Monday, 16 August 2010

Fighting Spirit Shown in Opening Day Draw

Roy Hodgson's first Premier League game in charge of the Reds ended disappointingly as a late own goal from Spanish keeper Pepe Reina earned the Gunners a point.

A fiercely competitive game swung on the decision by referee Martin Atkinson to send Joe Cole off on the stroke of half time. However, the game didn't swing in Arsenal's favour as expected.

Quite the opposite occurred as Liverpool, who had struggled to gain a foothold during the first 45 minutes, showed fantastic fighting spirit to grab the lead and dominate the second half. It truly epitomised a game of two halves.

Hodgson chose to start with Javier Mascherano in a holding midfield role, and the Argentine performed superbly despite of his clear desire to leave the club. Fernando Torres also began the match on the substitutes bench as he lacked match fitness.

The excitement leading into the match from most reds supporters quickly fizzled out as the visitors strangled control of the early stages. Liverpool were sitting back and defending resolutely, however we found it difficult to break free and attack the Arsenal goal, with Joe Cole and David Ngog anonymous for large periods of the half.

5 minutes into the contest a handball from Javier Mascherano saw Arsenal awarded a free kick in a dangerous position. It took a brilliant save from Pepe Reina at full stretch to stop Vermaelen's powerful effort hitting the back of the net.

Then, Samir Nasri saw two tamely struck free kicks easily dealt with by the Liverpool defensive wall. With half an hour played, and Arsenal still on top, left back Gael Clichy went extremely close to opening the scoring as he screamed a shot inches over the bar from all of 30 yards. It was an excellent strike, and would have left Reina helpless had it been slightly lower.

Towards the end of the half Liverpool started to settle into the game, and began to create opportunities of their own. New signing Milan Jovanovic, who impressed throughout, evaded the offside trap and found himself in behind the Arsenal back-line with time to trouble Almunia. However, unfortunately the Serb lacked composure and volleyed harmlessly wide when well placed.

The last few moments of the half were very eventful as Liverpool continued to press. Glen Johnson stepped inside on to his left foot before unleashing a beautiful shot goalwards from 20 yards out. Almunia had to be on top form to tip it over the cross bar for a corner.

From that resultant corner Gerrard swung a cross into the penalty area where the ball was met by the head of David Ngog. The young striker looked certain to break the deadlock, however he was denied by a goal-line clearance from Clichy.

On the stroke of half time Joe Cole lunged into a tackle near the corner flag and accidentally caught Arsenal debutant Koscielny on the ankle. Martin Atkinson hurriedly pulled out a red card and sent Cole off on his Premier League debut.

It was a rash and reckless challenge from the England international, however there was no intent to harm the Gunners centre back, and it was his first bad challenge in the game. In my opinion he should have received a yellow card and a stern warning, however I must admit if an Arsenal player had committed a similar offence then I would be the first to demand their immediate sending off.

The sense of injustice surrounding the sending off seemed to galvanise Liverpool as they came out for the second half with fire in their bellies, determined to gain a good result despite of the red card shown to Joe Cole.

That fighting spirit that Liverpool are so famous for paid off after only a minute of the second half had been played as David Ngog rifled the ball into the top corner of the net after receiving a neat pass from Mascherano.

It was a brilliant strike from Ngog, and a clever pass from Mascherano as well. Ngog has now scored a stunning four goals in only three competitive matches this season, and appears to be maturing nicely into a very good centre forward.

Three minutes later Gerrard's free kick was headed wide by Martin Skrtel, before David Ngog also headed wide from another Steven Gerrard set-piece. Liverpool were now on top despite of their numerical disadvantage, and were searching for a second goal to finally defeat Arsene Wenger's side.

With just under 25 minutes left superb play by Dirk Kuyt, who put in another hard-working performance on the right wing, made his marker look silly. The Dutchman then flashed the ball across the six-yard box, but nobody was there to convert.

As the second period progressed Arsenal started to re-claim control as we decided to try and narrowly close out a 1-0 victory. With only 10 men on the pitch (and occasionally nine as Agger suffered from concussion) this was the right thing to do, as we stopped the away side utilising the width of the pitch to stretch our defence and create gaps in the back four.

Apart from Walcott's fine free kick on 73 minutes, which was expertly turned behind by Reina, the visitors created little of note until the final five minutes. Following a flowing move Rosicky played a one-two with a team-mate before his stinging strike was superbly tipped over the bar by Reina.

It was an excellent save, and one that compensated for his blunder only a few minutes afterwards. Marouane Chamakh, who had made no impact on the game whatsoever up to this point, headed against the post and the ball bounced back out to Reina, who spilt the ball over his own goalline.

It was a calamitous own goal from Pepe, which cost us two points, however he has been such a fantastic keeper during his time on Anfield, and will not suffer heavy criticism as both supporters, and the media, recognise his valuable contribution.

There was still time for Gerrard to test Almunia with a thumping free kick from 30 yards out, and for Koscielny to be shown a second yellow card after a deliberate handball stopped Torres in his tracks, however the score line remained the same.

On the balance of play throughout the whole 90 minutes a draw is definitely a fair result. Whilst Liverpool did tremendously well to control the majority of the second half with only 10 men, Arsenal dominated the opening period and should have claimed the lead during the first 45 minutes.

At half time I expected us to crumble and fall to a disappointing defeat like we so often did last season, however the battling spirit displayed in the second half provides hope for supporters that this season will be very different to last season.



  1. we started season brightly and thats the important, but felt bad cause as it was a home game, if it was away had been happy, but still 10 men for 45 mins great start

  2. yeh, and last season we lost 2-1 to arsenal at home so essentially we're one point better off than last season already. YNWA