Belfast Telegraph

Arsenal let down by defensive mistakes against Liverpool

By Sam Wallace

Arsenal 2 Liverpool 2: It is the curse of this Arsenal team that their beguiling attack is often called upon to atone for the mistakes of their catastrophic defence. They do make life hard for themselves, but what a joy it can be to watch.

Yes, at times they were hopeless in defence and Per Mertesacker might wish to reflect on his woeful performance at length. But having given so much away, the home team wiped out the two-goal lead given to them by Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson in a thrilling two-goal burst after the hour that brought them back into the game.

This is the latest great Arsenal conundrum, a burgeoning attack led by the impressive Olivier Giroud and abetted by Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla, trying desperately to outscore the mistakes they make at the back. Pulling the strings was Jack Wilshere who is coming into form magnificently just as Roy Hodgson needs him the most for those World Cup qualifiers in March.

There is a new problem for Arsène Wenger, however, who lost Kieran Gibbs to a thigh injury in the first half which necessitated the nerve-shredding prospect for Arsenal fans of an entrance from Andre Santos. Gibbs will be out for the next "two to three weeks" according to Wenger who conceded that he would have a look at his options to make a signing "overnight".

He blamed his defenders being "nervous" for the aberrations that led to the two Liverpool goals. "Honestly, we could have lost the game, we could have won it by three or four goals difference and that shows we created many, many chances going forward," Wenger said. "But we were nervous defensively and the two goals we conceded showed that. Overall we have shown tremendous spirit."

As for Liverpool, they were excellent on the counter-attack where they took their chances well and they might even have nicked it at the end. It was a much-needed result after the disastrous performance against Oldham in the FA Cup on Sunday and the relief was obvious to see in Brendan Rodgers after the game, even if they had lost a two-goal lead.

The league table changes little for both these sides. Arsenal are still in sixth place four points behind Tottenham in fourth. Both they and Liverpool have lost ground on Everton, the only winners in that group behind the two leading clubs. After the FA Cup elimination, Rodgers said his "overriding emotion" was of "real pride".

He said: "We played Arsenal earlier in the season and they outplayed us. I always felt this would be a benchmark of how we have been progressing. It's a game we should have won. But we showed great resilience and quality. I'm very proud of the team.

"Sunday was more my fault than theirs [the young players]. I'm a great believer in young players, I look at the depth of our squad and put a lot of trust in them. The problem is when I put them in and I don't have some of our big players, it's difficult. But I never had any second thoughts that I would get a reaction."

Just before kick-off, the Liverpool fans protested against the £62 away-end ticket prices with a banner that asked whether football was still "a working-class sport". Certainly not for the 22 millionaires on the pitch, was the simple answer. It would be fatuous to say that this game was worth the price of a ticket that expensive but in so many respects it did not disappoint.

First blood to Liverpool, but what a comic sequence of misjudgements, slips and pratfalls by the Arsenal defence to create it for them. First Bacary Sagna slipped over on the right to allow Glen Johnson, playing at left-back, to cross where Thomas Vermaelen had an ideal chance to cut the ball out but missed it.

At that point Arsenal were in danger but Wojciech Szczesny saved well from Daniel Sturridge. To compound the pressure, Wilshere failed to get any distance on an ill-advised flick in his own area. Jordan Henderson pushed the ball left to Suarez and his shot went in off Mertesacker.

Then came the Arsenal pressure. Pepe Reina saved well from Giroud and Walcott. At the other end Mertesacker gave the ball to Henderson and Vermaelen had to block Luis Suarez from the resultant pass. There was also a goal-line clearance from Lukas Podolski when Szczesny came for a Steven Gerrard corner and failed to get it, giving Daniel Agger a header with a sight of goal.

The second goal was another bad moment for Mertesacker who allowed Henderson past him too easily. Santos intervened and it got little better. When finally Aaron Ramsey made a tackle, the ball ricocheted back off Santos and fell nicely for Henderson to prod into the goal.

That was on the hour, within five minutes Giroud had scored Arsenal's first, a firm downward header from Wilshere's free. