Arsenal vs. Liverpool: An After the Whistle Review of Liverpool's Big Win
The final whistle is still fresh in the eardrums of those who were at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday for Liverpool's 2-0 victory over host Arsenal in this season's first meeting of two of the so-called Big Six.
In the lead up to this game, the majority of the talk surrounded Arsene Wenger's selection headache, which was a result of injuries, suspensions and, of course, the protracted transfer sagas of Cesc Fabregas, who finally completed his move to Barcelona last week, with Samir Nasri expected to join Manchester City in the coming days.
Wenger sprang a major surprise when he included Nasri in his team to face Liverpool, a move that hints there may yet be hope that he could stay at the Emirates. Nasri for Rosicky was one of four changes from the team that drew at Newcastle with Kieron Gibbs replaced by Carl Jenkinson, Alexander Song replaced by Emmanuel Frimpong, and Gervinho's place being taken by Theo Walcott.
On the opposing bench was Kenny Dalglish who was anxious for a win to get his team's season up and running after a disappointing draw against Sunderland on the opening day. Dalglish himself had a major surprise in store when he named his team, with Luis Suarez missing from the starting line-up. Kuyt for Suarez was one of two changes Dalglish made from the team that drew with Sunderland, the other being the inclusion of Martin Kelly at right-back in place of John Flanagan.
What was expected to be a tight competitive game proved just that in the first half as defences ruled while the midfield battle swung back and forth. Liverpool had more of the game, but Arsenal looked a bit more dangerous when they made their attacking forays.
As the half wore on, Arsenal began to boss the midfield slightly as Emmanuel Frimpong began to outplay Lucas Leiva in the centre of the midfield using his all action style to out-muscle and out-battle the Brazilian, and Samir Nasri began to exert his influence on the game. Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing looked lively for Liverpool but Charlie Adam was guilty of giving the ball away far too often.
Half-time came and went without incident and the second half began as the first half ended, with the defences on top, the midfield battle flowing back and forth, and neither teams attackers getting much of a look in. While Arsenal's Robin Van Persie did look dangerous whenever the ball game his direction, his opposite number Andy Carroll followed up a disappointing display against Sunderland with another poor performance.
It was no surprise that Carroll didn't play the full 90 minutes. He was replaced only a minute after the incident that changed the course of the game. Carroll did force the Arsenal keeper into one good save in the first half but aside from that he appeared to be an extra Arsenal defender as he broke up more Liverpool attacks than he contributed to.
In the 70th minute the game changed, Frimpong saw a second yellow card, followed by a red, for a poor tackle on Lucas in the midfield of the field. It was harsh on Frimpong who was having an excellent game but there's no doubt it was the correct decision. While Lucas wasn't badly injured, he will I'm sure have been glad to have seen the back of Frimpong who had given him a torrid time.
As Frimpong was still making his way off Liverpool made a double substitution, Raul Meireles and Luis Suarez coming on to replace Dirk Kuyt and Andy Carroll. It was that substitution, and in particular those two players, that would win the game for Liverpool. Within minutes they combined to create havoc in the Arsenal defence and the unfortunate Aaron Ramsay was credited with an own goal he knew nothing about. Suarez had fed Meireles just outside the Arsenal penalty area and was running onto the return ball which Carl Jenkinson did well to intercept, however, as Jenkinson attempted to clear the ball hit Ramsey in the chest and looped over the helpless Szczesney and into the Arsenal goal.
It was a killer blow for Arsenal. They did not deserve to be behind but unfortunately for them, when the ball hit their net, their spirit disappeared. Arsenal never looked like equalizing and Liverpool looked a far more dangerous team with Suarez leading the line rather than Carroll. Meireles and Suarez would combine again for Liverpool's second. Lucas Leiva managed to break from midfield without challenge to feed Meireles who in turn slide the ball across the area for Suarez to tap in and claim his second goal of the season.
It must be said that despite having a bit of luck on their side, Liverpool did deserve to win this game on the balance of play, although not by two clear goals. Arsenal can count themselves unlucky to have lost by that margin and obviously about the manner in which the first goal came about but they can have few complaints with regards to who was the better team over the entire 90 minutes.
Liverpool looked a much better team with Suarez on the pitch and one would have to question why he didn't start. They will move on with their season with a growing confidence having finally beaten Arsenal in London for the first time since 2000.
For Arsenal, there are tough times ahead and the Nasri saga has to play out. They also have the small matter of a game against Manchester United next weekend.
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