Liverpool’s Draw with Arsenal Shows Kenny Dalglish Still Has Work to Do
Liverpool were completely outplayed in the first half of a dramatic 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Kenny Dalglish’s side parked the bus in front of their penalty box and defended well the entire game, frustrating Arsenal, as their attacks were repeatedly thwarted by last ditch tackles.
In attack though, Liverpool were frustrating to watch as they hoofed the ball forward to Andy Carroll and only really started to come into the game late in the second half. Robin Van Persie thought he’d won it with a penalty deep in extra time before Emmanuel Eboue fouled a minute later in the box and Dirk Kuyt equalized with the last kick of the game. The team showed great spirit but it was a far cry from the Liverpool side who mauled Manchester City 3-0 at Anfield last week, so what was the difference?
Defensively Liverpool were just as good as last week. The level of commitment was excellent from the entire back four and especially from the two players shielding them: Lucas Leiva and Jay Spearing. Even as Arsenal’s slick one-touch passing mesmerized the Emirates crowd, the defense stayed focus and compact, doing their best to mark the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri out of the game. If anything did get through, Pepe Reina was there to save the day.
Dalglish couldn’t have put it any better when he said,
“They went through a wee bit of adversity, losing Fabio Aurelio early on and putting a 17-year-old boy on at left-back. Losing the captain, having a right-back who’s only 18, losing a centre forward, losing a goal eight minutes into injury-time, and they still didn’t want to accept they were going to get nothing from the game.”
It really was a spirited performance, and clearly the organization of the defense frustrated Arsene Wenger:
“Liverpool defended very deeply. Every time we had the ball we played eight against ten men in their half. You have to respect the quality of the defending as well. We tried everything to create chances.”
A few times however, the commitment levels reached way past boiling point. Fabio Aurelio and John Flanagan were both booked for over zealous challenges and the latter even knocked Jamie Carragher unconscious with his own head, although to be fair he didn’t mean that one.
Thankfully, Carragher regained consciousness, but something almost as concerning as his injury, was the way Martin Skrtl and Jonjo Shelvy came flying in from behind when there was absolutely no threat on their goal whatsoever. Skrtl fouled Eboue when the Ivorian was heading towards the corner post, with no other Arsenal players around him, and Shelvy needlessly scissor kicked Gael Clichy from behind 100 meters from his own goal.
Such brain snaps have been Liverpool’s Achilles heel this season. Think back to Joe Cole getting sent off in the opening game against Arsenal in August. That set the tone for the whole season, or Steven Gerrard getting sent off against United and more recently Sotirios Kyrgiakos giving away penalties in both the game against Sporting Braga and then against West Brom. Recklessness has cost us points and trophies this season and it nearly cost us again today.
While Jay Spearing’s foul to give away the penalty in injury time wasn’t reckless, it was still a little bit clumsy. Had Dirk Kuyt not equalized two minutes later, all the good work that Spearing had put in would’ve been completely undone, as he was definitely one of our best.
While Liverpool were great in defense, they were no where near as good in attack as they were against Manchester City last week. In particular, the man who impressed so much last week with his two goal haul just couldn’t get in the game this time around. Andy Carroll was left chasing lost causes all game. In his pre-match press conference Arsene Wenger said of Carroll:
“He is physically very strong, he has a good understanding of the game on crosses, long balls, he uses his body well and he is very good in the air. He is very young as well so there is still a lot to come from him.”
Clearly, Arsenal knew what to expect and they’d obviously devised a game plan to counter him. Time after time long balls were hoofed up towards him, and time after time Arsenal simply got the ball back and started another flowing attack. It was frustrating to watch and it must have been very frustrating for him too.
Why were Liverpool so disjointed in attack? Well, firstly, the Emirates is always a hard place to come to and attack. Arsenal play a possession game, and it showed today with the Gunners having 62% of the ball throughout the match. They get numbers forward, keep it short and try and win the ball back as soon as they lose it.
However, a less obvious reason is the role of Raul Meireles. Whereas Manchester City offered little resistance, this determined Arsenal side proved harder to break down. What Liverpool really needed was a creative influence from the center of midfield. Meireles is being absolutely wasted on the left. Since his move there, the man who was quite literally scoring for fun only a month ago has struggled to have any sort of influence on games.
Whereas he was at the center of almost everything previously, he seems to have been one of the few to have suffered since the arrival of Luis Suarez, occasionally drifting into dangerous spaces but not creating nearly as many chances for others, or shooting as often as he was.The problem is, he’s not a wide player, he doesn’t have the pace or the trickery, his strengths are his vision, movement, passing and shooting, but in his current position he’s just not able to show it.
Kenny Dalglish faces a real problem in incorporating Meireles into a crowded central midfield. It seems every player in the Liverpool lineup wants to play in the hole just behind the striker but only one can be picked there and inevitably someone is going to either have to play out of position, or be dropped from the starting eleven completely.
It’s hard to say what the best solution is. After Jay Spearing’s recent performances it wouldn’t exactly be fair to drop him and I don’t see Lucas or Kuyt making way any time soon either but one things for sure, Dalglish needs to find a way to accommodate the Portuguese International in the center of the park because someone needs to pull the strings from midfield, and without Gerrard, Meireles is the only one capable of it.
If Kenny can once again get the best out Raul Meireles, then surely he will get the absolute best out of this Liverpool side, so that in the future, we’ll not only see great defensive displays, but better attacking football too.
We’ve seen glimpses of what Carroll, Kuyt and Suarez can do, but they need an architect behind them, otherwise we’ll continue to see disjointed, long-ball football. Suarez in particular is exceptionally good at creating space for himself, and he was still reasonably good tonight, when he actually got the ball that is. All he needs is someone to deliver that final ball to him. Meireles is that man, but he can’t do it if he’s all the way on the left hand side of midfield. He needs to be right in the thick of it, delivering that killer pass.
So, even though results have improved, great spirit was shown by the team and in the context of things a draw at the Emirates is good, the offensive performance shows there’s still a lot of work to do before this side reaches it’s potential.
Submitted by Liverpool Football Blog
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