Monday, 16 August 2010

The Reina from Spain falls mainly on the ball. Liverpool match report.

Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1

And so it came to pass. Except the problem was that Jack Wilshere didn't manage to pass it on the edge of his own box. Rather, he missed the ball, Mascherano played in Ngog who lashed home a fine finish. And at that point, it was always going to be very hard to win the game. If at half-time I was worried Liverpool would now sit back, a minute after half-time I was certain of it. With two solid centre backs and a (usually) reliable goalkeeper, Arsenal had a task on their hands.

Lets start with the obvious. I think almost any Arsenal fan would have taken a point at the start of yesterday's match. Arsenal did have an unbeaten pre-season; but they had also conceded five goals just a week earlier against a very average Legia Warsaw side. It could easily have been a massive struggle at Anfield. And, arguably more pertinently, a point is very rarely a bad result there - the League is not won by winning away to the rest of the Big Four. Of course that helps matters. But avoiding defeat is always the number one priority in matches like this one.

And to be honest, there was only sixty seconds of football where I would have taken anything other than a draw. Sure, Samir Nasri played well in the first half. But my moaning in the second half until Rosicky created his 86th minute chance was that Arsenal had not tested Pepe Reina once. The first half was flat - both teams were missing their best player and there were four very good centre backs on the field.

On the point, it is important to credit Laurent Koscielny. I had been really worried about his diminutive stature. But he played really well, showing great bravery to come back out and his red card was a joke. As different from Joe Cole's which was fully justified for a ridiculous lunge (and he has history). I just hope that the egg-sized lump Sky spoke of does not turn out to be an injury.

Still, if anything this game showed how Arsenal are living on thin ice. Wenger clearly doesn't trust Nordveit as he didn't even make the matchday squad so with Djourou perennially injured, its fair to say we're short at the back. With Koscielny's suspension, Arsenal go into the second game of the season with only one genuine centre back available. That is an outrage.

An outrage only compounded by the lack of a genuine goalkeeper. Although Arsene was being disingenuous when he said "Almunia had a good game", he wasn't all the bad. He just kind of reverted to type. He missed a couple of crosses and he was beaten by a fine finish at the near post. But that's the issue with Almunia: as different from Fabianski, he's not a bad goalkeeper. He's just not particularly good either. To win the title - or any trophy really - a team needs a good goalkeeper. There's 15 days left before the transfer window closes and if he doesn't bring one in, I echo Goodplaya's sentiment that this season will be a long hard slog.

But, to be honest, the lack of a good goalkeeper and the fragile position of the defence were immensely predictable before the game. The poor performance of the midfield was not.

Wilshere didn't seem to know what position he was playing and seems to (understandably) lack the maturity to play in a game of this magnitude. And his tackling is embarassing. Arshavin had said he was out of form and rarely has a truer word been spoken. But it was Diaby who really got my goat. I know he hasn't played at all in pre-season but this performance encapsulated everything that is infuriating about Diaby - the dribbling in circle, the refusal to lay the ball off early, and the refusal to play a simple pass. It was worrying.

Gael Clichy also seemed a little leaden of touch and I think he'll lose his place in the team before Christmas if Gibbs stays fit. That said, the back four did seem to function as a unit and the offside trap seems to be the one thing Arsenal do still have in defence.

Up front, Chamakh worked hard and hopefully he will recognise that being a little more direct does bring rewards. But this was an incredibly difficult first game for a new signing to play as a lone striker and he did well.

But the ultimate problem was that although Arsenal ended the game with Chamakh, Van Persie, Arshavin, Walcott, Rosicky and Nasri on the pitch, it was only an absolute howler which salvaged a point and they created very little.

And it's because of this that despite playing 10 men for 45 minutes, this must be marked down as a good result. But I'd still hope to see a massive improvement against Blackpool.

Keep the faith,

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