LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20: Thomas Vermaelen of Arsenal reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 20, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
A severely depleted Arsenal side put on a brave performance today against Liverpool at the Emirates, but in the end lacked the quality to generate scoring chances and paid the price as two late Liverpool goals brought the points to the men in black. From the kickoff, it was always going to be a tough row to hoe for the Gunners, who were forced to start Bacary Sagna out of position at left-back and give 19-year old Carl Jenkinson his Premier League debut at right back. However, the defending today was largely excellent; instead, the problems were (perhaps more predictably) all up front in attack.
Wenger set out a midfield of Emmanuel Frimpong, Aaron Ramsey, and Samir Nasri in the middle (he didn't have much choice). Andrei Arshavin and Theo Walcott were on the wings. From early on, they were pretty ineffectual; Arshavin had one of his "bleh" games today in a match where a little bit of the magic would've been useful. Frimpong worked hard from the off, winning tough tackles in the midfield, but his inexperience and hotheadedness showed in the eighth minute, as he earned a yellow card for interfering with a Liverpool throw-in he thought was Arsenal's (incorrectly).
As the first half wore on, Liverpool focused their attack through Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt pinging crosses, and Charlie Adam lobbing corners, towards ponytailed Geordie prog-rock bass player Andy Carroll. Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny looked to have everything on lockdown, until Kos's back gave out after he was shoved by Carroll. 18-year old Ignasi Miquel came on in place of the Frenchman and initially looked nervous, but he settled over the next ten minutes and did a solid job at the back.
The only header Carroll won in the early going was when Bacary Sagna had to come across to cover after 20 minutes. Luckily, Wojciech Szczesny was alert and made an excellent leaping save to his left to prevent an opener. Arsenal did well to weather the storm of Liverpool corners, Vermaelen winning every header over Carroll in the first half. Carroll earned a yellow card for shooting well after the whistle in the 28th minute before Frimpong stormed through (save one that wasn't in a dangerous position) the midfield and forced a good save from Pepe Reina from 25 yards two minutes later.
Nasri made a great run and had a shot as the half wore on but missed just wide. Downing shot well wide soon after, and just before halftime, Nasri stepped up and launched a shot about twenty feet over the crossbar. Reaching halftime at 0-0 was no small feat under the circumstances, and one could argue that Arsenal actually looked the better of the two sides.
In reality, both sides' attack was kind of a platter of grey sludge, but hey, small victories, you know?
Arsenal began the second half strongly, retaining possession more effectively than they had in the first half, despite Arshavin's best efforts to give the ball away often. Martin Kelly took a good pass from Carroll in Arsenal's area and crashed an effort of the side netting and post; Arsenal looked to break, but couldn't string passes together effectively in midfield. Substitutes warming up, Wenger sat in the rain and watched, and waited.
Walcott drove in a low cross that Jamie Carragher cut out before Ramsey was too easily dispossessed by a tracking-back
Roy Batty Kuyt, and then it almost happened. van Persie turned a cutback from Arshavin on goal in the 68th minute, but Reina managed to save with his feet before berating Martin Atkinson for not calling a foul on Arshavin, who had shoved over a man twice his size before his pass.
If Arshavin pushes you over, you weren't really standing in the first place, were you?
At this point, it started to go downhill for Arsenal. Frimpong left his foot high and took out Lucas pretty hard, and Atkinson reached for the second yellow. Early bath for the young English linebacker, and he will also miss next weekend's match against Manchester United; with Alex Song already suspended, there's, well, there's a problem there.
And there was a problem for Arsenal, too, because the defense was starting to be stretched with the sending-off, the introduction of Luis Suarez for Andy Carroll (I can't believe the latter cost more), and Raul Meireles coming on for Kuyt. Suarez forced a save from Szczesny, and then it finally happened.
Liverpool combined well on the edge of Arsenal's area, and as Miquel tried to clear, his attempt went straight off the chest of Ramsey, and looped over Szczesny and into the net. There was some suspicion of offside on the initial through-ball, but no call was made, and Liverpool took the lead. It wasn't coming back.
Nicklas Bendtner came on for Walcott, joining Henri Lansbury, who had come on for Arshavin, but it was too late. Arsenal struggled to cross well, and before too long, it was 2-0. Lucas, Meireles, and Suarez combined easily, the latter tapping home a square ball behind the exhausted Arsenal defense in the 91st minute to seal all three points for the visitors.
There is much work to be done.
Oh, and one final note to all the supporters at the stadium today who left because it started raining: there are people who would sell a kidney to sit where you are sitting; what is your problem? It's just rain, you nincompoops. Show some support. The team needs you more than they have since, oh, probably 1997. Wimps.