Before kickoff I found myself excitedly musing over the fact that Arsenal-Liverpool was the match of the weekend for the Premier League. It's been quite awhile since this historically classic fixture held such gravitas, but the relative resurgence of both clubs meant this was a litmus test for all parties involved. The Gremlin's transfer saga, Arsene Wenger's general smarminess (received with short shrift by Brendan Rodgers), and my personal dislike for a fan-base typified by Piers Morgan all combined to add more spice to this matchup than I can remember. As such, the ensuing defeat was like watching a car crash in beautiful 1080p HD quality.
Jordan Henderson squandered a glorious early chance after the Gooners let the Englishman run unchallenged through their entire half. Soon after, the Reds were punished by Santi Cazorla. The Gunners eagerly highlighted Aly Cissokho's total and complete lacking of spatial awareness, by playing Bacary Sagna down the right channel. With Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel both tracking Olivier Giroud, Cazorla was free to head Sagna's cross off the post. Simon Mignolet lay tragically prone as the ball bounced right back to Cazorla and the Spaniard displayed fantastic technique to send the half-volley home.
The rest of the first half played out without much threat from Liverpool and half chances for the opposition. Luis Suarez was the only Red with any real influence, as he had some success when trying to play link man on the counter. Regardless, Liverpool were outshot, outpossessed, and outplayed. Changes at half-time beckoned.
Rodgers duly responded by bringing on Philippe Coutinho for Fred Flinstone Cissokho, and the Reds had a ten minute stretch of real intent just after the break. The Gunners quickly adjusted however and became comfortable knocking the ball around. With a one goal lead, they patiently probed Liverpool's defense and regained control of the match.
With Lucas and Steven Gerrard playing with concrete strapped to their boots, Aaron Ramsey gathered play just in front of Liverpool's 18. The Welshman then tied his shoes, drank a pint, and recited the alphabet backwards before launching the ball into the top shelf from range. It was a fantastic strike, one that should be expected given Ramsey's brilliant form, and effectively put the game to bed with 30 minutes left to play.
It is this last part that should really infuriate followers of the Merseyside band. The club's immediate capitulation when faced with adversity has been an ongoing theme over the past several seasons and exposes a mental weakness unbefitting of the Liverbird. Heads dropped, shoulders sank, and heavy touches abounded. There isn't true shame in losing 2-0 on the road to Arsenal, but playing with a lack of conviction despite ample time to get back into the game is a serious offense.
Indeed, the Reds squandered the handful of prime chances bound to surface when a side has the figures of Sturridge, Suarez, and Coutinho roaming the pitch. There were many near-goals, particularly two shaves by the Gremlin. However, instead of being buoyed by indicators that Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny could be breached, each miss seemed to finally signal all was lost...until the next opportunity gone begging was the real white flag. All put together, surrender seemed to occur long before anything was truly lost and this team is much too talented for that.
-Glen Johnson came down with illness before the match, so John Flanagan came in from Siberia to take over the right wing back position. He kept it perfectly simple in my book, and deserves credit for being one of the better performers on the day.
-I'm going to tackle Rodgers's persistence with the 3-5-2 and also Coutinho's half-time substitution on Tuesday, but the recap deserves a quick mention that it was the wrong call before the match, during the match, and, now, looking back on the match. At least he changed it at half-time.
-Rodgers's determination to keep Gerrard in at all times is hurting the team, pure and simple. El Capitan and Lucas are absolutely exhausted and if Rodgers is the actual boss of this team he needs to show some ____ and sit his skipper every now and then.
-Joe Allen was on the bench today, so he's clearly alive. Try playing him?
-Coutinho lacked sharpness in the touch expected of a player just returning from a month or so on the sidelines. His movement and eye for a ball were still evident though.
-Sturridge had a bit of an off-game and was never really involved. I thought he and Suarez would roast Per Mertesacker alive, but it never came about.