02 November 2013

Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal

Cazorla 19'
Ramsey 59'

The better team won. And deserved every inch of that result. Sometimes football really is that simple.

So much for fixing Liverpool's midfield. Facing Arsenal at Arsenal is a vastly different proposition than facing West Brom at Anfield. Arsenal utterly dominated possession in the crucial first half, and both of Arsenal goals came from space where Liverpool's midfielders could and probably should have prevented the strike.

For all the individual condemnation that's going to follow, none of Liverpool's players played well except maybe Mignolet. Some credit to that goes to Arsenal, whose game plan effectively nullified Suarez and Sturridge and took advantage of gaps that Liverpool left in their own half, but it was also just one of those days.

Henderson scuffing a shot in the first 10 minutes after winning possession and running into the box set the tone. Even when something went right, the finish ultimately didn't. And at the other end of the pitch, Arsenal seized their opportunities, whether through Liverpool's failings or the breaks of the ball or both. Cazorla's opening goal started because Liverpool were caught with too many men up the pitch – as if Arsenal's ability on the counter comes as a surprise – with Cissokho beaten down the flank by Sagna and either Gerrard or Flanagan unwilling or unable to track Cazorla's run into the box. The shortest player on the pitch, but in acres of space, Cazorla saw his header cannon off the post but rebound perfectly for a second shot, making no mistake from 10 yards.

Liverpool desperately missed both its starting fullbacks: Enrique still out through injury, Johnson ruled out this morning thanks to an illness. Flanagan went missing on the counter-attack for Arsenal's opener, but was otherwise decent, which is better than most can say after 90 minutes. Cissokho was a liability: caught on the back foot and beaten for pace by Sagna was the biggest contribution to Cazorla's goal, with the added bonus of being wasteful when in possession and picking up an early yellow. It was no surprise to see him hauled off at half-time with Liverpool still trailing.

But, in a different universe, Liverpool could have leveled matters within six minutes. It'd have to be a universe which doesn't include Martin Atkinson, though. Suarez was pulled down by Sagna on the break, and rather than allowing a quick free kick which could have seen Liverpool take advantage of their numbers forward, Marriner decided it was more important to show the crowd just how big his yellow card is. Suarez tried to take it quickly, Sturridge centered for a open Henderson to tap into the net, but Atkinson had stopped play, soaking in all the attention due to the man everyone came to see. Or something like that.

And that was pretty much the alpha and omega of Liverpool's first half chances. The other two remotely frightening moments for Arsenal fans saw Liverpool flagged offside both times. Not that the flag mattered; Szczesny saved Toure's header the first time – which came on the free kick that Liverpool had to take when Atkinson disallowed the quick one – and Sturridge missed wide on the second.

To his credit, Rodgers realized this system simply wasn't going to work today. Off went Cissokho, on came the returning Coutinho, and Liverpool shifted to something like a 4-2-2-2 with Sakho at left-back and Henderson on the right. And it actually led to a 10-minute spell of Liverpool pressure. But Liverpool missed both its half-chances, with Suarez and Henderson unable to find the target with close-range but narrow-angle efforts.

And that brief optimism made Arsenal's second goal all the more soul-killing. A second which should have come four minutes sooner, when Toure's hospital pass put Giroud through on goal, only to too-cleverly chip into the side netting. But the game-assuring second was inevitable. As with Newcastle's first two weeks ago, a free-scoring midfielder was given far, far, far too much space just outside Liverpool's box, allowed to hammer an unstoppable strike past Mignolet. Both Gerrard and Lucas had come out to close down Özil, who easily eluded both, chipping a pass into space – the space Lucas had vacated when trying to cover for a static Gerrard – for an on-rushing Ramsey. The goal was gorgeous, worthy of the player's performance so far this season, but he should have never been given that chance.

From there, Liverpool could do nothing but ineffectively toss the kitchen sink at Arsenal, while Arsenal did nothing but soak it up and ask for more. Moses replaced Flanagan, shifting Henderson to right back, but the same problems remained. When Liverpool actually got into the box, they usually wasted the opportunity: Sturridge getting under Henderson's cross and ballooning his header, Suarez's shot angled just wide and ricocheting off the outside the post. When they didn't waste the opportunities, Szczesny was there.

