|Ramsey (O.G.) 78|
It was to be Liverpool, playing in their black away trip, who emerged victorious, as an injury-hit Arsenal fell to a 2-0 home defeat, following a 78th minute own goal from Ramsey and a 90th minute goal from Suarez.
Just over 60,000 people filed into the Emirates Stadium not quite sure what to expect, as Arsenal came into this match low on confidence, having lost their club captain, Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona on Monday. They also were forced to start Samir Nasri as part of a three man midfield despite the Manchester City move for the Frenchman being all-but finalised.
Arsenal started with Polish goalkeeper Szczesny playing behind an inexperienced an reshuffled defence of Jenkinson (right back), Koscielny, Vermaelen and Sagna (at left-back). But it was to be in midefield, where Arsenal were missing Song, Wilshere and Rosicky, that they appeared to be most underweight – particularly when compared to recent seasons – as they started with Samir Nasri, debutant Frimpong and Aaron Ramsey.
The forward triumverate of Theo Walcott, new captain Robin Van Persie, and Andre Arshavin looked, on paper, impressive, but the question, before kick-off, was whether Arsenal’s inexperienced, transfer and injury-hit defence and midfield could build a solid enough platform for these stars to shine?
Given Liverpool had spent over £100 million over the summer – in addition to the £35 million signing of centre forward Andy Carroll in January – in purchasing forward-thinking midfielders and goalscorers, Arsenal could, perhaps, not have picked a worse moment to be going into a match so light on defenders and midfielders. It is safe to assume that, given the choice, Wenger would not have opted for quite such a youthful rearguard.
Liverpool started with ever-reliable Pepe Reina in goal, playing behind the experienced Carragher and Agger. Kelly started at right-back following last week’s Sunderland result, his first start since February this year, while Enrique began the match in the left-back position.
That back four was playing behind the impressive-looking midfield bank of four which consisted of Jordan Henderson, Lucas, Charlie Adam and the hardworking Dirk Kuyt. These four would be feeding the somewhat surprising attacking pairing of powerful Andy Carroll and Stuart Downing, the latter given a role in the “hole”. Given that Luis Suarez, and Meirelez began the match sitting on the Liverpool bench, it was not difficult to imagine that Liverpool would finish this match stronger than they had against Sunderland a week previously.
As if to demonstrate the lack of resources Wenger has at his disposal right now, Arsenal began with three players on their bench who had never played a minute in the Premier League, in Chamberlain, Miguel and Miyachi.
But it was Arsenal who got the first chance of the match, as the ball fell to Arshavin just inside the angle of the Liverpool box following a corner. The Russian rushed a shot on the volley which didn’t even leave the area.
Moments later and Emmanuel Frimpong was in the referee’s book for remonstrating over a ball which had gone out for a Liverpool throw in.
Liverpool had the ball in the Arsenal net after 12 minutes, after a long ball from Jamie Carragher was headed down well by Andy Carroll to Stuart Downing who drilled the ball into the bottom right corner, however, the whistle had already blown for an Arsenal free-kick as Carroll was adjudged to have shoved Koscielny in the back prior to winning the header – though given the mis-match in strength between Carroll and the defender, it was an unnecessary foul.
Moments later, Koscielny picked up a pass before hobbling and falling to the ground with what looked to be a serious problem – not just for him, but his manager, who had named only one defensive substitute, Ignasi Miguel, who had never played in the Premier League.
Koscielny did have to leave the field to be replaced by Miguel, a major blow to a team with an already understrength back line: Andy Carroll must have looked suddenly inches taller to Gunners around the Emirates Stadium.
It wasn’t long before the Geordie centre-forward was working Szczesny with a powerful header that the Pole had to dive full stretch towards the top corner to parry away over the byline. From the resulting set-piece, the ball was not cleared before eventually falling to a turning Dirk Kuyt who hit a hopeful shot over the bar with the clock ticking past 20 minutes: it looked like developing into a long afternoon for Arsenal.
Henderson was next to work the Arsenal goalkeeper a couple of minutes later after good link-up play from Dirk Kuyt and left-back Enrique led to Kuyt flipping a cross back to the midfielder. Henderson headed the ball too close to Szczesny, but the move had been the best of the match so far, and it seemed only a matter of time before Liverpool would get off the mark.
Next it was another newcomer, Charlie Adam’s turn to have a shot, as the former Blackpool man spotted Szczesny off his line and attempted to beat him left-footed from the half way line. The back-peddling goalkeeper was relieved to witness the ball, which was travelling at pace, missing by just a foot or so over the bar.
Arsenal had achieved very little of note in the first half hour, but, having been awarded a free kick deep in Liverpool territory, the ball fell to Frimpong, who dropped a shoulder 25 yards out before driving a fierce shot at the bottom left hand corner of Reina’s goal. The Liverpool goalkeeper produced a great low save, however, to keep his clean-sheet intact.
