Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Frimpong red card and Liverpool substitutions change the game
An Aaron Ramsey own goal and Luis Suarez’s tap-in gave Liverpool their first league win of the season.
Arsene Wenger was forced to play Samir Nasri despite his imminent transfer. Emmanuel Frimpong replaced the suspended Alex Song, and various injuries in defence meant that Carl Jenkinson started at right-back, with Bacary Sagna on the left.
Kenny Dalglish left out Luis Suarez for fitness reasons, so Dirk Kuyt started on the right. Behind him was Martin Kelly, chosen over John Flanagan.
Overall this was a match lacking in technical quality – the best chances came from mistakes and long-range efforts rather than clever creative play, and it was only after the red card that things opened up and Liverpool forced the issue – otherwise, it seemed we were heading for a 0-0.
Dalglish had the flexibility to play either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, depending on the positioning of Jordan Henderson and Dirk Kuyt. He went for the latter to prevent being overrun in the middle of the pitch, which meant we had a fairly stereotypical 4-2-3-1 v 4-3-3 battle, with the midfielder with the most time on the ball being Frimpong. He was Arsenal’s best player and yet was arguably the main reason they lost the match, dismissed for a reckless tackle on Lucas on 70 minutes, having picked up a needless yellow card after just seven.
The perils of a holding midfielder receiving an early caution have been discussed many times before (most notably during the Copa America, when this became a theme of the tournament), and in addition to Frimpong’s eventual dismissal, Arsenal were hampered because he spent much of the game pulling out of tackles, which meant Liverpool could often break through the centre.
On the other hand, in possession he was good. With Henderson usually picking up Ramsey, and Charlie Adam retreating to a position near Lucas, Frimpong had plenty of space in the midfield. And, a little like Santos midfielder Arouca in the Copa Libertadores final, he used this freedom in a deep position to storm forward and launch attacks, rather than just passing sideways. His passing (through sometimes inaccurate) was generally forward, and he came close to a goal with a good long-range shot after a powerful run.
That was of particular help to Arsenal, because their passing from back to front was, like in the Newcastle game, extremely slow. The injury problems didn’t help – Sagna was uncomfortable bringing the ball forward on the left, and the same could be said for Thomas Vermaelen when he had to move to the right after Laurent Koscielny went off. With Sagna and Vermaelen out of position, plus Miquel and Jenkinson making their league debuts and understandably a little nervous, Arsenal’s passing from the back was poor.
Equally, Liverpool should be given credit for their pressing. Kuyt, Henderson and Stewart Downing all worked hard to pressure Arsenal players, whilst Adam is less mobile but had a good game without the ball, making five successful tackles and three interceptions.
Liverpool had a good amount of possession and worked the ball forward well, particularly through the full-backs, but there was no obvious approach to actually scoring a goal, other than by using the height of Carroll. Arsenal’s centre-backs should be commended for how they dealt with him, and whilst the Downing-Carroll combination works excellently in theory, the former is still yet to find the latter with a cross from open play in Liverpool’s league season so far. Downing’s only successful cross was a low one from the right, miscontrolled by Kuyt.
Jose Enrique was arguably the best player on show, and Theo Walcott had no idea how to try and beat him – Enrique can match him for pace and is also solid positionally, and Walcott had no impact on the game. Walcott and Arshavin also need to come inside into goalscoring positions when the ball is on the opposite flank – Walcott says he wants to play more central, but on one occasion in the 28th minute, he was on his heels on the right when a run into the centre might have presented him with a tap-in.
The game remained a stalemate until the 70th minute, when two things happened. First, Frimpong was sent off. Second, Raul Meireles replaced Kuyt and Suarez replaced Carroll. As these events happened simultaneously, it’s impossible to say which had a greater impact on the game – though it’s fair to say that they were both crucial.
The extra man meant that Liverpool dominated possession. Until the 70th minute, Arsenal completed 322 passes to Liverpool’s 281 – from the 71st onwards, it was Arsenal 105, and Liverpool 142. The momentum was clearly now with the away side.
That gave Liverpool the foundation to build moves, but Meireles and Suarez were the two who created the chances. With Arsenal reverting to a 4-4-1, the former found space between the lines to play clever passes, and Suarez offered fresher legs and better movement than Carroll. Meireles passes towards Suarez created both goals – the first fortunate, via Ramsey’s chest, the second excellently-worked. Suarez found plenty of time and space to complete passes in the final third.
Arsenal were exhausted late on – Nicklas Bendtner was introduced, but Arsenal were beaten.
A fairly poor game until the final twenty minutes – indiscipline cost Arsenal, but Dalglish’s tactics were spot on. He matched Arsenal at 11 v 11, then introduced players to exploit the holes at the back after the red card.
Arsenal were a long way off looking a competitive side. Lacking experience deep in the side and lacking creativity further up, their selection problems for the Manchester United game are even more serious because of Frimpong’s suspension, Koscielny’s likely absence, and Nasri’s transfer.Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Frimpong red card and Liverpool substitutions change the game