Both keepers did admirably today. Mignolet made sure the scoreline was only marginally humiliating, Szczesny denied Liverpool a couple of chances at a consolation in the final 10 minutes, making two excellent saves in the 83rd minutes, quickly followed by another Suarez shot wide, with Sturridge screaming in frustration for the pass. Which seemed a fitting capstone to today's proceedings.

At the end of the day, Arsenal are simply a better team than Liverpool at this point. They should be beating Liverpool at home. Liverpool arguably made it easier than it should have been for the home side, with a couple of players especially guilty of underperforming, but this is where we are at the moment. Which is still third in the table, still with 20 points from the first 10 matches, still four points better than from the same fixtures last season, still having taken 70 points from the last 38 games.

More frustrating than the result is that the same problems with Liverpool's midfield keep leading to Liverpool's setbacks. That has to change, and quickly.


mechadg said...

While we *could* have nicked a draw today, we never really had any purchase on the game, and we were thoroughly outplayed. Sturridge, Gerrard, and Henderson were all ineffective, and Toure and Cissokho always looked a bit desperate. Arsenal's Champions League class really showed in this game. We've got some ways to go.

Anonymous said...

While I hate to be one of those signings fix everything types of people, do we really have a midfield capable of challenging for top 4 now? I think our defense is credible, and obviously our attack is arguably top 3 in England. But We have no deeplying playmaker, we haven't since Alonso really. We don't have any real threat on the wings either. I think that killed us today. Arsenal knew the threat was coming down the pipe, and killed it effectively. Most of the chances we had came from suarez running in the wide areas, but we need him centrally to finish the chances he creates. He cannot do both. I hope to see some movement in the winter, I just don't know who or what is needed in this team right now.

Vercingetora said...

I won't shave or bathe for a week.

Zētētikos said...

"To his credit, Rodgers realized this system simply wasn't going to work today. Off went Cissokho, on came the returning Coutinho, and Liverpool shifted to something like a 4-2-2-2 with Sakho at left-back and Henderson on the right."

I suspect this was the plan all along. Rodgers was itching to bring Coutinho on, but didn't want to risk starting him given the long injury layoff. Can't say that I blame him. Still you have to wonder if it would have been better to *start* the dazzling #10 in a 4-4-2 and then drop back to the 3-5-2 once we had the lead (as if).

Anonymous said...

Midfielders decide if we win or lose a game and forwards, defenders and goal keepers decide by how much. When we play against midfielders who are technically good (Arsenal) or who simply run right through us (West Ham last year until Diame went off injured) we don't play well. All of our midfielders have some positive and some negative aspects to their game and as individuals and as a group it isn't gelling right. We can still make top four if Suarridge play blinders and we fix our set piece defending and Mignolet continues as a shot stopper, silver linings.

betbuddyuk said...

Liverpool started this game really well, however the 1st goal really changed the game as it often does in the PL. Liverpool do seem to lack something in the middle of the pitch and seem reliant on the SAS partnership up front. Likeing Arsenal this year, can see them challenging.


Anonymous said...

Only knock on Arsenal is lack of depth but same can be said for Liverpool. Have to do a better job of picking up midfield runners, Mascherano was excellent at this.

Anonymous said...

Cazorla started his jog for the goal just inside the center circle. He waltzed from there into the box to head the ball from about 14 yards out. Stevie G. started the play 6 yards directly behind Cazorla and matched him jog for jog. They both covered the same distance of about 35 yards in 7 seconds. You would expect that Stevie, seeing the whole play develop and aware of the danger, would at least make the effort to close the space and be in a position to make a challenge in the event the ball found it’s way to the free Santi in the middle.

Against the best teams, those are often the fine margins between losing and at least having a chance to win. This is true in both the Prem. and World Cup Finals.

Personally, I love the guy. He still brings a tremendous amount to the team in so many facets of the game. But, it is very frustrating watching him obviously trying to manage his fitness during the game and losing his puff towards the end.

S said...

This is not popular nor new and insightful, but I think back over the past 2-3 years,...Gerrard has had moments...normally against the bottom of the league where he piles on with assists and goals, but generally speaking most of my memories of him are of a replacement level midfielder.

In general, and Gerrard is a good example, watch how many touches and seconds it takes for one of our midfielders to receive a simple pass. Then compare that to an arsenal midfielder's touch. It drives me crazy.