally evident. All in all it was a game that we played well in, and came up short in the way that we always do.

kevin said...

I cant even be angry anymore. Dalglish should not be coaching, certainly not managing, this team. And this is for the exact same reason that Carra should not be playing, as though its his fault. Its not as if he selected himself. If only this were the 80s, when hard work and endeavor really changed games. But it isnt, and now were in a Don Mattingly in England situation. This guy cant be questioned, so what happens when you run out of people to blame. He needs to step aside.

We cant expect more from Kuyt than he can offer, he simply isnt the type of player who can be reliable in front of goal, which is why hes played on the right all the time under the previous two managers.

Furthermore, this team is stronger. your right nate. but why was merieles moved on, i still dont see adam as an adequate replacement, yes he has better passing and other qualities, but for the creative cm role, adam is miles behind. We simply need quality in front of goal. No one can really expect Skrtel to score from corners every game, give us 40 corners a game, it wont make a difference. We just need someone with an actual finishing touch, who can work with suarez' creativity. You can't count on the number 10 to score all of your goals, we need a new #9. and probably some wingers. but thats like asking santa for a yacht. Just get a real striker who doesnt look like fabio.

end rant.

Anonymous said...

i hate to accept one fact but had to compare fergie here, had it been him he would have had the attacking options shuffled right at the 65th minute instead of bringing the likes of Bellamy late in the game this left my mind numb when a player of such potency is left cooling his heels in the bench. the real problem yesterday was with our finishing skills we missed atleast 5-6 sitters in front of goal (yes that includes you mr. Kelly!!)

the corner taking abilities of charlie adam are also in doubt, some of them were real howlers ... (is this the same player who delivered swinging deliveris like Wasim Akram in his prime .. i wonder)

- Kratos

Anonymous said...

"Which is why the criticism should fall on the shoulders of the players?"

And who bought the players Nathaniel?

"This side is vastly better than anything we saw under the previous regime."

Really? Stop being so nice to them, they're paid to play and manage. If you think this side is better than what we saw when Maxi, Suarez, Kuyt and Meireles were absolutely obliterating everything in their path in the second half of 2010-2011, then I can't help you.

No. This season has been farcical. The Carling Cup only served to hide the pains we've experienced. Just think how much money has been wasted.

Mike Georger said...

Mattingly, shave those sideburns!

FoolishMoose said...

Bottom line guys, we are no better off this year than we were last. It is such a downer, ruins the entire weekend and pisses me off to no end.

If we are really going to finish no higher than fifth, then we might as well run out the youngsters, Kelley, Flanagan,Coates, Shelvey, the little guy from the Academy team.

There is absolutely no reason what so ever to see Jamie, Kuyt, Maxi or anyone else who is past it.

Peter Elwood said...

@ Foolish Moose

I couldn't agree more. The young players must get more time now. One thing that I do think Dalglish and FSG have done well is focus on the long term rather than this season. And while obviously that has made many impatient fans upset, targeting players like Henderson, and even Carroll is a tactic that I approve of much more than bringing in Morientes, Jovanavic, and Poulsen like our two previous managers did.