A Home Defeat – Jinx Broken
Over 50,000 Arsenal fans had gathered at the Emirates on a cloudy Saturday afternoon. The general feeling oozing around the stadium was that of an Arsenal victory, especially after hearing the news of Nasri’s inclusion in the starting XI. Liverpool hadn’t won away at Arsenal since 2000 and although it did look like the Reds had a better team on paper, Arsenal needed team strength more than anything else if they were to prevent Liverpool from breaking the deadlock. However, a game that lacked luster and finesse from either end eventually turned out in Liverpool’s favour. An own goal followed by a late, slow and easily set up second by Suarez ensured that Liverpool owned the luck today. Pepe Reina got his first clean-sheet against the Gunners and Liverpool secured its first League victory at the Emirates. An 11-year old jinx was broken and with such an important victory now in the books, Liverpool have every reason to believe they can go from strength to strength.
The Curse Has Been Lifted
Kenny’s Formation – Good, Not Good Enough
Suarez was gambled in the season opener against Sunderland just seven days after returning from the Copa America. But Kenny was not going to take risk with his fitness again. It was a very bold move to keep Suarez on the bench and go with a younger and unproven League player upfront. Carroll’s lone presence upfront is not enough for Liverpool to hold possession ahead and this flaw was exposed. Henderson notched up an impressive 90% pass accuracy rate but it is looking more and more unlikely that he cannot be put out there to work just with Carroll. Henderson is a creative, attacking midfielder and thrives on the presence of someone who can compliment his game. This aspect was immediately brought to light when Suarez came onto the pitch. However, if Suarez was precluded, even Henderson should have. Meireles’ presence instead would have shaped a more menacing Liverpool attack. Now chances are that Kenny will field further formations in the upcoming games to ensure two things – identify a working combination and help develop chemistry between the new signings and the rest of the team.
Wenger’s Formation – Never Good Enough
No. The point here is not to criticize Wenger’s selection. The point here is that Arsenal simply couldn’t do much with the players who were available. It’s not to say that any of the new faces cannot perform. It is just plain bad luck to come up against a side like Liverpool carrying little or no Premier League experience. Frimpong, Jenkinson and Miquel had a good game and showcased the talent that they are capable of manifesting but coming up against the likes of Lucas, Downing and Carroll is never an easy job and these players cannot carry much of the blame for the end result. However, the presence of either Chamakh or Bendtner alongside RVP instead of an extra man in the centre of the park would probably have steered things in another direction. Keeping Van Persie ahead alone meant he had to handle the crosses coming from the by-lines and also engage in link-up play with the likes of Nasri and Arshavin – a little too much for the Gunners’ captain.
New Was Gold, Old Was Substandard
An Arsenal-Liverpool encounter never fails to create an electric atmosphere on the pitch, around the stadium and for fans all over the world. The game at Emirates however lacked the blessing of the senior personnel in Arsenal’s starting XI. One cannot blame the injured players, Wenger or even the formation for this. While Nasri and Van Persie can still be given a bye to an extent, Arshavin and Walcott should’ve stepped up to the occasion and supported the rookies who had been summoned to face one of the toughest teams in the League. The Russian and the little man from Southampton have caused trouble in the Liverpool camp previously and were supposed to be major threats in today’s game.
Arshavin never really got going in the first place and Walcott was cleverly marked by Enrique at all times. Both players love to cut in rather than play out from wide but were unable to do so effectively against Liverpool. You can pin this performance to any reason – Cesc’s departure, an improved Liverpool backline for the game or just low self-confidence levels; but the truth is that when the experienced lot is finding it hard to engineer a move on the pitch, one cannot build a team off youngsters hoping for it to last for generations.
Frimpong’s Red – Game Changer
The 19 year-old Ghanaian midfielder went into Martin Atkinson’s books as early as in the eighth minute but that didn’t stop him from firing on all cylinders. The player has immense talent which shone in his ability to prevent any link-up play from defense to attack. The likes of Adam and Henderson did have a tough time battling Frimpong but only until the 70th minute. The slight contact made on Lucas resulted in change of colors from yellow to red. After having played a wonderful game for 70 minutes with both sides still on par in terms of the score, a little more patience from Frimpong’s end could have actually favoured Arsenal since the Gunners were slowly starting to apply the pressure later in the second half. His send-off triggered Suarez and Meireles inclusion in the 72nd minute which meant further room for creativity for Liverpool. Six minutes later, the duo linked up and with a little bit of luck, Arsenal contributed to Liverpool’s first goal. To put it in simple words, Frimpong’s presence could’ve stopped Liverpool from piling on the pressure even after the substitutions.
Liverpool Need to Gel, Arsenal Need to Spend
The above heading can be taken as a moral, as a guiding principle or as just free advice but Arsenal and Liverpool, both have their own homework to do. The Reds have bought in five new faces this season after carefully weighing their options and spending what is being referred to as over-the-odds for these players. If Kenny & Co are determined to take Liverpool back to the top, then it is important that they field these players in a carefully planned formation. Dalglish cannot continue to change formations for each and every game. Five players were at the centre of the park today and this queue didn’t involve Gerrard. When the captain returns, the fight for booking a starting berth in the roster will increase manifold but that shouldn’t be the reason why the players start showing more promise playing together. Kenny has a tough job on his hands.
Safe to say the one word echoing amongst the Arsenal diaspora is “spend”. Wenger is clearly getting this message now and after a home defeat and an opening day draw, the Gunners’ boss has to take measures if Arsenal are to maintain hopes of finishing in the top four bracket this season. Wenger has stated that money was never an issue and it all depends on how good a player is, to come to Arsenal. There is no reason to believe that a club of Arsenal’s stature cannot attract big name players. Arsene Wenger is a name known and respected around the globe and if there was ever a time to wield the power of the club, it is now.