Liverpool 2 – 2 Arsenal
1 – 0 Coutinho (45)
1 – 1 Debuchy (45+2)
1 – 2 Giroud (65)
2 – 2 Skrtel (90+6)
Sent off: Borini (90+2)
The problem with conceding a late equaliser is deflation. It feels worse than defeat. You usually have time to come to terms with losing, the goal that seals the outcome rarely comes so late in the game that you cannot reconcile yourself to the outcome.
Even then, a late goal conceded is met with any number of variations on “Well, that’s it“. The points are gone, the mindset is inevitably different. An equaliser? Pffft, the euphoria of victory has taken hold and with a couple of minutes left, you know that outcome has just become unlikely. Utter deflation. Three points gleefully embraced are gone, just one remains.
You are by now familiar with the embarrassing statistics; the lowest possession percentage since records began, registering less than ten shots all game. For a club which thrives on statistics, that invents new trophies and standards on their back, there isn’t even this crumb of comfort upon which to feed this morning.
Even with the benefit of Borini’s deserved yellow card, the unplanned rope-a-dope failed to yield the three points on offer. Faint title hopes already been damaged beyond repair as reflected in the latest TonyBet Premier League football betting. There is not likely to be any improvement in those in the near future with this level of performance.
Arsène noted that, in part, the players were scarred by the savagery of last season’s defeat. It’s a staggering admission, this is something that should have been used a spur to an aggressive performance from the kick-off became a shackle, inducing timidity in performance.
Even worse was the admission that Arsenal were out-thought tactically in the first half. There was nothing unfamiliar about the way Liverpool played; they used 3-4-3 at Old Trafford, at whatever Dean Court is called now. Brendan Rodgers even bragged in midweek that he should be hailed as a tactical genius for using it.
Was nobody at Arsenal paying attention?
But what I think gnaws away most in the manner in which Liverpool scored. Szczesny played well yesterday, making several telling interventions. It isn’t lauded like De Gea’s last weekend because his defence, midfield and attack let him down. Badly.
Giroud was at fault for the first, the simplest of tasks – keeping possession – as half-time approached proved beyond him with the ball gifted back to Liverpool midway in the Arsenal half. Szczesny could do little about Coutinho’s shot.
As for the equaliser, why was Skrtel offered a free run at the ball as it came in? Chambers was out of position, Mertesacker culpable of ducking out of the way lest he be hit by ball or man whilst Gibbs had gone walkabout from the near post. A woeful condemnation of zonal marking at set-pieces.
Yet despite the repeated failures, we still employ the system. How bad must the players be at man-to-man marking for that to be the case?
All too familiar.
There were positives. The quick response to Coutinho’s goal with an ugly goal, head tennis from Mertesacker led to a well-placed goal from Debuchy. Un-Arsenal like in its execution but credit the players for that.
And Giroud, a menace to his own defence, is more so to opponents, applying the finish that the best Arsenal move of the game needed. Demanded. Another clinical finish which won’t do his coiffured confidence any harm at all.
It’s what we needed, the lead in a game where performance levels weren’t good enough. Winning ugly but the same mantra was repeated at the final whistle. Arsenal were undone by their failings, the players unable to close out a game. Unable to take points off from a ‘big’ fixture.
The result leaves Arsenal sixth, two points behind Southampton, a further two in West Ham’s wake. Southampton and West Ham. Let that sink in for a moment. Credit should be given to both sides for finding the form to take them that high in the table but it condemns Arsenal’s inconsistency.
Victories over the pair are imperative; a point in either fixture is not going to be a good result, no matter what anyone tells you. In pursuit, Arsenal need to dig in and find the resolve which has carried them over the line in previous seasons. It won’t be easy if yesterday is anything to go by.
Look, I know Arsenal are missing key players and that has an impact but let’s be honest, when they were fit, we weren’t seeing any vastly improved performances.
Arsène reacted to Olivier Giroud’s injury by signing Danny Welbeck. Knowing of Laurent Koscielny’s injury and the likelihood of Vermaelen leaving (or being injured if he stayed) begs the question as to why a man who is not scared of spending money, chose not to.
Every summer sees the demand for a defensive midfielder. There have probably been a full XI of them in the past few years but Arsène has resisted quite willingly so far. The problem with this position is tactical. The isolation of the first half highlighted how easily the midfield trio of Arsenal can be neutralised. Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred.
The boost that winning the FA Cup was supposed to bring hasn’t been seen. Or if it has, how bad would this season have been? There wasn’t any expectation of a title win but a tangible sign of progressing towards that aim? A comfortable and assured third place would have felt like that. Even a ding-dong battle with a good side for that outcome would be an improvement of witnessing the sheer mediocrity above us in the table.
It hasn’t happened and yesterday offered very little hope of that prospect.