21 December 2014

Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal

Coutinho 45'
Debuchy 45+2'
Giroud 64'
Skrtel 90+7'

Ridiculous Liverpool is more enjoyable than boring Liverpool but this team's still not good enough. Liverpool did a lot of good things, but Liverpool only drew 2-2 – and were lucky to do so – because Liverpool is still Liverpool.

Liverpool took 27 shots. Arsenal took seven. This match finished 2-2, and only because Liverpool finally scored from their 10th corner in the 97th minute, their first goal from a corner this season.

Brad Jones has faced nine shots on target in the last two matches. Brad Jones has allowed five goals. He wasn't the only Liverpool player at fault for either goal – as usual, we've a few scapegoats to choose from – but both of Arsenal's goals should have been saved: late to react to the first, the second scored between his legs.

That's the short version of this match. There's more to it, but that's enough of a summary as to why Liverpool's only taking one point instead of all three.

Some credit where it's due. Rodgers' change to 3-4-2-1 has made Liverpool a better side. The first half seemed as close to Rodgers' "death by football" ideal that we heard so much about when he became Liverpool manager as we've seen since he became Liverpool manager. Liverpool monopolized possession – I doubt Arsenal's been held to 34.6% possession in one half very often in the last decade or so – and Liverpool looked reasonably secure. Arsenal were bereft of opportunities, Alexis Sanchez rendered a non-factor. Liverpool passed the ball out of defense surprisingly well, nullifying any Arsenal pressing.

But until Coutinho struck in the 45th minute, Liverpool had few chances of their own. Eight first half shots prior to the goal, but only Gerrard's 22-yard free kick sailing wide and Szczesny's stop on Markovic in the 35th minute were memorable. Then, the breakthrough: Liverpool's pressure forcing a mistake from Arsenal, Henderson's quick pass to Coutinho – who often found acres of space – at the top of the box, stepping around Debuchy before hammering into the far corner. Liverpool deserved as much for their first half play, and it seemingly came at the perfect time.

But because Liverpool are still Liverpool, they gave Arsenal the goal right back. Arsenal attack from the kick-off, and Sanchez wins a free kick off Gerrard that was barely a foul. Liverpool had three chances to clear, but Mertesacker beat Toure and Sakho in the air, Flamini beat Lucas in the air, and Debuchy beat Skrtel in the air while Brad Jones remained rooted to his goal line and slow to react. Sigh.

The second half began in a similar manner as the first: good Liverpool possession and build-up but a dearth of Liverpool chances – the best from a ball over the top to Sterling, rounding the on-rushing Szczesny but pushed wide of goal, his cross to an open Gerrard headed narrowly over. And then Liverpool were ruthlessly punished on the break. A low percentage Hollywood pass by Gerrard easily picked off, Gibbs in acres of space down Liverpool's right with Henderson caught upfield, a centering pass to Giroud, a quick pass to Cazorla, a cutback back to Giroud, who'd somehow found space between Skrtel and Sakho. Still, Jones could and should have stopped the shot, sent straight at him, directly through his legs. Sigh.

And thus began Liverpool's "onslaught," with Arsenal happy to protect an undeserved lead. So many shots from distance. So many shots deflected or blocked, often falling tamely for Szczesny rather than a fortunate redirection into the net. Borini and Lambert on for Markovic and Toure, Liverpool first switching Sterling to wing-back, then shifting to 4-4-2 with Henderson and Sterling as the full-backs in-name-only. Until Liverpool finally Szczesny forced into a difficult save in the 85th minute, parrying Borini's header from Sterling's cross over the bar, Liverpool's best chance came from Lucas – of all people – a late run into the box ending with his left-footed shot whistling just wide of the post.

It appeared all over when Borini was sent off at the beginning of injury time. He deserved both yellows – the first for dissent, the second for a high boot that tore Cazorla's kit – but the first yellow only came about because of an incorrect decision from Oliver and his linesman. And that Flamini remained on the pitch after two yellow-card worthy fouls in the first half rubbed extra salt in the wound.

Still, Liverpool pressed, and Liverpool finally got the late equalizer, in the depths of an especially long extra time because of an earlier head injury to Skrtel. So it was fitting that Skrtel, wrapped in a black bandage just as he was in this fixture last season, scored the equalizer. Arsenal's marking on the corner was as terrible as Liverpool's on the equalizing free kick in first half injury time: Skrtel allowed a free run and free header to Coutinho's cross, bulleted into the net. I'm told that was Liverpool's 127th corner of the season. Not a bad time to finally score from one.

It's also fitting that a late equalizer parallels the result from 2010-11, another late Liverpool equalizer in extra-long injury time. This season's had a lot of similarities with 2010-11, especially Liverpool's points total, even though the overall play has been more reminiscent of 2011-12 and 2012-13.

With better finishing, Liverpool wins 4-1 or 4-2. With better defending and/or a better goalkeeper, Liverpool wins 2-0 or 2-1. And it's especially regrettable because Liverpool desperately needed all three points. One's obviously better than none – and feels much, much better than none – but one barely helps Liverpool's league position.

But a month ago, Liverpool loses this match 1-2 or 0-2. It has been a slow, painful process, but Liverpool are improving, especially in possession and in chance creation. As against Bournemouth, Markovic was impressive as a wing-back (he and Sakho did so well against Alexis that the Chilean went over to the opposite flank in the second half), Lallana and Coutinho were dangerous (this was Coutinho's best game in quite some time), and Lucas and Gerrard were actually okay in midfield.

But Liverpool are not improving enough, not improving fast enough, not enough to paper over the massive weaknesses still present at both ends of the pitch.

1 comment :

stoneybatter said...

Good stuff as always Nate. As much as the result stings, the performance was encouraging and I'm sincerely optimistic about closing the gap on fourth place over the next 10 days based on the fixture list. Nitpicky: surely Lallana, not Coutinho, took the corner in stoppage time, right?