Thursday, January 31, 2013

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2

This campaign may be Arsenal's worst season in Arsene Wenger's 16-year tenure, with the fewest (10) Premier League wins from 24 games, but it seems that the worse Arsenal have been playing, the more crowd we get in the Arsenal end of Las Mimosas bar. The bar was packed once again and the neutral didn't get disappointed as we were treated to another entertaining game. However, as usual, the game was too tight for our comfort largely due to our shambolic defence.

Going into this game, Arsene Wenger's side was supposed to be full of confidence (at least on the offensive side, anyway) on the back of two consecutive wins in a week, including sound thrashing of West Ham. The Frenchman made 6 changes to the side that started in the FA Cup tie against Brighton on Saturday. Thomas Vermaelen was fit again to replace Koscielny. Rested Bacary Sagna, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, and Theo Walcott came in for Carl Jenkinson, Tomas Rosicky, Abu Diaby, Andre Santos, respectively. Aaron Ramsey started his third successive game as a deep-lying midfielder.

It was disheartening to concede so early and so scrappy a goal. After the match, Arsene Wenger blamed the nerve for his side's atrocious defending, but surely the defensive problem can be resolved other than through a psychological approach. Our defence showed their vulnerability against counter-attacks once again. Since we lost Alex Song, we tend to get exposed in those situations. Song had his share of criticisms for his tendency to get forward too often, but playing even more attack-minded players, such as Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, in a holding midfielder role doesn't help improve our defence.

Five months earlier, our defence showed a remarkable improvement on the previous season. Steve Bould took all the praise for the transformation, but it was crucial at the beginning of the season since our new signings, the key attacking players, had to go though adaptation stages and one of them, Olivier Giroud, was even not fully fit to play at the time. Wenger says that leaking goals is a price for our philosophy with emphasis on attacking, but now our attacking players, including Theo Walcott, have found their form, it's time to focus on our defence again. The defensive problem should not be left unaddressed if we are to pursue a Champions League spot.

Another negative from the game was Gibb's injury. It was a big blow as we don't have an adequate cover for the left-back position. Andre Santos is never a Premier League-level player. When he gave the ball away and slipped in injury time, which gifted Suarez a golden opportunity to snatch a victory, it nearly gave me a heart attack. Even on the attacking side, it was obvious that Podolski came to life after Gibbs replaced Santos in a hard-fought win against Championship side, Brighton. Wenger cited Santos' match fitness as his reasoning behind the substitution, but how Gibbs' introduction changed the game speaks volumes for the difference in quality of the two players. Santos' sole merit as a left-back lies on the attacking side of his game, but if he cannot get the best out of one of our best attacking players, Lukas Podolski, what's the point having him in the team? Following Gibb's injury, the media reported Arsenal were in search for a left-back, but we should have started to look for a new left-back long before the January transfer window deadline day, perhaps, just after the Manchester United game (in which the Brazilian famously asked RVP for his shirt prematurely), when Wenger resorted to playing Vermaelen at the left-back even though Santos was fit. In fact, we hoped Wenger would replace Gibbs with Koscielny and move Vermaelen to the left-back in this game.

On a positive note, we showed character coming back from 2-0 down to earn a draw. Arsenal demonstrated the same intensity and purpose in the second half as they did in patches in the last four games. Although our first-half performance was accentuated by our dreadful defending, on the attacking side, we created some good chances and looked dangerous even in the first half. After the final whistle, it felt like two points dropped as we mounted pressure on the Liverpool defence, but the visitors also got close to snatch a late victory. On balance, a draw may be a fair result.

After all, a draw with Liverpool, who lie just below us in the table, was not the end of the world as we kept the gap to them at three points. On top of that, as Tottenham and Chelsea also drew last night with Norwich and Reading, respectively, (which highlights the unpredictability of this season's Premier League results), the gaps to them also remained intact.

With another tough game looming on the horizon, as early as Saturday, we need to sort our our defence quickly, especially how to cope with Gibbs' three-week absence. On the injury front, hopefully, we will have Arteta and Coquelin back before long.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 6
He had a number of shaky moments, one of which almost cost us a goal unnecessarily. On the other hand, he made a few good saves, including the one that denied Suarez's attempt for a winner at the death.

Sagna: 5
Liverpool's first goal started from his slip. There is no sign of improvement in his crossing. We want to see Jenkinson play in his place from time to time. Jenkinson needs games as he looked rusty against Brighton. The England international proved himself as a capable deputy at the beginning of the season and has better crossing than Sagna.

Mertesacker: 5
He dithered every time he got the ball, which allowed the opponents time to rob the ball. This has been seen in a number of recent games.

Vermaelen: 5
His air-kick allowed Sturridge a clear sight of goal and subsequently led to Liverpool's first goal.

Gibbs: 6
Replaced by Santos in the 37th minute due to a thigh strain.

Ramsey: 7
Worked hard in his new role as a deep-lying midfielder. He was unlucky as his touch ricocheted Santos after he took the ball off Henderson, who capitalised on Arsenal's misfortune to score Liverpool's second goal. On the other hand, he had a hand in Liverpool's first goal as he failed to clear the ball after Szczesny's fine save.

Wilshere: 8
He was impressive against Liverpool midfield, including his role model, Steven Gerrard.

Cazorla: 8
In the heart of Arsenal's creativity.

Walcott: 8
He made a good use of his pace. Always looked dangerous apart from a short spell during the first half when he went missing.

Podolski: 7
Created chances on the left flank. Completed his second 90 minutes in a row since he said that he didn't mind getting substituted in the post-match interview following his stellar performance against West Ham.

Giroud: 8
Another spirited performance. Scored his 14th goal of the season and provided an assist for Walcott's equaliser. After the Brighton match, Arsene Wenger said about the France international "When he gets into the fighting mode it is difficult to handle him." He was once again in the fighting mode and spearheaded Arsenal's fightback. He has grown to one of our most influential players in recent weeks. It was quite difficult to choose one standout player for Arsenal (the easiest bit was eliminating all the defenders), as shown by's votes for the Man of the Match, which were split among three players: Giroud, Wilshere, and Walcott. Giroud collected the most votes with 32%, followed by Wilshere's 28% and Walcott's 22%.


Santos: 5
Not up to Arsenal standards, or even bottom-table club standards.

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