View From The North Bank: Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2
At the moment, anything that can go wrong will go wrong for Arsenal. Suspensions, injuries, bad refereeing decisions… And Uefa seemingly victimising Le Boss. I’m not one for excuses, but this is ridiculous! Two games into the fledgling season and we’ve had them all. In the grown up world of Premier League Football you’re not allowed to excuse an undesirable result, however this weekend saw a tipping point from which even the most iron-willed of teams would have struggled to emerge unscathed.
One of many talking points in the run up to the game was whether Samir Nasri would turn out, quite possibly for the last time, in an Arsenal shirt. When his inclusion was confirmed I assumed he’d get all sorts of stick from irked Gooners. In truth, that didn’t happen. Contrary to media reports his reception was largely positive and so was his performance. I certainly won’t be sad to see the back of another player who wants to chase untold riches, but I will be sad to see him recreate his best Arsenal form for another club. That said, I did feel at times Nasri did try to be Roy of the Rovers and go it alone too often.
Another who impressed was Emmanuel Frimpong. It’s clear why Wenger has long held him in high regard. He’s dynamic, he’s powerful and he’s comfortable on the ball. Unfortunately, he’s also inexperienced. Early in the first half he lunged in on Agger and was lucky to avoid yellow. Shortly after he fronted up Jordan Henderson and got a harsh yellow card when a talking too would have sufficed. When has a United player ever been booked for that?
There can be no complaint about his second yellow though. Sadly it is his over exuberance that has made headlines and not the industrious 70 minutes that preceded it, but there was enough on show here to suspect that Frimpong will soon be making headlines for positive reasons.
Saturday saw four teenagers make their league bow; a reliance on youth that even Arsene Wenger wouldn’t have planned. Ignasi Miquel was forced into action when Laurent Koscielny became our third central defender ruled out due to injury. Miquel benefitted from the guidance of Thomas Vermaelen, who had arguably his best game in an Arsenal shirt. It could be argued that he retreated too far for the first goal, however suspicions of offside and the failure of Henri Lansbury to track his man conspired against the young Spaniard in what was a freak own goal.
It’s easy to look at this result, the apparent paucity of our squad and the fact that we have yet to win a league game, albeit with only two played, and argue that we’re on a slippery slope out of the top 4. Perhaps I’m wildly optimistic but I actually felt that Saturday offered a glimmer of hope. Until the dismissal of our Ghanaian powerhouse we had shown a resolve and commitment that many assumed we lacked. Another of our four teenage debutants, Carl Jenkinson, put in a good shift and let nobody down. For ¾ of the game an expensively assembled Liverpool side couldn’t take advantage of our apparent weaknesses and a draw seemed a fair and satisfactory result. It took the dismissal of our 19-year-old midfielder and Liverpool’s introduction of £40m worth of substitutes to break us down.
The club feels embattled at the moment. It feels like we are haemorrhaging players and not replacing them, we have a monumental injury list, suspensions and face a week which contains two massive tests; all this having finally waved goodbye to our Catalan talisman. This contributed to a siege mentality which meant we fought valiantly at the back but lacked something going forward.
Walcott, Arshavin and Van Persie (whose uncharacteristically dragged effort at Reina should’ve opened the scoring prior to Frimpong’s red – as much of a turning point as the red card itself) were all poor. Some of our attacking malaise should be put down to a need for solidity which saw RVP isolated and Ramsey replace probing passing with tireless closing down. When there is a more experienced base from which to build we would hope to see the forwards play with a little more freedom, although the continued wait for Arshavin to show his form of his first 6 months at Arsenal is an increasing concern. And unless there is track ahead of him, Walcott struggles to get out of the blocks.
Inevitably, sections of the media reported that Arsenal fans had booed their team off. Yes, there was an audible boo at the final whistle but this was immediately replaced with more positive chanting by most fans. From where I stood, the short-lived booing seemed a manifestation of anger and frustration which has come from a difficult pre-season and seeing a depleted side battle so hard for no reward.
This was another positive from Saturday. The crowd were largely supportive of the players and did what they could to lift a makeshift side. The people I spoke to seemed aware of the fact that certain players needed to go and buying replacements isn’t as easy as we’d like. This doesn’t mean we don’t want action taken to reinforce our squad soon but there is at least a feeling that we are pulling together. Don’t believe all the anger spewed forth by keyboard warriors who rarely get to games.
It hardly needs saying but the next week is massive for us. First things first, we need a positive result in Italy. Song, Frimpong, Gervinho and possibly Wilshere should be back so we will be better prepared than we were at the weekend. If we can add these players to the attitude we displayed on Saturday I’ll be confident of qualification. Entry into the group stages of the Champions League may well relieve some pressure and provide the catalyst for a positive end to what has been an arduous transfer window.
Like our team on Saturday, the season is still young. There is time left to reinforce the squad although it is running out fast. We need decisive action – time for Gazidis and his team to walk the walk – and if we can find the spirit to pull together, on and off the field, we should still have more to smile about come the end of August.