League leaders Arsenal played a superb game, controlled the midfield and took their chances when presented to them. Wojciech Szczesny had an immense game in goal. Liverpool, on the other hand, looked weak in possession, and the current SAS could not do the job.
Luis Suarez, in particular, had a bad night. Admittedly, he hit a great shot from outside the 6-yard box that took a slight deflection on the way to hitting the post; but his greatest sin was missing that sitter close to the end, when Liverpool would still have had a good 4 or 5 minutes to get an equaliser. Philippe Coutinho’s through pass sent him away, but instead of either finding the bottom corner or Daniel Sturridge in space for a tap-in, he sent his curling effect wide. Sturridge, out of frustration with the lack of chances during the whole game, was also poor throughout. SAS did not deliver tonight, of all nights, when what was at stake was a hold on the top spot.
When the team-sheet was released, the sight of Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho on the flanks was really worrying, and it showed. Flanagan did get forward a couple of times to good effect, but was weak at the back and did not cover his centre-backs well for the Santi Cazorla’s first goal. And about that goal first, if it was Liverpool instead, the initial header would have struck the bar on its way out. Anyway, Cissokho was appalling at left-back. His one dimensional attacking play showed as he could not get past Bacary Sagna, while he was burned by Sagna’s pace for Arsenal’s first. If Rodgers does not have either Glen Johnson or Jose Enrique fit, he should not play this 3-5-2 formation, which in essence, is heavily reliant on wing-backs.
Steven Gerrard had such a poor game, Lucas Leiva not far behind. This game was always going to be about the midfield battle. How Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey would cope with the deep-lying SAS, or how Gerrard and Lucas (along with Jordan Henderson) would deal with Mesut Ozil and Cazorla. As Arteta and Ramsey successfully marshalled the space Suarez and Sturrdige would work to their best in, Ozil and Cazorla (along with Tomas Rosicky) got the better of Liverpool’s duo in midfield. Time and time again the trio of Arsenal attacking midfielders got behind the midfield and face on with Liverpool’s backtracking defence. Ramsey’s sensational goal was due to the lack of proper cover in midfield. Gerrard really picked the wrong time to have such a poor game.
Positives & Fulham Lookahead
The return of Coutinho to the side at half-time was there to see. His touch on the ball, his vision to find Sturridge and Suarez in the channels, his presence was missed from the start. His return to the side will prove to be a big boost for Liverpool in their attempts to bounce back from this defeat. Henderson continued his fine form, even though he missed a couple of good chances, with his harassing of Arsenal’s midfielders the only good thing to come out of the midfield battle for the Reds.
Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers really need to look to the next game now, against Fulham at Anfield, to bounce back and get a win. Just as a win at the Emirates would have prompted calls to build on in the next game, this defeat would definitely have an impact on the Fulham match. Another negative result would prompt whispers of a slide or decline, or even that the Reds are starting to show their true form, after their blistering start so far.
The season’s at its 10 game mark now, the first in a few barometers to the progress the team has made so far. A win for Tottenham or Everton would see Liverpool drop to 4th, which is still decent reading considering their aims for a top 4 place this season.
One can only hope Enrique and Johnson are fit for the long haul, their injuries have had disrupting effects on the team. The Enrique-Suarez combination seen last season was going well this, with Enrique’s deep raking behind-the-defence balls for Suarez to pounce on definitely one route to goal Liverpool had, without the Spaniard, Liverpool have one less option going forward. So too is Johnson on the other side, his driving runs is a threat down the opponent’s left side, which could also have the effect of pushing the other side’s winger backwards.
Daniel Agger really should return to the side now. Mamadou Sakho did not have a convincing game again tonight, or even Kolo Toure might be dropped after his harrowing performance today against his old club. This might be more harsh on the latter given his form so far, but Agger has got to get into the side now, and either (or both if Rodgers switches to a back four) will be the one at the expense of it.
Liverpool really need to bounce back next weekend, and the SAS need to return to goalscoring form. Let tonight be just a blip in what is going to be a successful season.