LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 03: Theo Walcott of Arsenal and Martin Skrtel of Liverpool battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on March 3, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Arsenal's play today was less than shiny, their possession was poor, their pressing was non-existent for the most part, and Liverpool dominated passing and the play. It didn't matter, as two Robin van Persie goals overcame a horrorshow Laurent Koscielny own goal, and Arsenal absconded with the goods from Fortress Anfield today.
Liverpool started the match a little more brightly than Aresnal did, pressing well and maintaining possession, while Arsenal were forced to break on the counter. Theo Walcott, on a direct ball from Mikel Arteta, had a good effort from a wide angle that Pepe Reina had to work to keep away from the far post. A couple of minutes later, Luis Suarez escaped from Laurent Koscienly on a long ball from Reina, forcing Wojciech Szczesny to rush out to head the ball away.
Liverpool were having the bulk of the good opportunities, pressing Arsenal's midfield into mistakes. 15 minutes in, Stewart Downing was nearly in on goal but for a last-minute intervention by Bacary Sagna as the Enlgishman shaped to dink it past Szczesny. The Reds were dominating the match, and 18 minutes in, Szczesny took out Luis in the area. No card was shown, but a penalty was forthcoming. Dirk Kuyt stepped to the spot.
Szczesny, though, was having none of it. He saved the initial shot, and as Kuyt went to pop in the rebound, Szczesny recovered to save that and push it around the post. Nil nil, the score remained.
At least for six more minutes. Liverpool were dominant, Alex Song and Thomas Vermaelen's positioning being exposed a bit by Arsenal's lack of pressing. As Jordan Henderson ran down the right and flashed in a low cross, Laurent Koscielny shaped to clear.
Only he didn't. He shanked it into his own net. 1-0 to the hosts.
They nearly made it two a couple of minutes later, as Kuyt was totally left alone on the right to shoot, Szczesny getting down well to push it away, the rebound falling to Suarez, who hit the outside of the post. It was far too close, and Arsenal were being torn apart. The tearing continued, but Arsenal started to pull it together just a little bit. 31 minutes in, though, Arsenal would find a way, in a very non-Arsenal way, to level the score. Sagna was given space on the right and whipped in a tremendous cross. Robin van Persie, basically anonymous to that point, got in front of Jamie Carragher, who'd switched off just a bit, and RvP just planted a header in from two yards. Simples.
The game didn't change much afterwards, though, as Arsenal still weren't pressing, Liverpool were, Arsenal's passing was not good, and Liverpool were winning most of the 50-50s. Suarez made a brilliant run into the box 39 minutes in, his low shot saved well by Szczesny. Martin Skrtel put the corner just over.
It was still all Liverpool. A great cross 46 minutes in from Downing was met by a sliding Kuyt and Thomas Vermaelen, the ball squirting through and nestling gently off the far post to be cleared by Gibbs.
Halftime arrived with the scores level. Arsenal looked like a team that needed to make some changes, but who exactly would come in in the midfield was an open question. Gervinho was an option to come in on the left and provide perhaps a little more width than would Benayoun, but the issue also was Arsenal's unwillingness to press, and their willingness to stand off of Liverpool's press, in the middle.
However, no changes came at the half. Play resumed. Suarez had half a chance almost right away, but hit the side netting tamely. 48 minutes in, Henderson caught Arteta badly off the ball somehow, and Arteta stayed down a long, long time. He eventually left on a stretcher with an unclear injury, but let's hope it's okay.
[Sky Sports apparently reported it as a concussion a few minutes later--more to come on that].
On came Abou Diaby in his place; he immediately had a shot that was actually okay. Arsenal were starting to retain the ball a little bit better, but Liverpool were solidifying at the same time, and the tempo slowed for both sides just a bit. Liverpool had a good opportunity from a Henderson cross, Vermaelen hurting his back a little bit in the scrum.A few minutes later, he got a yellow card for going through the back of Suarez. Liverpool were having the bulk of the chances again, 69 minutes in, Kuyt crossing only for Martin Kelly to whiff at the far post.
Arsenal were still not pressing, and Arsenal were still trying to do too much on their own on the counter. Up at the other end, though, Song played a good through ball for Gibbs, who crossed for Walcott, whose shot deflected and was saved at the last minute by Reina.
74 minutes in, Yossi Benayoun came off for Gervinho. Liverpool had a great chance as Downing was played over the top, but his cross for Suarez was very poor. Arsenal were again giving the ball away almost continously. 79 minutes in, Arsenal managed to string some play together, and Walcott's header was tame and saved by Reina. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Abou Diaby, who lasted not very long at all.
Liverpool won their trillionth corner (Arsenal had had zero), and then another, but Arsenal cleared. The action really was fizzling out again. Craig Bellamy came on in the 88th minute for Liverpool.
There were to be eight minutes of extra time, and it was about to get real, and it was about to get real because of who else--Robin van Persie. A ball came over the top from Song, and van Persie didn't even wait. He just ripped a volley near post from six yards.
2-1 to the Arsenal, five minutes left, completely against the stats. 97 minutes, Ox rifled a shot just wide of the far post. It was the last significant action of the match; 88 on the clock, Mark Halsey blew for full time.
Arsenal win at Anfield, first loss there all year for Liverpool, and a highly improbable one, given the run of play. But how many times have Arsenal had to endure a loss this way? It felt good to be on the other end of one this time.
Next up: oh, it's Milan.