Liverpool 1 – 1 Arsenal: One For The Neutrals!

Where are my manners? First of all, all the Gooners should heartily thank the guy who had a ‘I can do this much better than Robert Green’ moment. If not for his fumble of catastrophic proportion, it would have been a sorry start to the season indeed. Always be thankful for the small mercies, just took on a deeper meaning! Jokes apart, my mood would be distinctly different had we given up the three points to Liverpool today. And I’m also somewhat in the position to be magnanimous to the Liverpool keeper who had an excellent game otherwise, making some amazing saves – Walcott and Rosicky’s curlers and Vermaelen’s first half free-kick, in particular. We would have certainly scored more than 1 goal if not for his fine saves.

Call this jumping to conclusions, but all my defensive worries with only Kosicelny coming in after the departure of the Campbell-Gallas-Silvestre trio, came true. The Ngog goal was superbly taken by the young Frenchman but the defensive lapses that gave him the opportunity to shoot were inexcusable, as was Almunia’s positioning. The back-four looked shaky throughout the 90 odd minutes and this is the most urgent area which needs work and repair. My heart, for one, is certainly not going to withstand many final quarters of the game similar to today! It was also apparent that we terribly missed the reassuring presence of Alexandre Song anchoring the midfield and defence.

Liverpool, to their credit, used half-time to reorganise and mentally psyche themselves beyond belief from the harsh sending off of Joe Cole, and came into the second half stronger than ever. Away at Anfield, on the opening day of the season is always going to be a tough fixture. Even with the state of Liverpool last season. But it was a ‘same old Arsenal’ scenario which is ‘so last year’. And the year before that. And before that. I’m not saying we are going to be this bad every game. But it was shameful that we had to rely on a last-minute comical gaffe from Reina to draw a game which we should have won in all probability. We were one man stronger than them. And the better attacking side. With more chances. But as we are so frustratingly prone to do, we wasted good chances, passed around the ball when we should have shot at goal, and were defensively shakier than a one-legged man. Plus, as I’ve said before, we came up against an impressive Reina performance in goal. Granted, that teams always need a bit of luck (Man Utd comes to mind), and to be fair, we did fight manfully after going a goal down. But it was the possibility that we really haven’t learned anything from past seasons that was more worrying.

Arsenal’s midfield terribly missed the presence of talismanic captain Cesc Fabregas, and Jack Wilshere’s inclusion did not add much to the ammunition. However, he’s still very much a young player and will hopefully learn from these mistakes. Arsenal were certainly the better attacking force but the new formation also played its part in not giving them a ‘settled in’ feel. I am not too sure whether I am in favour of this 4-5-1 in place of last season’s 4-4-2 which was much more successful. Or maybe its apparent non-success was down to Chamakh’s inexperience in the EPL. Or the fact that with Bendtner injured and RVP lacking match-fitness, Wenger was forced to play the Moroccan as the lone man up front. Only a few more matches will really show results in favour or against.

There were however some positives. Rosicky and Walcott both played their cameo parts brilliantly after coming on from the substitute bench. Both were highly unlucky not to have a goal each to their name after superb saves from the Spaniard in goal. Chamakh had an alright debut game and wasted a few chances but definitely seems like a bright prospect. Nasri had a good game as well, though he was prone to some hesitation and over-passing. (He should be even more effective as part of a pair with Fabregas) Arshavin, on the other hand, did not have his annual ‘I love Anfield so much I’m going to score at least once’ perfomance and was quite disappointing. RVP looked lacking in match practice and I for one, think that pairing him up with Chamakh up front is going to be much more effective for the Gunners.

Teams, results, players’ performances, errors, points apart, Martin Atkinson is probably going to be the centre of controversy and discussion. Joe Cole’s lunge on Koscielny hardly merited a red. Especially after Jack Wilshere’s dangerous tackle just minutes before was only shown a yellow. Little did Kosicelny know that he would have a debut to remember for the wrong reasons. I doubt he would have imagined getting 2 successive yellow cards in injury time! For me, the second one, for handball was a bit harsh as it was quite unintentional and unavoidable, and not much different from Ngog’s, earlier in the match.

Final verdict? Not the ideal performance to start off the season by any standards and there’s a lot to be done … But it could have been so much worse and I’d take a thrilling last-minute comeback + 1 point at Anfield any day over no points at all! I think most Gooners will be with me on this, right?

PS: A couple of the choicest words might be necessary to shake the Arsenal so that they face the reality of today’s game, which they made more difficult for themselves. But all praises to a 10-man Liverpool for a gutsy second-half performance!

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