04 April 2015

Liverpool 1-4 Arsenal

Bellerin 37'
Özil 40'
Alexis 45'
Henderson 76' [pen]
Giroud 90+1'

One team completely outclassed the other. Unfortunately, Liverpool were very much the other.

With Sturridge only fit enough for the bench, Liverpool's lineup looked a lot like the reverse fixture's: Henderson at wing-back, Sterling up top, Markovic and Lucas returning to the starting XI. Unfortunately, Liverpool did not begin today's game as they did in the reverse fixture.

The first ten minutes set the tone, despite Arsenal amazingly failing to score, as Liverpool had more giveaways in their own half than touches in the opposition half. As against Swansea and United, Liverpool were completely overrun in midfield from the start thanks to opposition pressing. It's probably not a good thing that the opposition has figured out Liverpool's set-up in each of the last three matches and Liverpool have still persisted with the same formation.

But Liverpool somehow weathered the early storm, Liverpool somehow took the game to Arsenal, and Liverpool should have taken the lead when Coutinho put Markovic through but his centered pass for a Sterling tap-in was slightly overhit. Liverpool actually looked the better side for more than a few minutes. And then Arsenal thoroughly dismissed that notion in the final 10 minutes of the half.

Bellerin struck first, with Liverpool outnumbered out wide when Özil spread play wide to Ramsey, who set up Bellerin, who cut inside past Moreno far too easily with Allen late to cover, curling a left-footed shot around Mignolet through the gap between Liverpool's defenders. It was the first away goal that Liverpool conceded in 596 minutes, since van Persie's third at Old Trafford on December 14. It would be swiftly followed by two more. Eight minutes to doom the day, eight minutes to kill the campaign.

Next came Özil's pitch-perfect free kick, beating Mignolet on the side where he shouldn't be beaten. Then came Alexis Sanchez, after yet another Liverpool giveaway in midfield as Arsenal pressed Allen and Lucas, taking Ramsey's pass in stride at full speed, dancing around a despairing Toure, then slamming the ball into the net from the top of the box.

Oof. At 0-2, Liverpool have a chance. A very small chance, but a chance nonetheless. At 0-3, it's game over, and the final 45 are a formality.

Regardless, Liverpool had to change things in the second half, Sturridge had to come on. Once again, too little, too late – both mantra and modus operandi this season. But it was still strange to see Liverpool switch to 4-1-4-1.

And unsurprisingly, it was ineffective, with Arsenal happy to soak up Liverpool pressure, Liverpool stifled and smothered outside Arsenal's box, typically narrow, once again unable to stretch the defense with pace or spacing or anything from out wide. Coutinho with no room to manuever, Sturridge isolated without a strike partner. Liverpool got a consolation when Bellerin took down Sterling in the box – and, yes, Bellerin should have been sent off for a second yellow – with Henderson (barely) scoring the spot kick, but few were fooled into thinking a comeback was on the cards. That Emre Can did get a second yellow and Oliver Giroud did score his 10th goal in the last 11 games was a fitting finish for a disheartening day.

Today was the first time that Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool have conceded four goals in a match, the first time since nine-man Liverpool lost 0-4 at White Hart Lane in September 2011. Today was the first time that Liverpool have had players sent off in consecutive matches since 2000-01 (amusingly also involving a Gerrard red card).

And today was the second consecutive match where Liverpool put just one non-penalty shot on-target and had a player sent off. The two matches to either define or save Liverpool's campaign, against the two sides directly ahead of Liverpool in the table, and that's what Liverpool produces.

That's simply not good enough. Liverpool weren't good enough today, Liverpool haven't been good enough this season. Liverpool aren't anywhere near good enough in front of goal, and the better sides can take advantage of that to take advantage of Liverpool's sometimes-good-enough defense.

There's only one thing left to save any face this season, and it starts with Liverpool's next match: the FA Cup replay at Blackburn. With just four days rest; with the team having completely lost form and confidence; and with Skrtel and Can (and Gerrard, I guess) suspended, requiring wholesale changes in defense.

Liverpool have to respond. But does anyone still have faith that Liverpool can respond?

1 comment :

NattyB said...

Why does everyone think Bellerin's foul should've been a second yellow? I would've like it if it was a second yellow. It wasn't cynical, reckless or violent. RS wasn't about to score (though he could've) so it wasn't a "clear goal-scoring opportunity."

I thought it was just a plain old foul.