Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2: The forwards work, the defenders don’t.
AT HALF-TIME ON SKY they were getting very excited about the Liverpool performance.
And they had a point to an extent – we were undoubtedly porous. But what they missed was the fact that we were creating openings and in fact by the standards of some of our recent first halves what we’d seen hadn’t been at all bad going forward. That we came good later in the game was to me (speaking as an arch pessimist) no great surprise. We upped the tempo sufficiently to make a truism of that most ancient of footballistic sayings: that attack is the best form of defence.
I thought Liverpool’s opener was shabby: not from Sagna who can be excused a slip, not particularly from Vermaelen, even if his clearance wasn’t great, not from Ramsey who had no time to react, but from Mertersacker whose attempt to block the ball was pitiful. It is fairly simple: if you jump side on at a football there is every chance it will ricochet off some part of your body and end up wrongfooting your goalkeeper. If, on the other hand, you throw your body at the ball, coming straight at it, it will, invariably be sent back roughly from whence it came. Witness Jamie Carragher in the second half. Scroll back exactly a week and you will see Mertersacker do exactly the same for West Ham’s goal at the Emirates.
From then on there was a fair bit more pitiful defending: the most painful thing about the Szczesny moment is that he has been making exactly that kind of mistake (the misguided attempt at creativity) ever since he got in the side and yet he doesn’t appear to be learning.
When you look at our defending the easy thing is to fixate on someone such as Santos and hold him up as the epitome of all our problems. I disagree. Yes, he can’t defend, but he is the exception rather than the norm and is only, after all, our reserve left-back. Far more salient to my mind is the inability to turn defenders who are good individual players into a coherent unit. We’ve failed for years to manage that and it is continuing. I honestly don’t think that Szczesny, Gibbs, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertersacker are bad players at all. They’re just no kind of unit at the moment.
Ahead of them Aaron Ramsey has been drawing praise for his performances in the midfield anchor role. To cut to the chase: I told you so. I’m not saying he’s perfect and I’m not even saying he’s going to be a first team regular for the next decade, but some of the abuse he gets is just absurd frankly. He’s no Jack Wilshere, but he’s a decent player who doesn’t hide.
And so the turnaround materialised and you know what: I’ll doff my cap and give Giroud and Theo a fair bit of credit because I’ve not always been convinced this season that they’re the types who would get you goals when you really need them but last night they did exactly that and you can’t ask for a lot more than that.
This was a good night for our attackers: as I’ve said before, Giroud, Walcott, Podolski and Cazorla works – each offers something unique and they create chances. For our defenders, it wasn’t a good night.