For once Arsene Wenger got angry at his team. Or so say his players, as they point to his halftime talk as a motivator for coming from a goal down to beat Liverpool 2-1 at Anfield. Apparently, he told his players they didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt, which surprised them, as well as those familiar with the Frenchman’s tendency to coddle his players. Perhaps that’s simply his belief in their abilities, but lacking sharpness can’t always be the reason his side drop points.
And the Gunners did lack sharpness, as they have since the loss of Robin van Persie. They did not play well in the first half, and if Torres had a few games under his belt to regain his own typical sharpness, it could’ve easily been 1-0 to the Reds in the first fifteen minutes. Actually, make that two goals, as the Reds also could have had a penalty after William Gallas upended Steven Gerrard in front of goal.
Against a nearly-full strength Liverpool side, Arsenal maintained much of their diffidence since the loss of van Persie, looking quick and aggressive in midfield, but not in front of their opponent’s goal. Liverpool were more threatening, and were the first to score, from a Dirk Kuyt goal that highlighted Manuel Almunia’s poor performance on the day.
After the apparent Arsene Wenger dressing down, which has some sort of imaginary comic value, Arsenal’s first real attacking opportunity resulted in a Glen Johnson own goal, which did enough to give the Gunners the confidence to press on for the second, another moment of skill and power from Andrey Arshavin, who was left isolated most of the game. Like last year at Anfield, Arshavin proved his immense value to an injured and incomplete Arsenal side, doing just enough against Liverpool.
From there, it be a tense last half hour or so for Gooners, and desperately hopeful for Liverpool fans, urging their side to reassert itself and end their skid of poor performance. While Arsenal were more than lucky from the own goal, and the non-call earlier, Liverpool did very little to really take it to a less than sharp Arsenal side.
Arsenal may have bounced back after suffering a heavy defeat to Chelsea, but Liverpool’s inability to take points from the Gunners flattered them. In third place, six points out from the league leaders, and with a game in hand, Wenger insists his side are still in it. Mathematically, yes, but there are some holes in that side. Either Wenger is going to have to practice his angry face for every half time talk herein out, or Arsenal need to show more decisiveness in going for the jugular.
For Liverpool, it isn’t a crisis. Thanks to Manchester City unable to do the business against non-top four sides, Spurs dropping points, and their nearest competitors below them being Birmingham and Fulham, the sky isn’t falling for Benitez and the Reds. Aston Villa did well to beat Manchester United and stake a drive for the top four, but we’ve yet to reach the halfway mark, and why expect anything else except business as usual. With Torres getting more match fit and no Champions League to worry about, Liverpool’s season starts now, as Benitez says. Unfortunately, they started this new one the way they started the actual one.