Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool: Defensive Errors Prove Costly For Arsenal

What can you say about this Arsenal team. Time after time they make mistakes and yet they never seem to learn from them. It's very difficult to go chasing a game when your defenders have gifted the opposition goals.

Last night was yet another case of Arsenal pressing the self destruct button defensively, but at least this time they managed to rescue a point. The manner of the first goal they conceded was comical and the second one wasn't much better. When will the players learn to concentrate properly in defence and defend like they are actually professional footballers.

Arsene Wenger went with the expected starting 11 after resting a few players in the FA Cup victory over Brighton last Saturday. Thomas Vermaelen retuned from injury to play in defence in place of Laurent Koscielny with Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Theo Walcott, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs all returning after their rest on Saturday. It was probably Arsenal's strongest 11 available to them and they needed to take all three points.

It wasn't long before disaster struck with a catalogue of errors leading to Luis Suarez putting Liverpool 1-0 up. First of all Sagna slipped to allow Liverpool in on the left and then both Vermaelen and Aaron Ramsey made a mess of their attempts to clear. The ball fell to Suarez who finished with the help of a deflection off a defender.

That goal seemed to suck all the confidence out of the Arsenal defence and they continued to look very suspect for the rest of the match. The only defender not to play badly was Gibbs and he only lasted 37 minutes before injury got the better of him. His absence meant Andre Santos came on at left back and even the Liverpool fans cheered when they saw him enter the fray.

Arsenal made some good scoring chances in the first half but Liverpool were far more disciplined in defence than Arsenal had been. They dropped very deep and looked to hit Arsenal on the counter attack at every opportunity and it nearly worked far too often. They were helped by Arsenal's defenders passing the ball straight to them and Wojciech Szczesny doing his best to gift them a goal too.

In recent games in particular Arsenal have been far better in the second half and I hoped for more of the same after the break last night. After a slow start to the second half they really picked up the pace and it looked like an equaliser was inevitable. However, the next goal was at the wrong end and again the defence was found wanting.

Jordan Henderson burst forward on the hour mark and went past Per Mertesacker as if he wasn't there. As he closed in on goal Arsenal defenders piled back but somehow the ball was cleared against Santos and deflected back to Henderson with an open goal in front of him. Even he couldn't miss and Liverpool were now 2-0 up with 30 minutes remaining.

At that stage I would gladly have taken a point but that all changed within seven minutes. Arsenal continued to attack with purpose and their first goal came on the 65 minute mark. Walcott was hauled down by Glenn Johnson and Arsenal looked for the advantage as the ball fell to Sagna in the box.

The referee called it back for the free kick and Arsenal were none too happy. For a change the free kick delivery was perfect from Wilshere and Olivier Giroud headed his fifth goal in three games. It was exactly the type of goal Arsenal usually concede and I was delighted to see them score one for a change.

The comeback was on and Arsenal piled forward in search of an equaliser. It wasn't long in coming as they were level only two minutes later. The goal came from a flowing move and a great finish at the end of it.

The lay off from Giroud to Walcott in the Liverpool box was excellent, but nobody expected Walcott to score. He absolutely blasted the ball past Pepe Reina in the Liverpool goal from a very tight angle. It was hit so well that Reina didn't even have a chance to move.

There was a quarter of the match left and Arsenal were in the ascendancy now. They tried their best to find that winning goal, but it never quite happened. The closest they came was when Giroud failed to connect properly with a ball only a few yards out but he was unlucky as it was slightly deflected on it's way to him.

Right at the very end Arsenal tried their utmost to lose the game when Santos played an awful pass to Vermaelen on the halfway line. Liverpool intercepted the pass and only a very good save from Szczesny denied them the three points. It was a game Arsenal should have won, could have lost, but ended up drawing in true Arsenal style.

Their inability to defend defied belief at times last night, but some of their attacking play was very good too. The game summed up all that is right and wrong in the current Arsenal team and to know where Arsenal currently are you just need to watch it from first minute to last.

They missed the chance to close the gap on Spurs to only two points when Spurs were held to a draw at Norwich. Fourth place is still not beyond them but at what cost to their supporters. The very thought of Santos filling in for the injured Gibbs strikes fear into the heart of every reasonable Arsenal fan.

It's a home game against Stoke next on Saturday afternoon and who knows what will happen in that game. It will be entertaining though as it always is when a team is as unpredictable as Arsenal. That entertainment may only be for "car crash" value for some at this stage though.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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