Does Performance Against Arsenal Signal Return Of Real Liverpool?
There have been more dramatic finishes to games between Liverpool and Arsenal - that last minute goal in 1989 springs depressingly to mind - but not many. Whisper it quietly, but we may have just seen the return of - or at least a glimpse of - the real Liverpool.
The scoreline doesn’t tell the whole story, just some of it. It tells the part where we still can’t defend. It tells the part where we desperately need a new keeper. But it doesn’t tell it all.
You can’t see complete and utter dominance from the raw facts of a 2-2 draw. You can’t see a 64% possession stat. You can’t see Arsenal’s lowest ever possession score since the glorious invention of Opta. You can’t see Liverpool’s 27 shots (again, Arsenal’s worst ever Opta showing), 10 of which were on target. You can’t see the way that we ran the game, that we controlled the play, that we almost entirely silenced a team containing Sanchez, Welbeck, Giroud and Oxlade- Chamberlain, that we stifled any sign of Arsenal’s creativity. You can’t see that. But we saw it. We saw it and we still weren’t happy.
A free kick was conceded on the stroke of half-time, after taking the lead ourselves on what we’d assumed was the stroke of half-time. A free kick that we singularly failed to deal with yet again, where it wasn’t the second ball that we failed to deal with, but the third. Where Martin Skrtel allowed Mathieu Debuchy to out-jump him and give Arsenal a half-time parity that they had done nothing to justify.
A breakaway as we pushed for a deserved winner. The only moment that Arsenal managed to look like Arsenal and slice through the body of our team, as Giroud slotted through Brad Jones’ legs.
So the discontent starts, the rumblings, the moanings. We’re too slow. We move it sideways too often. Look how quickly Arsenal break. Why can’t we do that?
As the team prod and probe and jab and feint and look for openings, we become frustrated. The performance we’ve seen hasn’t given us the win that we want. Discontent and criticism follows. Anfield is edgy at the moment - it’s understandable but it can’t help. More performances like this one and we may see the discontent fade away.
There were positives all over the pitch. The current 3-4-3 formation works. Works because it’s not really a 3-4-3, it’s a 3-2-4-1 or a 3-2-5 with flexibility and movement throughout it. We may have no strikers but the false 9 works, even on days when the service to Sterling doesn’t quite happen. Even on days when Rodgers reverts to a 4-4-2 to force the deserved equaliser.
This leads some to argue that the first formation was a mistake. Let’s instead say that our manager is once again showing the ability to change his plans in-game when necessary and brave enough to put a forward on for a central defender.
Coutinho was outstanding, Lallana excellent, Markovic settling into the player that the reports indicated that he would be. Gerrard and Lucas were strong and effective, the back three of Sakho, Toure and Skrtel solid, other than the half-time blip. Henderson’s not having the best of times as a right wing-back but he refuses to hide and it was his awareness that lead to Coutinho’s gorgeously taken opener.
That the equaliser came from the bandaged head of Martin Skrtel in the seventh minute of what was basically his injury time - gained from the period he spent in agony on the ground after Giroud accidentally inserted a set of studs into the defenders skull - was apt. It was a redemption for his earlier weakness, it was an attitude, it was desire and spirit. And hopefully it’s the start of something.
We went into Christmas last year at the top of the table. We go into it this year in tenth place, 19 points behind Chelsea. We won’t make up that gap, any claim that we could would be ridiculous. The top four is not out of reach though.
Performances like this - performances where the scoreline may not show that we played Arsenal off the park - show that there’s still hope.
Happy Christmas and all that.