The Reds entered the game with high hopes following their emphatic victory over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, where Sturridge and Suarez showed the type of class and skill that promised to terrify Wenger’s backline. The Gunners’ recent defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea also suggested that their seemingly imperious form may be less apparent against more capable opposition.
Unfortunately, though, Arsenal were back to their brilliant best and, although Liverpool’s display was far from poor, it evidenced tactical naivety, particularly in the first half. The 3-4-1-2 formation that has served Rodgers’ men so ably against other sides proved inappropriate against Arsenal, as it left holding midfielders Gerrard and Lucas to deal with Rosicky, Ramsey, Ozil and Cazorla all by themselves, while Toure, Skrtel and Sakho marked lone striker Giroud.
The predictable result was that the home side’s creative talent was given the space to show off their skills between the lines and, consequently, Arsenal dominated the first 45 minutes. Reverting to 4-4-2 at half time, Liverpool improved after the break, having more possession, completing more passes and creating more chances, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Londoners, who sealed victory thanks to a world class goal from arguably the player of the season so far, namely Aaron Ramsey.
The major team news for Liverpool was that Jon Flanagan, a player marginalised and seemingly on his way out of Anfield, started at right wing back in the place of the ill Glen Johnson. Who knows whether he has a long term future at the club, but most can agree that he performed better than left wing back Aly Cissokho against Arsenal yesterday teatime. Meanwhile, Philippe Coutinho began on the bench following his return from injury.
Only nine minutes in Jordan Henderson had a great chance to open the scoring for Liverpool, but he was like a deer caught in the headlights when presented with a clear path through to goal after a superb tackle in the middle of the park. As a result, his shot was disappointingly weak and failed to test Szczesny and, to make things worse, a mere ten minutes later Arsenal took the lead.
Bacary Sagna beat Cissokho down the right wing and whipped a cross into the box, where Cazorla met his delivery and powered a header against the post. The Spaniard retained his concentration and reacted fastest to reach the rebound and blast beyond both Skrtel and Mignolet.
|Cazorla fires the Gunners in front|
At the other end, Mignolet was busy throughout the game, and he had to be on hand to make another good save after an Arsenal one-two released Ramsey on the half hour mark. Cazorla then struck wide as the Reds entered the break with a lot of work to do. Thankfully, after swapping Cissokho for Coutinho and changing to 4-4-2, there was a noticeable improvement, Henderson volleying narrowly over the bar soon after the break.
Silly mistakes in defence persisted, however, and almost cost the visitors dear. Ten minutes after the restart, Toure passed straight to Giroud, who dinked an effort wide of the post when he really should have doubled his team’s lead.
When the Gunners’ second goal did arrive, Liverpool couldn’t be blamed. It was simply a great goal that nobody could do anything about. An unbelievably good long range volley from the rejuvenated Ramsey sailed past the helpless Mignolet and hit the back of the net.
|Ramsey is a man re-born this season|
If anybody was going to forge a way back into the match for Liverpool in the final half hour, it was going to be either Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge. The former proved particularly threatening against the team he wanted to move to in the summer, agonisingly clipping the far post with a clever outside-of-the-boot effort.
With minutes remaining, the latter was almost presented with a golden opportunity as Szczesny dropped the ball perilously close to the England striker’s feet, but the Pole recovered to spare his blushes. The last chance of the match saw Suarez side-foot wide when clean through on goal. Sturridge screamed at him for not squaring the ball, but he would have attempted to score if he’d been in Suarez’s shoes.
The disappointment from this defeat is augmented by the optimism many Reds had heading into the contest. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to beat this season’s pacesetters, but, as it turned out, Liverpool were humbled, underlining the fact that they are probably still at least a season away from truly competing for top spot.
This campaign is all about getting into that top four. It’s vitally important the Reds get back to winning ways at home to the woeful Fulham next weekend in order to continue their quest for Champions League qualification.