Defence wasted his work at Anfield
It's been an eventful week since I last wrote anything. Arsenal made reasonably serene progress in the FA Cup against Sunderland, threw away two points (not for the first time) at Liverpool, and signed a new midfield player to boost the squad.
The Sunderland game maybe gave an indication of what lay ahead to a certain extent. There is seemingly not too much trouble in eventually getting the goals in a game for this Arsenal team, especially when Giroud is on his game. However, the defending is finally being exposed for what it really is at times. Sunderland's goal came from people trying to play their way out near our own penalty area while under pressure from attacking players. The second-half saw Steven Fletcher beating our men in the air and nearly scoring a couple of times. Petr Cech's interventions have papered over many cracks, especially since the midfield shield afforded by Coquelin and Cazorla has been removed by injury. These problems were in evidence at Anfield in a big way, and Cech did not cover himself in glory for once.
I found it so annoying to yet again concede a last minute goal at Anfield. It has happened so often down the years and has cost us points numerous times up there. I realise the football gods probably owed us a bit of badness after 1989 but where does it stop? Did the 2001 FA Cup not redress the balance? I have to say I felt conceding that goal, with the chance to put decent space between ourselves and Manchester City and Tottenham, had more than a whiff of Birmingham 2008 in terms of what it might mean for our season. Joel Campbell and Olivier Giroud had been outstanding and got us in to a position to win a game in which our lack of tactical nous had allowed Liverpool to be on top in most of the early going. A brief look at their midfield would have shown you that a high pressing game was going to be played - that's how Klopp likes to get his team playing. A small adaptation in to going a little longer towards Giroud, rather than the intricate passing in midfield, was surely the way we should have gone. To me it is obvious.
Arsenal's determination to play their way out was the cause of the first goal. This is particularly frustrating when you see Theo Walcott trying to take on three players on the edge of our own penalty area - this is a man who normally refuses to run past his opposing full-back on the outside when one-on-one with him high up the pitch. Giving the ball away in those areas is ridiculous and will usually lead to a chance for the other team. Cech might have done better with the first shot, and then was wrong-footed when Firmino put it away. It was rank bad play from Arsenal.
Liverpool's second goal was a great strike. Of course it could have been closed down better, and Cech had a touch of the Peter Shilton's in terms of getting off the ground, but if one of ours had scored it we wouldn't be moaning - Giroud's second goal is similar in that regard; yes, you can pick holes in the way it was defended, but acknowledge the superb play by the attacker in the first instance.
What irks me more is the third goal and how we got ourselves in the position to concede it. I hate this business when Wenger takes off most of his attacking players and replaces them with sub-standard defensive options. For years it was Cygan who would be thrown in to the fray and it invariably ends up with us under intense pressure and conceding a goal. We can't defend properly so why not just stick to the possession play we're actually quite good at? I always find it crazy when he takes off Theo Walcott in these circumstances as his pace is surely just what we need when the opponent is going to stretch the play. Taking off Joel Campbell and his incredible work-rate is just plain stupid - he wouldn't substitute Alexis Sanchez so why take off the running of Campbell? Even with the changes we don't adapt properly. Anyone could see that Liverpool would be playing aerial passes towards Benteke, so how was he able to get himself on to Nacho Monreal (who didn't do anywhere near enough to put him off) to win the header that led to Allen's equaliser? Where were Mertesacker and Koscielny? Who was organising the team properly? Why was Ramsey not closing down in the same way that Giroud was higher up the pitch? When Benteke headed it across Bellerin was uncharacteristically slow to react, allowing Allen to stab his shot towards goal. Even then, having got to it, Cech should have stopped the ball - it looked a lot like when Richard Wright let Poyet score late on in Sol's first match back at Tottenham in 2001. This long list of cock-ups under pressure is why I felt it had "Birmingham again" written all over it the other night.. Two points dropped in injury-time was really not wanted ahead of a visit to our bogey-ground this Sunday.
I was slightly cheered up yesterday with the announcement of a new signing, albeit that excitement was a bit subdued by the fact that we've taken about three years to get the deal over the line yet again. I know nothing about Mohamed Elneny as a player. I couldn't tell you whether he's a defensive midfielder or an Aaron Ramsey box-to-box type of man. What I hope is that he's the sort of player that can give us what we're missing without Coquelin in the side. If it means he plays alongside Flamini, with Ramsey being dropped, I wouldn't complain. As I said near the top this side can create and score goals. It's at the other end that the problem lies. Once again I find myself crying out for Gabriel to come in to the centre of the defence - for me we looked at our best defensively when he had that run of games alongside Koscielny earlier in the season. If Elneny can add some much needed protection then maybe my thoughts on what happened at Anfield can be quickly forgotten. It's a big two weeks ahead and the dropped points at Anfield see us needing wins at Stoke and at home to Chelsea. I'll try to do a preview for Stoke at some point tomorrow.