Laurent Sees A Red Card and Marouane Paints It Chamakh
Liverpool 1 – 1 Arsenal
1 – 0 N’Gog (’46)
1 – 1 Reina o.g. (’90)
Arsenal began their 2010/11 Premier League campaign with a well-earned point at a packed Anfield yesterday, on what turned out to be a sunny Sunday afternoon on Merseyside.
The watching 44,722 were not disappointed as an evenly-contested curtain raiser for the two famous old clubs offered up a little bit of everything.
Arsenal debutants Laurent Koscielny and Marouane Chamakh were at the heart of the action; Koscielny coming through his baptism of fire with a red card and an egg-shaped lump on his shin, and Chamakh through his with the assist for a last-gasp equalizer in the 90th minute. These were the defining moments of an entertaining game.
With and without the ball Arsenal were impressive from the off, with a somewhat rag-tag midfield of Diaby, Nasri and league debutant Jack Wilshere turning over possession in the attacking third time and again. Winning the ball back quickly is vital in a system that relies on possession and Arsenal pressurized and isolated Liverpool players, forcing them into mistakes.
The travelling support were in fine voice. Resplendent in shiny new away shirts, they were full of vim and vigour as they belted out a long and poignant rendition of “We’ve got Cesc Fabregas!”, across the fields of Anfield Road.
At the back, Arsenal organised their high-line very well, repeatedly catching N’Gog and Kuyt offside. The passing was crisp and penetrative right through the side and at corners the team set themselves up well, each man utilized for their strengths. Eboue was employed as an athletic first-line of defence on the edge of the six-yard box; a distracting and agile presence for any corner-taker to avoid.
In the 46th minute of the first half Joe Cole slid right through Koscielny as he cleared down the touchline. Arsenal fans winced, cursed and bit their knuckles collectively as one of three precious first team central defenders was stretchered away and down the tunnel. Cole, out to impress his new fans, had completely mistimed what was intended to be a sliding block.
The shades of grey between recklessness and malice have been too well-trodden by Arsenal fans in recent times, but suffice to say – this tackle had none of the latter about it. It was however no surprise at all to see the red card held aloft.
Television replays showed a flex in Koscielny’s lower-leg that made it difficult not to think back to Stoke last February – as well as bringing the fragility of Arsenal’s squad at the position of centreback – painfully into focus. It was a surprise to see Koscielny remerge after half-time then, and even more of a surprise to see him exit with a red card of his own 45 minutes later, after receiving a soft pair of yellows in quick succession.
Manuel Almunia, made captain for the day by Arsène Wenger and dressed in an ill-advised seaweed green, had a mixed, if conspicuous day. The couple of fine saves he did make will be overshadowed by his perceived lack of strength at the near post as he failed to deny N’Gog’s 46th minute opener just moments after the restart. In truth, far more culpability must be placed at the sheepish feet of Andrey Arshavin and Jack Wilshere who conspired as one to gift N’Gog free passageway through the right hand channel of the Arsenal penalty box, buy him a 1st class ticket to Goal Town, gift-wrap the ball for him and wave him off at the harbour with hankies. The Frenchman was heard to shout over his shoulder at the hapless pair, “Merci! Au revoir!” before duly going on to crash the ball high into the top corner of the net. It was a terrible goal to concede, concentration seemingly left malingering around in the dressing room.
In Almunia’s defence you would have to say that if the same shot had flown past Petr Čech or Júlio César then we would perhaps be talking about an unstoppable pile-driver instead of a weak near post. It is all grist for the mill though, to those who have already made up their minds about Almunia.
After a prolonged period of rallying pressure from the 10 men of Liverpool, driven on by a typically direct Gerrard, it took the introduction of Tomáš Rosický and Theo Walcott around the 60 minute mark to bring Arsenal back to life.
The Czech captain was instrumental; constantly probing forward he lifted the tempo of the entire team and had Arsenal looking for the first time like a side with a man advantage. With ten minutes to go the side in yellow were buzzing.
Exchanging a sharp 1-2 with the busy Chamakh on the edge of a crowded area, Rosický threaded himself inexplicably between three red shirts and unleashed a shot destined for the top corner. It was a moment of mesmerizing class from the one we like to call Mozart, and it deserved a goal.
Five minutes later and Arsenal finally did have their equalizer, courtesy in part to Pepe Reina. New-boy Marouane Chamakh struck the post from the latest in a series of whipped Rosický crosses – Reina reacted quickest, only to fumble his catch and spill the ball into his own net. It was an unfortunate clanger to befall the man who had kept his side ahead for so long, but not so unfortunate that it should befall the man who stuck a Barcelona shirt over Cesc Fabregas’ head the other week.
In an age where ball technology hands the advantage to the attacker we shouldn’t laugh too heartily at moments like these because they will be happening to all of us, with more and more frequency. Sadly, the days of the impassable custodian are over.
Still, it allowed The Arsenal to march on out of Anfield with a point in the bank, a spring in our step and heads rightly held high after an enjoyable, heart-racing draw in the sunshine, which ended up, pleasantly, feeling much more like a win.
’til the next time.