Well, there you have it. The first game between members of the Faction Formerly Known as the Big Four (FFKBF) ended with a 1-1 draw. By no means a classic, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable watch, and in true World Cup fashion, both managers may take solace in the fact that they’ve kicked off their campaigns without a loss.
League debutants on both sides were sent off, both harshly, but the defining image of the game will be one of Pepe Reina curled up in a ball in the Liverpool goal, following what can only be described as a “massive gaffe”. Jamie Carragher described the Spaniard after the game as “the best keeper in the world, no doubt about that” (which does make you wonder if he’s ever watched a football game that doesn’t involve an English side) but he didn’t look it in the 90th minute of this game.
The start to the game was a touch scrappy, with nothing in the way of real chances, but Arsenal were dominating possession and playing the better football. Marouane Chamakh looked more than comfortable, but playing up front on his own left him a little isolated at times. The only problem for Arsenal was that they had Faking It star Manuel Almunia in goal, so any amount of dominance is wasted if you let the ball go anywhere near him. Which it did from a corner, as the Spaniard leapt up, unchallenged, and feebly palmed the ball clear.
And by clear, I mean clear of the six yard box, but still well inside the area: fortunately Wilshere tidied up his mess.
The big talking point of the first half came just before half time, when Joe Cole lunged at Laurent Koscielny near the touchline. Now, it was a lunge. But not a red card. Koscielny fell awkwardly on his ankle, and genuinely looked in pain, but there was no intent, and Roy Hodgson will feel aggrieved that he loses his new signing for the next three games for such a questionable dismissal. Despite being stretchered off, Koscielny did reappear for the second half, and all in all, had a solid debut.
Against all the odds, Liverpool took the lead only a minute into the second half. David Ngog peeled away from Vermaelen, and picking up Javier Mascherano’s ball, smashed into the roof of the net at the near post. More question marks over Almunia, however, and he shouldn’t have been beaten so easily at his near post. Lord knows, Mark Schwarzer wouldn’t have been.
Wenger brought on Walcott and Rosický on the hour, which gave Arsenal a new attacking impetus, and as the game wore on, Arsenal really began to take hold as Liverpool looked to protect their lead. Rosický played a nice one-two with van Persie, ghosted past Skrtel, but his strike was saved wonderfully from Reina.
However, the goalkeeper’s dedication to comedy is still very much alive. Chamakh stole in front of him from a Rosický cross, touching the ball onto the post. Reina stooped to collect the rebound, but rather than grasping the ball, wasting a little time before hammering it upfield, he spills it right into the goal. An absolutely horrendous error.
Koscielny walked late on for a ridiculous second booking (handball, never a yellow) but neither side could nick it. Encouraging signs for both sides, really, although Arsenal’s need for a new goalkeeper was further highlighted. Liverpool don’t have such a problem; unless Reina scores a few more like the one he did today, anyway.
Pepe Reina 5 Horrendous mistake threw away the game
Glen Johnson 6 Didn’t offer much going forward
Daniel Agger 6 Unspectacular, but solid
Jamie Carragher 7 Calming influence at the back
Martin Skrtel 7 Solid performance
Steven Gerrard 8 Controlled the game from deep
Javier Mascherano 7 Did well alongside Gerrard
Dirk Kuyt 6 Typically tiresome performance
Milan Jovanović 7 Impressive debut
Joe Cole 6 Unlucky to be sent off
David Ngog 7 Held the line well, good finish for his goal
Maxi Rodríguez 6 Quiet in the time he had
Fernando Torres 6 Off the pace, needs more time
Lucas Leiva 5 Poor in the time he had
Manuel Almunia 4 Awful, constant mistakes
Bacary Sagna 6 Solid game
Gaël Clichy 7 Went forward with enthusiasm
Laurent Koscielny 7 Impressive debut, very unlucky to walk
Thomas Vermaelen 5 Uncharacteristically wasteful from set pieces
Abou Diaby 6 Quiet in holding midfield
Jack Wilshere 6 Wasted playing as deep as he was
Emmanuel Eboué 5 Not good enough
Andrei Arshavin 6 Disappointing compared to previous Anfield visits
Samir Nasri 6 Made some good runs
Marouane Chamakh 7 Looked good, although isolated up front
Theo Walcott 6 Caused some problems, but a touch wasteful
Tomáš Rosický 7 Lively when he came on, unlucky not to score
Robin van Persie 6 Didn’t have the impact Wenger would’ve hoped for
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