Monday, February 10, 2014

Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1

It was a shocking result, but what hurts us more was Arsenal's poor performance, especially in the first half. Even Wenger admitted that they just didn't turn up with the right performance, including himself. He admitted that he was partly responsible for his side's sub-par display, but it's not certain that he implied his failure to motivate the team (we should have borrowed the Scottish masseur from Chelsea) or his tactics (or lack of them) for this game. Untypically, the Frenchman made no excuses, such as the ref's decisions, the pitch, or weather conditions. In fact, Liverpool's first goal should have been ruled out as off-side, but he simply blamed his side's poor performance for the hefty loss.

Going into the game, our anticipations were mixed. Liverpool had an excellent home form and they have so far turned up for big games this season, albeit often without end-results. Some said that they would take a draw, while others were confident that Arsenal would get at least a point, based on their stellar performance at the Emirates in early November, which was one of their best displays this season. In fact, we had the same XI available, apart from the injured Aaron Ramsey, that started on that day. The squad was even better now with the Ox and Poldi back from injury (Flamini was injured at the time of the reverse fixture earlier this season, while Wilshere was also out of the squad with an ankle injury). A 5-1 scoreline was beyond anybody's imagination.

Wenger made just one change from the side that started in a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace last Saturday. Fit-again Jack Wilshere came in for Lukas Podolski. The Ox was moved to the right wing, while Wilshere started next to Arteta in central midfield. We expected Rosicky to earn his place in the starting line-up, but it seemed difficult to drop the Ox after his man-of-the match performance in the last game. Also, when Wilshere came into contention for the central midfield berths, it was not difficult to guess he would be preferred to the Ox because of his experience in the position. After the match, Wenger was asked if he rushed Wilshere into the game. We agree with the boss on that the England midfielder didn't look less fit than any other Arsenal player. The whole team appeared to have lacked sharpness, physical strength and determination. If anything, Wilshere at least showed more desire than his team-mates. Wenger admitted that he could have taken off a lot of his players at half-time. He waited until 60th minute, which was earlier than the usual 70th minute, and it was wholesale changes. The three straight swaps highlighted Wenger's frustration with his arguably worst performers, namely, Giroud, Özil, and Monreal. After the match, Arteta revealed that he had never seen Wenger as furious as he was at half-time before.

We haven't played well for quite some time, but have been grinding out results by scoring just enough goals and not conceding many. However, it has finally caught up with us. You cannot keep playing below par and getting results, especially against great sides. Especially, we have been slow starters of late, but our solid defence kept us in the game until we started playing. However, we were finally punished for our slow start in this game.

We have been frustrated with the team's slow build-up and reluctance to shoot. The flash point of this game was arguably our missed opportunity just after Skrtel's opener. Cazorla broke with speed. Liverpool defence was caught by the counter-attack and our players outnumbered them. Cazorla's astute pass found Giroud in the left-hand channel, but the French striker was slow on the ball and allowed Skrtel to close him down. If Arsenal had levelled just after the opener, the dynamics of the game would have been totally different. We don't seem to be able to attack quickly.

Arsene Wenger's game-plan was clear even before the kick-off. He intended his side to dominate possession in midfield and cut off supplies to Suarez and Sturridge, just like they did at the Emirates. However, Brendan Rodgers learnt lessons from that game, in which our midfield overran their counterparts. Since that day, he had also ditched the 3-4-1-2 formation. They pressed Arsenal in midfield, just like Southampton did in the first half. Wenger's tactics may have just worked if his team were as energetic and sharp as this day's Liverpool side. Usually oppositions' such high-energy approaches barely bear fruit as they get tired as a game wears on. In fact, Liverpool's intensity dropped in the second half (we looked much better in the second half partly because of that), but by then they were comfortably sitting on a 5-0 lead. Conceding 4 goals within 20 minutes proved detrimental to the game-plan.

The frailty of our defence was a shock to us. The solidity in defence has been the difference this season. The Mertesacker-Koscielny partnership had never lost a game since January 2012 prior to the game, when they both played for 90 minutes. They were the only central defensive partnership this season that kept both Suarez and Sturridge out of scoring in a game. Sadly, these records came to an end. As Wenger stated, conceding two goals from set-pieces was a shock to our defenders and from there, our defence had been shaky. Hopefully, they will leave the game behind quickly and will not suffer too big a damage to their confidence. 

Pundits and journalists wasted no time to jump on the doom and gloom scenario they have been waiting for. Hopefully, come Wednesday night, the dismal performance will prove to be a mere bad day in the office. Arsenal have already done that after their defeat to Man City. Chelsea knocked us off the top of the league, but we ended the day second as Man City were held goalless by struggling Norwich City (this is certainly one of the shock results of the day, but the media hardly talked about it, only mentioning it as a "slight" slip-up). The last two results made Chelsea strong favourites in the title race, but we are still in it, a point below them and a point above Man City. Man City's draw has just pointed out that they could drop points against any opponents, just as Chelsea did against West Ham at Stanford Bridge several days ago. There is no denying that this day's anaemic performance had dented Arsenal's title credentials and as Wenger said, raised questions. But hopefully, they will put in a convincing performance on Wednesday night to answer all their critics and we can look back this result as just a blip.

Players rating

Szczesny 6
Made a couple of great saves, but he could probably have done better against some of the goals.

Sagna: 6
Totally caught out of position for the third goal. He was nowhere near the box.

Mertesacker: 6
Not his reassuring self.

Koscielny: 6

The pacey defender looked slow. Guilty for the second goal by allowing Skrtel a free-header.

Monreal: 6
Struggled to cope with Liverpool's attack down the right flank.

Arteta: 6

Scored the consolation goal from the spot. His free-kick was unlucky not find the back of the net, forcing a great save from Mignolet. On the other hand, he failed to protect the back four.

Wilshere: 6
At least he tried.

Cazorla: 6

Not at his best.

Özil: 5

His errors led to two goals. He has been under pressure from fans and pundits alike to step up his game and make a difference in big games. He had to deliver in this game, but failed. They say that form is temporary, but class is permanent. Hopefully, he will rediscover his early form soon.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6

Earned a penalty.

Giroud: 5
His touches deserted him on this day. He had no control of the ball. "Really poor performance" by his admission.



Rosicky: 6
60th-minute substitute for 

Podolski: 6

60th-minute substitute for Giroud.
Gibbs: 6
61st-minute substitute for Monreal.

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