The attempt brought more life into the home fans, and Samir Nasri showed just why those fans will be sad to see him leave, when he picked the ball up from a deflection off the referee in his own half, before bursting through into space and hitting a shot which went narrowly wide, mere moments later.
Liverpool finished the first as they had played much of it – the better of the two teams – but the score was 0-0 after 45 minutes, as Arsenal put men behind the ball and frustrated their visitors.
In the second period, it was Liverpool, again, who looked the more threatening from the get-go. Charlie Adam tried another super-long range effort which came to nought before Liverpool produced the first chance of note when a great passing move ended with Andy Carroll laying the ball back to right-back Martin Kelly, who only narrowly missed with a well-hit strike on 54 minutes – the ball stuck the outside of the post having appeared to have beaten Szczesny.
The visitors then received a let-off, though, as Arshavin – who appeared to push Kelly off the ball in the box – found Robin van Persie in a lot of space just ten yards out. The Dutchman hit his shot too close to Reina, however, who bundled the ball out of play with his legs. Liverpool would have been furious with referee Atkinson had the ball ended in the net.
On 70 minutes a key moment occurred, as Frimpong, who had been booked earlier, showed his studs and was moments late into a 50:50 challenge on Lucas, who flipped over the tackle to avoid injury. It was at least worth the yellow card that Atkinson produced. This meant his earlier, silly, booking had turned into the red card that then followed. Arsenal were to be reduced to ten men for the final 20 minutes – their second red card in as many weeks.
It seemed, a little, like pathetic fallacy as the heavy rain fell on Frimpong’s exit from the field of play. Suarez came on for Andy Carroll and Raul Meirelez replaced Dirk Kuyt at this very moment – Kenny Dalglish’s plan could not have been going any better.
Liverpool fans began to enjoy themselves: The Fields of Athenry rang round the otherwise hushed Emirates as Liverpool strung more passes together on 74 minutes, in a move which ended with a Stuart Downing shot which was only just high and wide after the intervension of Szczesny, who was beginning to look like the only barrier between Liverpool and three points.
Downing’s chance came after a delightful through-ball from the left foot of Charlie Adam.
Arsenal showed signs that their counter-punch could still land, though, when Vermaelen picked the ball up in his own half, and kept on going into a space before letting fly a shot. The ball flew wide, but the intent at least demonstrated to home fans that there was hope, even with just ten men.
However, that hope would prove to be short-lived moments later: the next time an Arsenal player touched the ball, it was when Premier League newcomer Miguel attempted to clear after Meireles burst into the box. The ball struck team-mate Aaron Ramsey, who knew nothing about it, in the chest. Ramsey could only watch as it looped into the luckless Szczesny’s net on 78 minutes.
Cue a period of sustained Liverpool possession as the fight went from Arsenal with that moment.
Another period of good Liverpool passing ended, just as the clock ticked onto 90 minutes, with a pass from Lucas, to Meireles in the Arsenal box. The attacking midfielder played an unselfish square ball to Suarez, who will score no easier goal in his career, as Liverpool carved through the tired and dejected Gunners defence one last time to make absolutely certain of their three points.
The final whistle followed soon after with the score at 2-0. A number of boo’s were audible from Arsenal fans around the ground, as Liverpool picked up their first away win at Arsenal in over 11 years.
It is Liverpool, not Arsenal, who emerge from this match looking like the team most likely to compete with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Man City for the four UEFA Champions League slots this term.
Arsenal need to develop a squad with more depth, and fast, if they are to avoid being this summer’s biggest losers and, consequently, enduring the worst league campaign of recent memory. Arsene Wenger has just over a week – or what’s left of this transfer window – to save his season, it seems.
Arsenal v Liverpool – Barclays Premier League 2011/12 – Squads
Substitutions in brackets; YC = Yellow Card; RC = Red Card.
|13 Szczesny||25 Reina|
|03 Sagna||03 Jose Enrique|
|05 Vermaelen||05 Agger|
|06 Koscielny (Miquel 15)||23 Carragher|
|25 Jenkinson||34 Kelly|
|08 Nasri||14 Henderson|
|14 Walcott (Bendtner 80)||19 Downing|
|16 Ramsey||21 Lucas YC|
|23 Arshavin (Lansbury 71 YC)||26 Adam|
|26 Frimpong YC RC||09 Carroll YC (Suarez 71)|
|10 Van Persie||18 Kuyt (Meireles 71)|
|21 Fabianski||32 Doni|
|49 Miquel||37 Skrtel|
|15 Oxlade-Chamberlain||38 Flanagan|
|46 Lansbury||04 Meireles|
|29 Chamakh||11 Maxi|
|31 Miyaichi||20 Spearing|
|52 Bendtner||07 Suarez|