As Andy Gray said as the final whistle was blown at Anfield; Arsenal answered anyone doubting their title credentials. A point at Anfield is a good result, no, a very good result on the face of it. However today it could have been so much more; with a bit of luck, a solid wall, some composure in front of goal and an accurate final ball we would have stolen the spoils.
The start was fast paced and Liverpool settled early with Gerrard testing Almunia with a low drive. What worried me was that the next ball was picked up by Fabregas who casually lost possession just outside his box and duly committed a silly foul. Gerrard blasted home and woke Arsenal up. This game was not going to be easy, especially after Benitez second guessed Wenger before the game. He packed his midfield similar to ours and kept width with his strikers. This denied lots of space in midfield and isolated Adebayor. This was how it seemed to start with but suddenly Arsenal sprung into action. For the rest of the first half we dominated Liverpool with two shots off the line amongst constant pressure. Any team that achieves 63% possession away at Anfield does not deserve to be 1-0 down at half time. Arsenal were “faultless” according to Gray.
Hleb got a game in central midfield and had the main job of supporting Adebayor and he was fantastic today. His dribbling skills still amaze me; I haven’t seen many other players in world Football with the balance and agility of Hleb. When he looks isolated he can suddenly find his way out of many tight situations. He linked up well with Rosicky and Fabregas and with our full backs bombing forward we looked a real threat. Liverpool could not get the ball off us and all that was lacking was a finishing touch. People doubted whether we could play this Football against teams like Liverpool and mix it up at the same time. Today we did just that with tackles flying in, except from Eboue who needs to toughen up and stop cheating, and we competed well in the air. Cesc ran the show – his passing was 86% completed which is fantastic in such a game. He had one finely taken goal, created by my MOTM Hleb, and one beautiful curling effort that crashed against the post. Yet he is not excused from missing the first open goal. He had so much time to take a touch; for once his footballing brain didn’t obey its master.
At the back Almunia made some crucial saves throughout to keep the score at 1-0. This was so important because a second goal for Liverpool would have killed us off I think. Gallas and Toure were colossal in the defence. Gallas made one goal saving tackle at the end and that is the commitment I love to see from Arsenal players. He bust a gut to get across to Gerrard and blocked Gerrard’s goal bound shot. Toure was so dominant in the tackle and even ran the ball out of defence to start attacks. One particular run led to him trying a one-two with Adebayor the striker was so wasteful and delivered an awful ball when it was not a tricky pass to pull off.
Adebayor looked off the pace a bit to me. He took some knocks but was not dominant in the air, his passing was very inaccurate and his decision making is very poor. Many times he was one on one with a centre back but he allowed to more people to get there first. His strike partner for the last 15 minutes was not much better. His hold up play was not good and he missed an open goal at the end and rightly got a bollocking from Toure for doing so. I know he was playing at left midfield which amazed me but apart from one very skilful pass he didn’t stamp any authority on the game.
We stroked the ball around with ease and put passages together between Liverpool’s dangerous counters and constant fouling. The only thing was the final ball. At times it was needle-in-a-haystack stuff and it was never going to work. At times the simple ball was there but badly executed. When we played the ball using one and two touches the home team were chasing shadows and if we can do that against Manchester United with a bit more assurance in front of goal we can grab the three points.
One thing that needs looking at is defenders backing off. Too many times Gallas mainly allowed the striker to run towards out goal unopposed. By the time he went to challenge the man a shot had already been sent towards Almunia. Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez will exploit this freedom and punish us from similar positions. Set pieces need to better. I know we lack height but we have good headers of the ball but there needs to be a bit more talking for me so players don’t lose their men as easily as Adebayor lost Crouch at one point. For their goal I was very disappointed with the defensive wall. It split right down the middle and Gerrard drive the ball right through the gap. This needs analysing so we don’t concede silly goals.
We are still top of the League with a game in hand. One of the hardest away tests is out of the way and a draw is not too bad. Next weekend is crucial and hopefully with the crowd behind us we can continue our unbeaten run further and open up another gap at the top.