Liverpool 2 (Coutinho 45, Skrtel 90+7′) – Arsenal 2 (Debuchy 45+1′, Giroud 65)
Man of the Match – Philipe Coutinho (Liverpool)
Football is a weird game, isn’t it. About a month back, Arsenal completely outplayed Manchester United, created more chances and attempts and yet ended up losing 2-1. And yesterday, Arsenal were in the backseat as Liverpool kept driving on and on to dominate the Gunners over the course of 90 minutes. Yet, it seemed like Arsenal would go through with 3 points, having played 96 minutes. How it was all to change!
With Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal injured, Arsene Wenger picked up his 4 remaining defenders. Surprisingly, Callum Chambers started at right-back, while Mathieu Debuchy started at centre-back. With injuries mounting in midfield, the manager had no choice but to start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside Mathieu Flamini, while he persisted with the same attacking quartet of Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck and Giroud. Liverpool, on the other hand, started with a 3-5-2 (or was it 3-6-1?) formation. Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and former Arsenal defender Kolo Toure started in defence, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Lucas, Philipe Coutinho, Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana in an overpowering midfield, with Raheem Sterling upfront in the absence of Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli.
There was no doubt as to who was in the ascendancy in the opening exchanges. Liverpool dominated early exchanges, maintained a high tempo, and generally looked hungrier. The trio of Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho were running rings around Arsenal’s defense. The first chance came when Mertesacker fouled the electric Coutinho just outside the box. Steven Gerrard’s free kick went wide. Mathieu Flamini picked up a harsh booking, before a Lallana effort went narrowly wide. He had another go in the 18th minute, which was deflected for a corner.
Arsenal were getting overrun in midfield and were barely able to string passes together. Liverpool had crowded the midfield, and Flamini and Chamberlain found it hard to cope with. Arsenal slowly settled for a 4-4-2, with such less possession, Cazorla and Alexis often having to drop deep. Lazar Markovic, signed from Benfica over the summer, showed signs of sparks as his effort was turned away by the legs of Szczesny after he somehow made it into the Arsenal box through several defenders. Another effort from the left winger went above the post.
The few times Arsenal managed to foray forward, ended up in disappointing corners, which Liverpool were able to easily clear to feed their midfielders and forwards. With half-time approaching, and the Arsenal players looking like they needed a break badly, they conceded. Cazorla, Welbeck and Giroud looked to skilfully get the Gunners out of a muddle, but Giroud gave away possession to Jordan Henderson, who passed it to Coutinho, breathing fire right under Arsenal’s noses. He created space, and unleashed a shot that struck the far post and went inside. It was a lead the Reds thoroughly deserved.
And then, Arsenal struck. Alexis was deemed to have been fouled, though in all honesty there was little contact from the supposed offender Steven Gerrard. The Chilean’s free kick was met by Mertesacker’s head, fell straight to the head of Flamini, who directed it towards a rising Debuchy. The Frenchman directed the ball goalwards with his head, under pressure from Martin Skrtel, and there was little Australian international keeper Brad Jones could do about it. They all count, don’t they.
Arsenal looked marginally better at the start of the second half, with Cazorla having a go. Debuchy then picked up a yellow card for fouling Sterling just outside the penalty box, before the game had to be stopped for 6 minutes after Olivier Giroud accidentally and painfully stamped on Martin Skrtel’s head. The big Slovakian international was patched up and ready to go, before Liverpool began where they had left off. Lucs unleashed an effort before a Steven Gerrard went over.
And then, the unthinkable happened. In a rare foray forward, Arsenal neatly put some passes together. Gibbs crossed to Giroud who fed Cazorla in some space behind Liverpool defenders, and the Spaniard waited for the perfect moment to play it back to the Frenchman, whose effort went through the keeper’s legs to give the Gunners an undeserved lead.
Liverpool responded with some shots, that weren’t of much concern to Szczesny. Lucas and Coutinho both miscued their chances from similar positions, as Arsenal looked to nervously hold on to their lead, much to the anxiousness of the away supporters. Liverpool just weren’t relenting, as Arsenal struggled to even get the ball into the Liverpool half. Brendan Rodgers sent on strikers Rickie Lambert and Italian international Fabio Borini for Lazar Markovic and Kolo Toure, the latter of which went to chants of “Kolo is a Gooner” from the Arsenal faithful.
Arsene Wenger’s response was to send on Messrs Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud. Steely. Borini had two quickfire attempts, the first of which was a header, which required Szczesny to jump, and jump hard to tip it over the post, and the second hit the post. He then was sent off with a second yellow card for a high boot on Santi Cazorla, which caused the Spaniard’s shirt to tear. At the nipple.
Szczesny was left alone to keep Arsenal in the game, like a lone soldier, as Liverpool attacked Arsenal’s goal like a bunch of Mongols. Sterling’s effort was kept out with a touch, and a Gerrard long-ranger couldn’t get past the Pole either. And then, the inevitable happened. Having played 96 minutes, and only 3 minutes left to hold out, Martin Skrtel powered in a powerful header which was so powerful it almost broke the net. There was nothing Callum Chambers, who was marking the Slovak could do. It was so powerful, the Big Fucking German had to duck to prevent himself from being hurt.
Arsenal could have incredibly won it too, when Cazorla’s long range effort was kept out by Jones. Monreal just couldn’t get hold of the rebound. While a late equalizer feels like two points dropped, in the overall context of the game, a point seems like a precious point. If this was the same ruthless Liverpool that pummeled Arsenal 5-1 last season, Suarez and all of that, it could have been a different story. Maybe, if, even Daniel Sturridge was fit, it could have been a 2-0 or 3-0, in the least.
None the less, a point is a point. Time to look forward to the QPR game next, on Boxing Day.
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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