If ever a performance summed Arsenal up it was this one. Sloppy at the back, prone to lapses of concentration and caught too easily on the break for 65 minutes, something suddenly clicked and for the last 25 minutes we were simply unplayable. We moved the ball with pace and purpose, building some lovely attacks, and fought hard to pen our opponents in as we narrowly failed to turn around a two goal deficit.
It was exciting and frustrating in equal measure, but ending the match on top should not mask the horror show that preceded it. The reasons we won’t finish in the top four can be found in those first 65 minutes and the fact that the manager repeatedly refuses to address them is why he needs to go.
Poor defending is the main culprit and you won’t see a better example than Liverpool’s first goal. Sagna got himself into a muddle as he tried to turn and allowed a harmless pass to find Glenn Johnson. His cross was embarrassingly missed by Vermaelen and when Szczesny blocked Sturridge’s shot, the rebound fell to Henderson who teed up Suarez for a simple finish. Sometimes a single mistake can undo you, but Arsenal managed two howlers in one passage of play from players who used to be models of consistency.
Almost immediately Walcott had a shot which was brilliantly saved by Reina before Szczesny reminded everyone how silly he can be with an ill-advised Cruyff turn which nearly gifted Sturridge a tap in.
It was Reina who was the busiest keeper though as Arsenal responded well and forced the Spaniard into a string of good saves. The home side looked great going forward but were being picked off too easily on the counter.
Liverpool held firm and by the half hour mark were getting on top. Mertesacker passed straight out of defence to Henderson and the ball was eventually scrambled away for a corner. Gerrard swung it in, Szczesny came but got nowhere near the ball and Agger outjumped Sagna only to see his header cleared off the line. Proper Sunday League stuff from Arsenal.
Just before the break came a bigger let off when Henderson found himself clean through after yet another incisive counter and with Szczesny in no man’s land his chip landed on the roof of the net.
Yet again we’d played a dire first half. Despite Wenger speaking about our slow starts after the Chelsea game, nothing has been done about it — another example of the same old problems going unaddressed.
We usually up our game in the second half but it didn’t seem to happen this time as Liverpool extended their lead on the hour mark after more ridiculous defending. Sturridge was in midfield surrounded by red shirts, but was still allowed to find Henderson. He skipped past Mertesacker with embarrassing ease and then outmuscled Santos — yes, skinny Henderson held off the challenge of a bloke built like a middleweight boxer. Ramsey got a good block in as Henderson let fly, but the ricochet favoured the Liverpool man and he rolled the ball into the net for 2-0. We were actually making Jordan Henderson look good.Five minutes later though, Arsenal finally woke up when Wilshere’s free kick was headed in by Giroud and the transformation was immediate. The crowd roared the Gunners on and the side which battered West Ham and Chelsea in the second halves came to the fore. Two minutes later a wonderful lay off from Giroud allowed Walcott to smack a sweet shot into the corner and we were level at 2-2.
It was all Arsenal now. Liverpool were leaving just Sturridge up top with everybody else behind the ball, but they could no longer get out as the red shirts were now determined to keep the pressure on as they went in search of the winner. The obvious question is also the most pertinent one — why don’t we start matches like that?
Mertesacker headed just over and Cazorla fizzed a shot narrowly wide after a swashbuckling counter attack. Giroud had a shot well saved before heading over from the resulting corner. Then the Frenchman missed a sitter from six yards, but replays showed it deflected off Agger making the chance slightly harder than it first appeared.
It looked like Liverpool would hang on for a point and in injury time they almost nicked it when Suarez’s shot was unconvincingly kept out by Szczesny. The draw was probably a fair result over the course of 90 minutes, although Arsenal had enough chances in those last 25 minutes to have won comfortably.
So yet again the intensity of our second half performance comes too late. It is a shame that attacking brilliance is let down by defensive ineptitude, but that’s what you get with a Wenger side these days. Will he do anything about it? Like allow Bould to coach the defence properly? Or maybe buy a defensive midfielder to belatedly replace Song instead of playing Arteta or Ramsey there?
Don’t be silly.
The transfer deadline will come and go with Wenger insisting that the quality isn’t out there. Meanwhile the likes of M’Vila, Ba, Remy and Holtby have found new clubs for reasonable fees (and don’t forget Fellaini’s release clause). The £100m in the bank and the extra revenue from the much-heralded sponsorship deal with Emirates will remain untouched, leaving the deficiencies in our squad exposed. Wenger will plod on regardless, keeping faith in the likes of Santos, Rosicky and Diaby to cover our first eleven who will start to tire in the next few weeks as they’ve now been played to the brink of exhaustion (Wilshere and Cazorla especially).
It’s one win in five league games, we’re sixth, we still have to go to White Hart Lane and we’re not even trying to do anything about our shortcomings on or off the pitch. This season isn’t going to end well.