Friday, January 15, 2016

Liverpool 3 Arsenal 3

Going into the midweek match, Arsenal were slight favourites to win it despite playing away from home. The table told us there were 7 league positions and 12 points between the two sides. We were confident that this team had enough quality to beat an injury-ravaged Liverpool side especially after a convincing performance from our young team against Sunderland in the FA Cup 3rd round. As it turned out, a number of Liverpool players became available in 48 hours prior to the game, recovering from injuries just in time for the big match (just as Arsene Wenger predicted, citing "Arsene is a very good doctor - they always heal when they play against us!"). There were suggestions that injuries were Jurgen Klopp's excuse to field a weakened side against a League 2 outfit, Exeter City, last Friday. Although they were still missing key players, likes of Skrtel and Coutinho, Liverpool were able to field a much stronger side widely anticipated.

On Arsene Wenger's side, the Frenchman made 5 changes to the side that started in a 3-1 victory over Sunderland. Per Mertesacker was recalled at the expense of Gabriel, after having a breather. Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs at left-back. Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey came in for the central midfield partnership of Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who both shone on Sunday. After rested against Sunerland, Mesut Ozil replaced Alex Iwobi, who also impressed in the three-man midfield alongside Chambers and the Ox. David Opsina failed to pass late fitness tests again after missing the FA Cup match through a groin problem. 21-year-old Matt Macey travelled instead. Among other substitutes were Gabriel, Chambers, Gibbs, the Ox, Iowabi and Mikel Arteta. Amid rumours about his loan move away from the north London club during the January transfer window, Debuchy was not on the bench.

It was a fantastic game to watch, played at high tempo and with intensity from the first whistle to the last. There were some great team movements as well as individual brilliance. Four goals were scored within frantic 25 minutes of kick-off, with Ramsey's shot cleared off the line and Giroud missing a sitter. After Giroud's sublime goal in the 55th minute, the Gunners held on the lead for a long spell, weathering Liverpool's attack. It was very frustrating to concede an equaliser at the final minute of normal time. However, we take heart from the way Arsenal came back from a goal down twice to take the lead. They were cagey at the beginning of the game. We feared the repeat of the 5-1 loss 2 years ago and Wenger cited that game as a factor behind their initial nervousness. But Arsenal turned the match on its head by continuing to play their game.

It was a good night for all football fans. The officials did not have a great night, though. Campbell should have been given a penalty when he was pulled back in the box in the first half. Nathaniel Clyne was lucky to stay on the pitch when he kicked Campbell. It was a bookable offence and the ref would have shown a yellow card without doubt if he had not already done so.

As Wenger stated in the post-match interview, we, too, were frustrated with the result, but content with the performance. Some fans argue this was our best performance of this season so far, even better than the one against Man City or Olympiacos. Given the opponents' performance on the night, this was certainly the best game we have played in this season. But is this two points dropped or a point gained? At Arsenal Playa Flamenca Supporters Club, we were split on that point. We had enough chances to win the game. Had it not been for defensive mistakes, we should have seen out a 3-2 victory. Draws are only useful when it is against your title rivals. On the other hand, Liverpool dominated in possession at 59% to our 41% and were also superior in other stats (i.e., number of goal attempts, shots on target, passing success rates, aerial success, number of tackles). Furthermore, Anfield is always a difficult place to go. Besides, Liverpool always raise their games against big teams. Man City and Chelsea were already beaten by them this season even on home soil. Some journalists talk up the lost points as a vital blow to the Gunners' title challenge. However, we would like to think that our strong position in the title race has been intact, with players like Alexis Sanchez coming back from injury and reinforcement to the squad arriving in January.  

How costly these points dropped are is yet to be seen, but for now, at least we didn't lose ground to Manchester City, who only drew with Everton at home on the same night, while we slightly extended the lead over Tottenham, who was beaten at home by Leicester. A point saw us maintain the top spot, although we let second-placed Leicester City close the gap to  mere goal difference. The tough run of games continue with a Stoke away on Sunday, arguably the most difficult of the three fixtures.

Players ratings

Cech: 7
For the first goal, perhaps he should have done better than only parrying Emre Can's effort straight to Firmino. He could have nothing to stop the Brazilian's second. On the other hand, he got his hand to Joe Allen's shot, but was not able to keep it away from his goal.

Bellerin: 7

Quiet display after the-man-of-the-match performance against Sunderland. He could have done better to stop Liverpool's late equaliser as he wasn't aware of Allen's run till it was too late.

Mertesacker: 7

Pulled off two crucial interventions at the latter stage of the game. 

Koscielny: 8

Assured performance after letting Firmino fire through his legs for the opener.

Monreal: 8

Kept Ibe in his pocket all through the game. Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 7 clearances. 

Flamini: 7

Did a dirty job quietly, but we missed Coqulin, who could have broken up the play more efficiently. Made 3 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 7 clearances. Blocked 3 shots.

Ramsey: 8
Did what he is good at, when arriving in the box late to score an equaliser. Provided an assist by taking a corner for Giroud's first goal.

Campbell: 8
Worked his socks off. Did a lot of defensive work for the team, as well as offensive jobs, including delivering a perfect through ball for Ramsey. 
Made more tackles (5) than any other Arsenal player. He was involved in Giroud's second goal as well, but he could not direct his half-volley on target when Ozil's clever lofted pass found his run on the right-hand channel. However, he is getting stronger every game. He should keep his place even when Alexis gets fit again.

Özil: 7
Although he was kept quiet most of the first half and couldn't make a telling impact, he was still joy to watch. His touches were excellent. One minute he was surrounded by a couple of Liverpool players with the ball, next second he had an acre of space without the ball. Magic. He still made 3 key passes.

Walcott: 6 

Made an error leading to the first goal, by losing possession outside the box. He did well to make a run through the right-hand channel into the box and square the ball, which Giroud failed to tuck in. He was largely anonymous in the first 20 minutes.

Giroud: 8
Barclays and Arsenal fans' Man of the Match. Scored two goals. Especially, his second goal showcased his excellent skill set. Arsenal's first equaliser started from his header, after which he was left on the floor and then with stitches on the head. His second goal was 11th in his last 11 away games, a remarkable progress for a striker who did not manage to score a goal outside London in his first season. However, he should have scored from 2 yards out. Ironically, the much-maligned striker for his pace or lack of it arrived too soon. Had he not slid in, he might have had a chance to put it away. That said, you cannot fault his tireless efforts. 


Gibbs: 6
Replaced Walcott on the left wing in the 75th minutes. Standard substitution in Wenger's tactics at this stage of the game, but he failed to keep the ball.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Campbell in the 75th minutes. Some fans questioned this substitution as Campbell was playing a vital role in this team, while the Ox was never good defensively. The fear materialised when Liverpool scored in the death, but Campbell was clearly tired, leaving Wenger with no choice to replace him.

Arteta: 6

Came on in the 87th minute for Özil. This was another controversial substitution among supporters. Wenger's intention seemed to be stabilising Arsenal's possession by fielding an experienced fine distributor of the ball as we kept losing balls in the final 20 minutes. The result left us wondering if Chambers might have been able to help see out a 3-2 victory.

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