Sunday, 17 April 2011

Arsenal 1 - 1 Liverpool - Talking Points

An exhilarating end to a tense game, Liverpool relied on a moment of naivety from Eboue in the 112th minute for the chance to equalise from the penalty spot. Dirk Kuyt maintained his extraordinary 100% conversion rate to snatch a point from a game which, in the end, the away team had no right to draw. Liverpool could thank a mixture of good fortune, a determined/solid defensive performance, and, frankly, Arsenal's wastefulness, for winning the point which leaves them with a chance of finishing above Tottenham in the race for Europa League qualification.

Despite deploying the same starting 11 as at Anfield on Monday, Liverpool displayed little of the exuberant attacking quality which had terrorised Man City. The game-plan seemed altogether more cautious, based around swift counter-attacking and direct passes to the forwards. Overall, their pass-completion rate was a mere 69%, and their 39% share of ball possession reflected their own wastefulness rather than Arsenal's efficiency. See Reina's passing stats (which look like a throwback to the Hodgson era), and it is worth noting that Carroll's propensity to find Suarez with knock-downs and through-balls largely deserted him:

For most of the game, Liverpool fans watched nervously as Arsenal asserted their dominance, threatening to break the deadlock but never quite finding their cutting edge. The loss of Aurelio and Carragher to injury left their backline oozing a distinctly makeshift quality - teenage Scouse fullbacks John Flanagan and Jack Robinson were each playing their second game for the club, and the central pairing of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel looked creaky at times. Still, a solid shape and some committed tackling from the whole team kept Arsenal at bay until, deep in stoppage time, Jay Spearing tripped Fabregas in the box to concede a penalty which Van Persie duly dispatched.

Spearing does, on the whole, deserve credit for his performance. He had the highest pass completion rate (83%) of any of the Liverpool players who played the full 90 minutes, and was often seen chasing back to make glamorous tackles (see, for example, the impressive effort he put in to cleanly dispossess Diaby after he himself had lost the ball midway through the second half). I have written before of how his game resembles Gerrard's in some respects. Today we saw both sides - the committed, all-action performance which made him a creditable contender for Man of the Match, as well as the occasional positional indiscipline/naivety which left him dangerously out of position, not to mention the lamentable foolishness of his decision to challenge Fabregas from behind in the penalty area. Still, he has been important for Liverpool in Gerrard's absence, and rightfully claims a starting place ahead of Christian Poulsen.

Also, to follow up on my preview of the game which examined Meireles' role, take a look at his passing, intercepting and tackling stats which show that he generally featured centrally, despite being ostensibly positioned on the left of midfield:

There did seem to be a marked change in Meireles' role after about 15 minutes, when Arsenal's midfield dominance was becoming too much of a threat to Liverpool's backline, and the Portuguese was instructed to move infield. The extent to which Suarez was instructed to cover the left-flank is uncertain, because he didn't make a particularly diligent job of it. It is credit to the young Robinson that he came out of occasionally dangerous battles with Walcott and Eboue largely unscathed. He did have to count on help from Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva at times, though, the latter sprinting across to cover the left-back position after the youngster had been beaten higher up the pitch late on. Lucas' performance, in my opinion, was not one of his best (at least by recent standards), as his tackling was occasionally ill-timed, but he was involved in 19 possession duels, more than any other player on the pitch, which shows that his positioning was generally good, and his influence in the Liverpool midfield was important.

All in all, Liverpool will need to improve on this performance, particularly in an attacking sense, if they are to claim the now-hallowed 5th spot (although some question the value of Europa League qualification, it helps to attract players, increases club income, and, above all, it would be a tremendous reward/achievement for Dalglish since he took over the club in January, when they were down in 12th place with a -3 goal difference). But there is pride to be taken from this result - the odds were stacked in favour of the home side, and it is encouraging that a team featuring various youth and squad players could claim a result at the Emirates.

1 comment:

  1. Good read.

    It's not improbable that City finish 5th and win the FA Cup given Spurs are only 3 points behind them. In that case, provided we finish 6th, we'll have European football next season, not the cup runner up.