Yes, we were unlucky with injuries before and during the game. Yes, Liverpool’s first and decisive goal was offside and should’ve been ruled out. But we mustn’t point only to our continued lack of fortune as the reason for defeat – we must also recognise that the depth of our squad is painfully thin and our creativity has deserted us along with our former captain.
We were down to the bare bones because of injury and suspension with rookie Carl Jenkinson drafted in at right back and Sagna moving to the left. In midfield Frimpong deputised for Song and Nasri was surprisingly recalled, with a strong-looking front trio of Arshavin, Walcott and van Persie. Liverpool lined up cautiously with five across midfield and only Andy Carroll up front, leaving Suarez on the bench.
The match started badly with Koscielny limping off and having to be replaced by the fifth choice centre half, 19 year old Ignasi Miquel. He soon lost Carroll in the box and Szczesny had to be alert to make a brilliant diving save.
Liverpool bossed the first half and if it wasn’t for the outstanding performance of Vermaelen we’d have been dead and buried by the interval. He was immense, as was Frimpong, who played with a fire in his belly too often missing in his senior teammates. His enthusiasm and determination was ultimately to be his downfall though and he picked up a needless yellow card for a spat with Henderson a few minutes after a late lunge on Agger that could also have been a booking.
The recklessness of youth. A red card waiting to happen.
The mohawked warrior then went close with a low drive on 30 minutes that Reina tipped away before Nasri ran from inside his own half and shot wide in what was the highlight of a spirited performance from the want-away midfielder. The crowd appreciated his application and his “Na Na Na Na” song briefly spread around the stadium – maybe for the last time.
Arsenal were enjoying their best spell of the match even though Liverpool dominated, the visitors ending up with 53% possession. That tells its own story – Arsenal are usually the masters of possession, especially at home.
After the break Kelly hit the post for Liverpool as they threatened again, although 0-0 still looked the most likely outcome given that Dalglish was continuing with his safety-first formation. On 67 minutes van Persie had Arsenal’s clearest opening when his snapshot was kicked away by Reina, but three minutes later the game was up when Frimpong was shown a second yellow for a high, late challenge on Lucas that could easily have been a straight red.
From then on what little confidence this young, inexperienced side had drained away and Vermaelen and Szczesny could keep their fingers in the dyke no longer as a Ramsey own goal and a Suarez tap in gave the Scousers victory.
In analysis, the Frimpong red card lost us the match. He showed incredible promise in a lively debut full of commitment and endeavour and will be a great player in years to come, but he also showed naivete and most people realised a red card was pretty likely the moment he picked up such an early booking.
It was a bad mistake, but inexperienced kids make mistakes. I’ve said it before but it needs to be said again – kids make mistakes and if you fill your team with too many kids, you’ll make too many mistakes.
“But we had no choice, we had so many players out” claim the Arsene Knows Best mob. True, but do all our back-up players have to be youngsters? Why can’t we have some experienced men as squad players? Our squad players are mostly young and promising like Miquel, Frimpong, Jenkinson, Lansbury, Miyachi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Traore and Djourou. We will need to call upon them many times in the season and they will inevitably make mistakes. Having Miquel, Frimpong, Jenkinson and Lansbury in the eleven that finished the match is just too many rookies for a game against Liverpool and Wenger really needs to address the lack of experience in his squad.
I hate to harp on about negatives, but we again looked bereft of ideas in attack. Even with Nasri in the playmaker role we weren’t creative enough and Wenger must surely splash the cash on a quality creative midfielder. The latest rumours link us with Kaka, which would be amazing, but I can’t see it somehow. A player of his ilk is a necessity though and time is running out.
I want to end on a positive note because believe it or not, I don’t actually enjoy slagging off Wenger and the club! I’d rather be writing about how brilliant we are and what promise this season holds, but a sense of reality prevents me doing so. However, Szczesny, Vermaelen and Frimpong were not only technically excellent yesterday, they showed hunger, drive and determination. Bear in mind that Wilshere and van Persie also have these mental attributes and suddenly you can see the spine of a spirited side forming. A spine that will not choke when the pressure is on. A spine that will not throw the season away because of one bad cup final.
And that is what’s so frustrating: we are not that far from having a fantastic team again. All Wenger has to do is tweak his ideology slightly, bring in a few players of experience and the fleeting glimpses of encouragement we can take out of yesterday’s result can be built on. You have 10 days to make it happen Wenger – please sort it out because I’m fed up of writing critical match reports.
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