Liverpool: Lost points always sting
Liverpool’s run of back luck continued on Sunday. One of the world’s best keepers clutched and stabbed at the ball but only succeeded in deflecting it back into his own goal. In the 90th minute. After his side had fought valiantly down to 10 — and sometimes 9 — men. Throughout the game, Reina had been a steady presence, deflecting the few shots Arsenal managed to put on target with authority. At the other end, Almunia was busy flopping and flapping at corners and generally looking like the kind of mess you’d expect from a player everyone wants to see replaced. Even his coach. If you asked all soccer fans to place the odds of an Almunia own-goal against one from Reina, I doubt even the most ardent Gooner would’ve plopped a single dollar/pound/euro against Pepe. But here we are.
The unfortunate incident overshadowed a gallant effort in the second half from the Reds. Despite being down a man, they frequently bossed play and succeeded in disrupting Arsenal’s rhythm. Kuyt and Mascherano were particularly industrious as they fought and ran from one end of the pitch to the other. And what can you say about the much-maligned David N’gog after his brilliant, forceful goal to start the half? He now has 4 scores in 3 games, a Torres-esque number. And speaking of Torres, he also made a promising appearance that provided hope for a full game from him against Manchester City next week.
But the inspired second half also got in on the overshadowing game, masking the debacle of the first half. Joe Cole’s tackle was stupid and reckless, but nobody (even the notoriously skeptical Wenger) seemed to think he meant to hurt Koscielny. If anything, his energy and anxiousness got the best of him and turned him into a momentary idiot. Prior to that, he’d played a nearly invisible game, but he was far from alone on that front. Liverpool looked flat and idea-less for most of the first 45 minutes — there was no semblance of any build-up play, and the team seemed nervous, skeptical, and unfamiliar with each other. Gerrard was also frequently outplayed by little Jackie Wilshere in midfield, and all Liverpool could think to do in response was send players on runs from an offside position (which N’gog led valiantly, being called 3 times in the first 20 minutes). It was ugly, uncreative stuff — the exact sort of play that earned Rafa so many detractors.
So what now? Honestly, anyone (even someone inside Anfield) who tells you what to expect from Liverpool going forward is guessing. Will the plucky gang from the second half bring that enthusiasm for a full 90? Will the ho-hum hoofers from the first half once again send Liverpool’s attack into the abyss? Tough to say. Right now, all we know is that Liverpool is capable of great and terrible things. Usually in the same game.