Thanks to Liverpool Football Club and Standard Chartered for the great hospitality.
An Anfield classic
by rick olivares
There is no telling where Liverpool Football Club will finish this season when all is said and done. The Reds looked like a team re-born in the first few weeks under new manager Jurgen Klopp. They lost a couple of beguiling matches where they looked like their old listless selves causing some to grumble saying nothing had changed since Brendan Rogers was given the pink slip. Then they won some again.
Last Wednesday evening, at a jam-packed Anfield, Liverpool, ninth in the table, faced league leader Arsenal. Most predicted a loss and that Arsenal would run wild. My thought was if Liverpool scores first, they’d have a chance to come away with a point if not all three.
My prediction was on the money. And how!
It was a thrilling night for football.
Despite the chilly conditions, Liverpool started off with a lot of pace and resolve putting the Gunners on the back heel. The Reds boxed Mesut Ozil well preventing him from having any control of the game, and they pressed — not yet the gegenpressing style of Klopp’s great Borussia Dortmund teams — but good enough to seize control of the match. Jordan Henderson, back after missing the last three matches, looked imperious. And I thought of that t-shirt that I saw being sold outside Anfield that said, “70% of the Earth is covered by water. The rest by Jordan Henderson.” And with no Philippe Coutinho on the pitch - the wondrous Brazilian midfielder was injured — the Liverpool captain drove the engine forward with steel resolve. And it paid off handsomely well.
This was the sort of energy you want when playing attacking sides like Arsenal (some teams are better off the counter). The aggressiveness paid off when 10 minutes in, Roberto Firminio scored a blistering goal off a rebound following a powerful shot by Emre Can. It was first Anfield goal for the Brazilian who to this point couldn’t justify the huge price tag that came along from his transfer from German-side Hoffenheim.
The reverie was short lived as Arsenal scored in its first chance of the match 14 minutes later when normally sound centerback Mamadou Sakho lost the battle for the header with Olivier Giroud. The ball was played into Gunner midfielder Joe Campbell who slipped a through ball to an on-side Aaron Ramsey (who raced past Sakho) for a goal that dipped just right under Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet. Anfield collectively groaned because they felt it was a rather cheap goal they conceded.
Liverpool looked undaunted and foraged ahead once more. The aggressiveness paid off again when James Milner found Firminio lurking outside the box. The Brazilian launched a rocket that Arsenal keeper Peter Cech could not parry away for a 2-1 lead.
Yet Arsenal drew level once more in the 25th minute after Giroud kicked in a corner from Ramsey from point blank range somewhat turning down the decibel level from the Kop. It was a frightening sign. Two attacks resulted in two goals for the Gunners. Liverpool, that would own possession — but that doesn’t mean they will win a match — had numerous chances. The indecisiveness that plagued them in the final third in previous matches was replaced with murder in their hearts. The finishing now was the concern and to not be wasteful with their chances.
After the halftime break, Arsenal came out playing more compact football while whatever control Liverpool had in the first half disappeared. Can lost his touch and began to make horrendous decisions with his passes. Sakho, solid up to the first Arsenal goal, came unglued and also lost his focus.
And in a play eerily reminiscent of the West Ham loss a few weeks earlier after Alberto Moreno failed to track back following a tackle, Milner went down chasing a 50-50 ball. Arsenal pushed forward and Campbell, finding the assist touch with Ozil contained, passed to Giroud. The Frenchman turned against Kolo Toure and smashed home a volley for a 3-2 lead Arsenal lead in the 55th minute.
This past season, the Reds normally win or finish with a draw when they score first. When they concede early, they find it difficult to mount a comeback. Jurgen Klopp’s Redmen eventually regained control of the match with Firminio nearly scoring a hat trick with his own blistering turn cracking the crossbar. Defender Alberto Moreno also saw two thunderous volleys blocked by Arsenal’s defense (they finished with 10 blocks).
With time running out and the snow beginning to fall, Joe Allen was sent into the match in the 81st minute for Can, normally solid this season yet who faded rather badly as the match wore on. In the 90th minute, Benteke won a header inside the box and the ball looped over to Allen who darted in. With one touch, he fired past Cech for the equalizer. It was almost surreal as Anfield erupted in jubilation, Klopp was manic on the sidelines, and the snow came down in a flurry. A well-deserved point was secured in a classic match with both sides giving it their best.
If anything, Liverpool can take heart that if they play aggressive non-stop for 90 minutes, they’ll pick up more wins and give any side a run for their money. It is fitting perhaps that two players — Firminio and Allen and especially the latter who is looking to secure another contract with Liverpool — both maligned this season came up big. And draw aside, the confidence they gained will serve them well for in four days, those old and hated rivals, Manchester United travel up to the L4.
Now hopefully for the Reds, this will galvanize them for a badly-needed win and a march towards a Champions League slot.
Singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" before the Liverpool-Arsenal match
Arsenal's second goal from my seat