Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool
Last night’s match against Liverpool was best viewed from behind a sofa thanks to the defensive horror show served up by the Gunners. Arsenal’s defending has always been the weakest aspect of their game but while I can appreciate that given the attacking nature of Arsene Wenger’s side, they will tend to leave themselves open at the back, there can be no excuse for the Arsenal defence making basic errors on a regular basis and hoping that the team’s attacking players can rescue the side.
Had Liverpool been more ruthless in attack yesterday, they would have been well out of sight by half time. In the first half in particular, the link up play between their front three, with Suarez central to every move, was superb at times. Their intelligent movement also seemed to mesmerise the Arsenal defence and caused them no end of trouble. The Gunners defenders were caught out of position on numerous occasions and quite frankly looked all at sea and out of their depth.
Behind the defence, although Szczesny did produce a fine save right at the end of the game to ensure his side would at least take a point from this match; his first half performance also left much to be desired. On one occasion he took far too long to clear the ball on receiving a back pass and then compounded his error by attempting a Cruyff turn to elude Sturridge who was millimetres away from catching the Pole out. Later in the first half, Szczesny was indebted to Podolski, following the German’s goal line clearance to deny Daniel Agger from doubling Liverpool’s lead from a free header, with the Arsenal goal keeper caught in no man’s land, having come for a ball he couldn’t possibly collect.
Ultimately, both Liverpool goals were prime examples of the pathetic defending which has come to epitomise every single Arsenal performance of late.
The first was quite simply a comedy of errors, the likes of which would normally be expected at a Sunday League game and not at the highest level of the game. With only five minutes played, Luis Suarez attempted to flick the ball through to Glen Johnson, but did not make sufficient contact with the ball and it appeared as though possession would simply fall straight to Sagna. However, just at the crucial moment, the French right back slipped, allowing Johnson to collect the ball and send a low cross into the Arsenal box. Yet there still did not seem to be any real danger for the Gunners as Thomas Vermaelen was well placed to clear the ball. But in attempting to do so the Belgian completely missed it, allowing Johnson’s cross to reach Daniel Sturridge at the back post. The former Chelsea man controlled the ball before shooting on goal, but was denied by an excellent save from Szczesny, who made himself as big as possible. The ball rebounded off the Pole and appeared destined to be collected by Ramsey, on the edge of the box, but the Welshman failed to control it and lost possession to Henderson, who laid the ball into Suarez’s path for the Uruguayan to fire home thanks to a deflection off Mertesacker.
Liverpool’s second goal which arrived on the hour mark, only served to further highlight just how poor the Arsenal defence has become. Jordan Henderson was simply allowed to waltz through the Gunners defence, evading four players before sliding the ball into the back off the net. Had such a goal been scored by Suarez, with his quick feet, sumptuous skill and pace, it would have been far easier to swallow. But this was Henderson, a player who is not renowned for possessing any of these qualities, yet the Arsenal defence made him look like a world beater. One drop of the shoulder was all it took to bewilder both Mertesacker and Santos, enabling Henderson to surge past them, hold off another challenge, benefit from a fortunate ricochet and score the goal that at the time appeared to have secured victory.
Based on last night’s performance in particular, some will argue that Arsenal’s training ground methods must come under more scrutiny, as it appears that the Gunners do not conduct any defensive drills at all. Upon his appointment as assistant manager, Steve Bould was heralded as the man who would tighten up the Gunners backline and while this did appear to be the case three games into the season, Arsenal’s defensive displays have since steadily deteriorated. There just doesn’t appear to be any defensive plan or organisation and as a result the Gunners are easily undone.
Another major problem for Wenger is that Kieran Gibbs is currently the only consistent performer from his first choice back four. Unfortunately the English left back sustained an injury yesterday which is expected to keep him out of action for up to three weeks, leaving Arsenal with the error strewn Andre Santos.
The Brazilian was once again abysmal yesterday, caught out of position, sliding into tackles on the half way line with reckless abandon, leaving acres of space in behind him. Santos’ game does not possess one redeeming feature. He has no pace, his passing ability is average at best, he has no concept of defending and doesn’t support the attack either. Yesterday with seconds left on the clock, he almost threw the game away thanks to a ridiculous square ball along the back line which allowed Downing to gain possession and set up Suarez who was denied by Szczesny’s great save. The fact Santos continues to be a member of the Arsenal squad is unbelievable.
Thomas Vermaelen’s performances have also been extremely poor since being handed the captain’s armband. The Belgian does not offer any leadership to the side and appears to be suffering from a crisis of confidence, with simple and costly errors blighting his season so far and clearly affecting the rest of the defensive unit. In previous seasons, Vermaelen would carry the ball out from defence, driving his team forward. However he no longer does this and as a result, when the opposition press Arsenal high up the field, the Gunners are easily stifled. This has also been directly caused by Per Mertesacker’s weak range of passing as the opposition focus their pressing game on the German, allowing him to have possession. Consequently the Gunners are not able to rapidly move the ball forward and with Mertesacker on the ball are more likely to win it back.
The German was signed as an experienced international who would provide a calming influence in the Arsenal defence. Unfortunately, his presence has only served to cause more nervousness and anxiety. It was proclaimed that Mertesacker’s lack of pace would not be a problem due to his outstanding positional sense. Yet he is frequently caught out of position, his sluggishness compounding the problem further. During the first half yesterday one simple forward ball from Downing completely dissected the Arsenal defence, with Mertesacker inexplicably finding himself near the right flank, allowing Henderson all the time in the world to run through on goal and size up a chipped effort on goal as Szczesny came out to confront him.
At right back, Carl Jenkinson’s continued omission from the first team is simply baffling given that Bacary Sagna’s performances have been well below his best this season. After suffering from fractures to his leg, the Frenchman appears to have lost his strength in the challenge and is also frequently caught out of position. His surging forward runs are still a part of his game at times but often come to nothing as he struggles to beat the first man when crossing the ball.
With the Arsenal defence performing as badly as they were, the only surprise was that Liverpool weren’t further ahead at the hour mark. Up until this point, despite the recent customary Arsenal second half improvement, the away side had been extremely comfortable and as the game approached the 70th minute, there seemed no way back for the Gunners. However Olivier Giroud’s header brought the home side right back into the game following Wilshere’s excellent free kick delivery and from this point on there only appeared to be one team capable of winning the game.
As the Gunners piled on the pressure, Giroud laid the ball into Walcott on the edge of the box for the Englishman to let rip a wonderful, powerful effort which flew low, past Reina and into the bottom corner of the goal to restore parity. It was a fantastic strike and Arsenal were now clearly in the ascendancy but just could not find the vital third goal to seal a remarkable comeback. Giroud was denied by Reina and moments later the Frenchman just couldn’t connect with Podolski’s low cross, with the goal at his mercy.
Unfortunately the Gunners didn’t get the third goal and ultimately had to settle for a point. Wenger’s side once again threw away the first half and only came into the game once Liverpool appeared to be out of sight. The manager spoke about the great character and spirit of the side to come back from two goals down but the Arsenal faithful are growing weary of hearing the same thing over and over again. As long as Wenger doesn’t address the glaring issues in his defence, Arsenal will always be on the back foot.