36% possession, three shots on target, two goals…. does that sound like Arsenal? Yesterday, we were outplayed throughout most of the match and yet we came so close to fantastically raid the Scousers for all three points.
A few years ago, after we beat Pool early on in the season, I read on a Liverpool blog something along the line of ‘You have to give it to Arsenal, they come to Anfield and just play their game as they always do’. Yes our style of football and system of play were our hallmarks, and they gave us strength wherever we would go for so many years under Wenger.
Yesterday we saw the reverse. It was Arsenal that adjusted its system of football and tactics, whilst Liverpool bravely stuck to their system and style religiously. I have no doubt that Rodgers has studied Arsene’s approach to football intensely over the years, and he is coming closer and closer to the French (former) master of possession and passing football. Arsene has, post-modernly, moved on again and is trying to get Arsenal to play a new, different style of football. For this he is heavily reliant on having the right players fit and available, it seems. That is the friendly explanation, as there is also cause for concern that Arsene just is not able anymore to get his players to reach the level of performances, and with that the required style and system of football, needed to reach the very top.
I was all for not playing a high line at Anfield and applaud Wenger for doing so. I was also in favour for a double-DM pivot that could push Pool’s midfield back and give the back-four breathing space. I expected Wenger to play Coquelin next to the Flame to accomplish this. He opted for the Ox instead which, in hindsight, was not his best choice. Pool played 3-4-3 and their approach was reminiscent of the way Dortmund played us off the pitch in Germany. They floaded our midfield and we just could not keep the ball long enough to set up an attack. They pressed us hard and ran very well with and off the ball, and their passing was slicker and more accurate.
Pool basically succeeded in separating our attack from the rest of the team, making Welbeck, Giroud and, to some extent Alexis, look like lost desperados. Both Ox and Santi had a big role in preventing this, and especially in the first half they totally underperformed. Santi had a much, much better second half, sitting deeper and helping out the, for his age, phenomenal Flamini.
Flamini had so much weight on his puffed-out chest that he got pushed back all the way into the CBs area more and more. Given these circumstances, the defence did very, very well in keeping Pool mostly away from the box, only giving away half-chances from outside the box, or just inside the box, and always having enough bodies there to prevent them from scoring. Alas, it took till the very last minute of the first half, and a very good piece of skill by Coutinho, to finally beat the then knackered BFG-Debuchy-Flamini ‘triangle of determination’.
Our back six had worked their socks off and it was harsh to see them concede so late in the half, even though Pool deserved it. But these guys care about Arsenal and, fully against the run of play, it was the triangle of determination that showed the Scousers how a good robbery should be done. BFG and Flamini win their headers in the box from a free-kick and the latter directs it into the path of the third musketeer, Debuchy. Amazingly, the Frenchman out-jumps Skrtel and puts in a strong header to which the keeper has no answer.
We started a bit better in the second half, with a bit more support for Flamini. I was hoping Wenger would replace the Ox or the totally ineffective Welbeck with Coquelin, as to give Flamini more support (Ox could have been moved to the wing), but Wenger opted to give new instructions rather than bringing on new players (as usual) and it seemed to work. Then came to long injury-treatment to Skrtel nasty looking head injury. Liverpool kept their possession and pressing footie going in the remainder of the second half, but also remained quite toothless inside our box (oh how they wished bitey was still around 😛 ).
And as we know so well ourselves, if you dominate a good team but don’t score during a prolonged period, then sooner or later you might pay the price. And so Pool did. Gibbs powered forward with the ball, finding (much improved in the second half) Giroud with his back towards the Pool goal. He quickly, and so typically, releases Santi into the box and the Spaniard then produces the sweetest of low diagonal crosses back into the centre of the box; and who is there to ram it home, low and hard…. Nanananananana Geeeeroud.
This is the 64th minute and we are 1-2 up at Anfield. What to do: attack for a third and complete the robbery in style or sit back and hold on…. The former seems the best option, and for a short while I sensed we could get that all important two-goal cushion. But Pool have tremendous energy and are rightly fuelled by a sense of injustice and a passionate home crowd (and if there is something the Scousers cannot take it is a perceived injustice!). We almost buckle under the pressure and are fully pushed back again. Cazorla plays his best football now: he is able to hold onto the ball and find space to release it to another player, away from the danger zone, regularly. The team succeeds in keeping Pool mostly outside the box and give away only half chances. We fight like lions at the back.
Wenger, eventually and late, brings on Coquelin, but for Giroud and not for the unfit looking Ox, or the still lolloping Welbeck. He will have had his reasons, but I felt we needed OG desperately for defending the set-pieces, where he is such an important force to have.
Because of Skrtel’s nasty injury there is a whopping nine minutes of extra time, and in the 96th minute it is the blooded Slovak Slayer himself who towers above everybody and powers the ball into the goal. Lallana’s out-swinging corner had surprised all our defenders and nobody picked up Skrtel; but the corner-kick had also fooled Gibbs who thought Lallana had aimed it towards a Liverpool player at the near post, making him move towards that player and vacating his position at Szczesny’s left post…. Had he stayed, he might have saved the three points for us, but that is football.
I was proud of our defence today, even though they messed up for the late equaliser. Flamini was immense and Cazorla and Giroud improved significantly in the second half. Alexis struggled to get into this game, but he was given bad service and support throughout the game; at least he was very effective in helping out our defence.
Rodgers’ system of football was superior on the night and we did not have an adequate answer. I am convinced this was down to us playing too many second choice players on the night and Wenger being left with little choice but to sit back and absorb the Pool pressure.
We needed midfielders who are experienced and confident on the ball in crowded spaces, who can hold on to the ball and make a burst forward if need be, and who can pass accurately. Jack and Ozil are such players, and so is an in-form Rambo. Rosicky can do this too, of course, but he was not even on the bench.
To be fair to Ox and Cazorla, Giroud did not play well in the first half and Welbeck really offered a very poor outlet for the ball, and the Pool tactics very cleverly cut the three attackers off from the rest of the team.
In the end we got a point and were given a good footballing lesson: nothing wrong with that. The team held strong defensively and I liked that a lot. Any defence enduring 27 shots of which ten on target and surviving a game largely played in their own half, should be applauded. Shame for the late equaliser, but let’s look at the bigger picture rather than picking on the one incident…
Plenty of food for thought and I am looking forward to your views, insights, constructive rants and irrational positives. 🙂