Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool
0 – 1 Suarez (5)
0 – 2 Henderson (60)
1 – 2 Giroud (65)
2 – 2 Walcott (67)
I don’t know why Arsenal bother with the first half, better to offer the opposing manager a velvet bag with numbered balls and whatever is drawn, is taken as the half-time lead. We’ll then play out the second half, any complaints about the deficit can be lost in a slew of risque jokes.
The perversity of this Premier League fixture continues with the home side at either ground, failing to win for the eleventh time in the last dozen meetings. At the time, gaining a point felt almost as good as winning. Retrieving a two-goal deficit so quickly provided an immediate elation following the slough of despair. That quickly passed and the feeling that this was two dropped quickly moved in, emphasised with Tottenham’s failure to win at Carrow Road. The end result is no change in Arsenal’s situation in the pursuit of the top four, a sense that once more the squad have got away with it.
From the kick-off, it was apparent that there would be goals in this match, neither defence settling quickly. Liverpool capitalised on Bacary Sagna’s slip, advancing quickly through Johnson. What followed would send the coach of any Under-10s team to drink; Vermaelen failed to connect properly with the ensuing cross, Ramsey couldn’t make his tackle tell, Szczesny made a great save only for the ball to fall to Suarez, whose deflected shot found the net. Architects of their own downfall, Arsenal were a goal down through calamitous defending. Prior to the season’s start, there was a groundswell of opinion that Pat Rice’s departure and replacement by Steve Bould would tighten the backline. The specious blaming of Rice has been shown for what it was, a house of cards which has collapsed in on itself; the problems are deeper-seated.
The response was swift, Reina saving smartly from Walcott following a great pass from Wilshere. The pressure from the home side intensified but as with the rest of the match, Liverpool offered a genuine threat on the counter. Sturridge has served one warning but then Szczesny showed why he is a goalkeeper; Pele, Maradona or Cruyff he isn’t, a poor attempt at executing the latter’s trademark move ended with him toepoking the ball to safety as Sturridge sought to capitalise on the youngster’s inexplicable madness.
Football’s equivalent of rope-a-dope continued. Giroud and Walcott waged war on the Liverpool goal, where wayward finishing was corrected, Reina stood firm; not for him, a repeat of the goalkeeping errors which have beset him in other fixtures between the two clubs. To keep Arsenal on their toes, Agger beat Szczesny to a header, the Pole grateful for Podolski’s goalline intervention. Arsenal came back for more, pushing forward with lax defence in tow.
Defensive suffered once more when Kieran Gibbs departed for a three week break in the medical room thanks to hamstring-twang. Andre Santos entered the fray. A poisonous online atmosphere around the player turned vile with abuse on social media. Quite what that achieves bar making a strong case for chemically castrating the abusers so that they cannot polute the gene pool further, is beyond me. Had Agger’s header beaten Szczesny, that probably would have been blamed on the wayward left back. Again Arsenal retaliated but were unable to connect, Henderson retorted with a chip onto the roof of the net following a rush of blood and out of the area by Szczesny.
The second half followed the path of the first, the Wisdom of Andre pushing Podolski was questionable, as were other refereeing decisions that saw shoves, tugs and pulls unpunished. Usual Premier League fare. And then more comedy defending saw Arsenal fall further behind, how Jordan Henderson scored is the stuff of Tim Burton’s nightmares as deflections and failed intervention left the Liverpool midfielder with a goal he won’t forget easily. The trouble is Arsenal will have probably done so already.
Arsenal were reeling and in danger of sinking despite enjoying the majority of play, possession and pressure. It was playground football at its purest; the next goal wins. Giroud got it, freeing his marker’s shackles and heading home from Wilshere’s free kick. Within three minutes, Walcott had buried the equaliser following good work from Cazorla and Giroud. Parity, deserved and hard fought for, the pressure ratcheted up a notch on Liverpool. Pepe Reina responded and combined with wayward finishing, the score remained level.
The outcome puts a different perspective on the squad needs. We do require another striker, if for no other reason as maintaining strength in depth but rarely are Arsenal troubled scoring. The problem is that they cannot score enough to compensate for defensive weakness. Letting Djourou go on loan with no cover is concerning but the Swiss international, as much as I like him, would not necessarily be the solution. Szczesny spoke this week of the need to defend as a team and it is the attitude towards defending which needs to be addressed. There is too much emphasis on attack with the caution of the opening games deemed to be too detrimental to the greater good.
The hallmark of the Wenger era has been attacking football but his successful squads knew how to defend. In recent seasons, this art has been lost and the price has been paid with no genuine challenge being launched for the title. This is nothing to do with competing on financial grounds – and that to my mind is a red herring, masking the inconsistencies displayed by players – it is about the culture of Arsenal.
Boring, Boring, Arsenal was a refrain sung with mocking pride, opponents knew that once Arsenal scored, it was going to be a Herculean effort to save the game. Arsène grasped that concept and refined it, adding attacking finesse. Now that resolute defence has fallen entirely by the wayside, lost in the mists of time with attack the sole solution to all problems. The pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, the balance redressed and then progress can be made. Until then, we career ahead, slamming from one defensive error to another. Will this be addressed in the current transfer window? I am not holding my breath.