Liverpool throw away another vital win away to a competitor for 4th.
I usually like to wait and let the passions calm down before I write these wraps. Having everything calm down to see more clearly what went on is usually the wiser course of action. But today feels like a day to write when the feelings are at the height.
First, a correction. I said Liverpool have never won at The Emirates in the preview, and that's wrong. They won their last year, and I guess I forgot that because it seems like it was about a decade ago. That was a beat up Arsenal side as well, but it was a mistake and I apologize.
Ok, to it. First off, you aren't going to go to Arsenal and completely run the show. At least this Liverpool team isn't. They're going to have their spells, they're going to have chances, they're probably going to score. Accepted. But you can definitely make more of a fist of it than Liverpool did. Way more.
Arsenal's midfield came with no holding player. Diaby wasn't there to eat up Gerrard as he's done before. Wilshere and Ramsey are fine players, but are far better when pointed forward then backward. Every time Henderson or Gerrard surged forward, it looked like a landscape shot from an Ang Lee film, such was the space they found themselves in.
Add to that the form of Bacary Sagna, whose hornswaggling of himself led to Liverpool's first goal, and the utter immobility of Per Mertesacker, and you should be dying to get at them. Then Liverpool get the added bonus of Santos having to come on, and he's been a clown car fire most of the season. How easy was it for Henderson to get past the German and out-muscle Santos to get his goal? Why couldn't that have happened more often?
Two goals should have been enough, admittedly. But so easily could have been four or five if Liverpool wanted them. And they didn't. Yes, you risk getting cock-slapped upside the face by going at Arsenal and leaving more space at the back. But how do you beat a team ahead of you by not going for it? That's what we're trying to create here, isn't it? A side that can show up anywhere and do what it wants?
Instead Liverpool packed it in, and were lucky to pick off the second goal if not the first. Contrast how much time Wilshere and Ramsey had to look up when they got the ball then when Gerrard, Lucas, or Henderson did. Where was the pressing? Isn't that a staple of the Rodgers system?
Ok, it still might have worked. Liverpool had a two-goal lead. What do you do then? There were two options, and neither was wrong. Either you go for the kill, which you could have so easily gotten. Or, you change things around to shut up shop and take your three points.
If you choose the latter, what were the main dangers? Arsenal's wingers. Ok. While Suarez's tracking back in the first half, it's no surprise it didn't last for the full 90. That's fine, it's not what you ask of him and getting dispossessed on the Liverpool left is what led to the first goal.. The Enrique change was the right one, giving Johnson cover. Except it came after the horse had run off and vandals had burned down the barn. Secondly, Sterling should have been brought on for Downing, who provided nothing and Sterling does his cover work far better to shield a overmatched-at-times Wisdom. Sterling also would have gotten at Santos far more as well, and kept the backline a little farther back for Arsenal.
But Rodgers did neither. He kept out the lineup that was meant to kill the game off by getting a third, but then didn't try to get the third. You can't stay in the middle on these. It's one or the other.
It's infuriating on so many levels. With Spurs's shock draw with Norwich, all three points would have seen Liverpool right in the middle of the chase for fourth, whether they wanted it or not. It would have made whatever happens Sunday kind of immaterial.
But no. Who'd want that? Sure looked like Rodgers didn't. And as the season passes, I'm left with more questions about him than I have answers.
-It's getting annoying that more goals are shipped away because of Agger or Reina mistakes. There wasn't a total breakdown on the first goal against, Agger just lost his man. While Walcott's strike was as clean as you can get, you ask your keeper to....y'know, move. I'll handle mistakes from Wisdom or an aging Carragher or someone else who's young or out of position. I won't from the players that Liverpool are absolutely counting on to not make them.
-While there was some consternation about Liverpool's attempts to play their way out from the back, I don't see what choice they have. They didn't have someone who could hold up a hoofed ball. The ploy isn't wrong, but the personnel isn't there. To get out of these jams by playing, you have to have players who can play quick, one-touch, short passes to each other that have to be dead-on balls accurate. While Henderson had a strong match, this isn't him yet. It's not Downing either, and maybe not Lucas. It's not always Gerrard either, as inspirational as he was. Only Suarez, and maybe Johnson can be trusted to make these touches and passes. You have to have the confidence and ability to squeeze through some awfully tight spaces to make this style work. It's also why Liverpool's attack breaks down sometimes against sides that are camped out on their 18. That won't change until these players improve or other ones are brought in.
-Sturridge does have that confidence to try in the attacking half though. At times it's maddening, and other times it frees someone like Henderson to score. Wouldn't want to see it taken away from him.
-I don't know where Gerrard found the energy, but it was a marvel to watch.
-Aside from a few misplaced passes and touches, Henderson was also immense. I just wish it was unleashed farther forward more.
-I think Wisdom just got sucked into the middle again.
-I like it when Carragher turns back the years and is a mastodon again.
Sigh. I know when this season ends, I'll feel a bigger feeling of this frustration and what might have been. It'll be because of matches like this.