Bergkamp, Edu and Gilberto were not available so young Cesc had to carry on in midfield alongside Vieira who is still not quite firing on all cylinders. Leading by example is fine when things are going well but right now we are in dire need of an Adams or McLintock style rollicking to cajole some players into performing. Or in some cases just to turn up. It’s not my style to berate players for playing poorly because I have no idea what injuries they might be carrying or whatever but I’ll report it as I saw it so here goes.
If the opposition are going to play one up and flood midfield then we can’t hope to compete in the mixer with only one ball winner. That is of course is a major problem because Gilberto has a long-term injury and Edu is weeks away from fitness. The fact that Edu might be moving on in January is another story all together. There could surely have been no surprises to be found in Liverpool’s line-up in fact it was all too predictable. Hamann put himself about, his assault first being an overly heavy tackle on Cesc. Gerrard charged around like the Duracell bunny and was man of the match by a country mile; the rest of the reds were nothing very special.
The most notable things on view in the first half apart from a very dark and threatening rain laden sky were Keel’s persistent and very blatant diving, Cole’s prodigious work rate and a whole load of anonymous displays all over the pitch confirmed by numerous poor passes from both teams. Kirkland could easily have strung a hammock up between the post and had a kip because he was totally untested by anyone in a blue shirt.
The little action there was amounted to Gerrard finding our wall and no more from a free kick, Hamann having a shot blocked, Vieira chipping to far at the end of a half decent move plus an Henry attempted solo. Mellor did hit the top of the bar with a dipping shot but he was correctly adjudged offside. Kewell had a header saved and there was a brilliant run from Cole who saw his cross held by the keeper. Hyypia also heading over from a corner that was too high even for him.
The half was a poor spectacle and didn’t really deserve a goal, but it got one four minutes before the break. Liverpool worked a ball wide left to Gerrard who played a beautiful pass into the acres of space that only Alonso was advancing into. He collected and connected, hitting a peach of a shot past Lehmann. 1-0 to the Reds. After this Kewell dived once more with no one even close to touching him, Riise took out Freddie who’d beaten him all ends up and Lauren had a far post cross that curled just over the bar and might have sneaked in the top corner had there been any luck going Arsenal’s way. But there wasn’t because you have to make your own luck.
Lehmann was well out of goal when he cleared Liverpool’s next attack in one of those will-he-won’t-he moments that require brown trousers. Vieira meanwhile had to continue to challenge because few others would or could. As a result of this and some fine overacting by Alonso he picked up his 5th. yellow card of the season. Buoyed up by this success Alonso proceeded to fall over anytime anyone came close and Alan Wiley bought the lot. Sadly Vieira himself threw himself to the ground for a tackle that never came and I didn’t like seeing that at all.
Hamann was very late on Freddie but there was no card, if anything Wiley was more concerned with having words about Freddie’s reaction. Alonso continued to fall over, Gerrard had the odd crap shot and Liverpool were more often than not in the ascendancy without really threatening a lot. Arsenal wanting to walk it in rather than try anything from range, a shot from anywhere would have been nice and the only one of note I recall was Henry from about the halfway line who’d spotted Kirkland marginally off his line, but the shot went wide. Kolo bailed out Campbell on one occasion. Pires had a cross that actually bought Kirkland into action for about the first time. Lauren clearly wanted to chin the diving Oz before Van Persie replaced Reyes about 64 minutes later than his performance deserved. One seriously classy move by Pires and Henry played out by the touchline had the net result of a Liverpool throw. Such skills are great if you like watching neat, slick football, which of course I do, but a waste of time if you prefer seeing your team go for goal and win matches, which I definitely do.
Gerrard went on a run and won a corner, Pat stormed forward and had a shot blocked from a Ljungberg pass. There was a great save by Lehmann at full stretch and more worryingly no periods of the match where we had a spell of total domination. Arsenal were very much a team of fits and starts, without too many starts of note. Alonso got Henry booked for a rash but not violent tackle where once again the Spaniard went down very easily, he did so yet again when Pat got within breathing distance shortly after.
We had one truly remarkable move when a series of what seemed like twenty-yard, 90-miles-per-hour first time balls but when it reached Henry in their box he couldn’t quite juggle it into the right place to get away a shot. Frustrating for him and more so for us. Also a great shame because it would have been a classic goal. As it happened some of Arsenal’s best moves came from Flamini's warm up routine down the touchline. Ok so I’ve been spoiled by some classic football but all I wanted was a bit of grit and effort, this was a game where we could and should have churned out a result. Liverpool may have been edging it but they were there for the taking.
So there we go. A 2-1 defeat against a team who, Gerrard apart, were hardly outstanding but were plenty good enough to beat us on our current form. We will of course come good again but sooner rather than later would be preferable. If things don’t change soon we have a load of enthusiastic kids waiting in the wings and champing at the bit. To add insult to injury an accident on the M6 delayed our journey home in the rain by some 65 minutes, so some rather tired and dispirited Gooners took a long time to get back to London on Sunday night.
With many Gooners currently going through an imaginary crisis of sorts I feel a bit of context may be required here, and Anfield is just the place for a large dose of context. I firmly believe that everyone that makes the claim to be a football fan should at least once in their lives visit Anfield. If you’ve never heard their ‘You’ll never walk alone’ anthem sung by a full stadium then you probably should, but that is not the most important reason to visit. Far more importantly it is very befitting that all fans of every possible persuasion should stand in front of The Hillsborough Memorial by the Shankley Gates and pay their respects. Observing the list of fellow fans that lost their lives puts a lot of things into a far clearer perspective. I don’t really know why but to me the Memorial is somehow more poignant because it lists so many 18 and 19 year-olds.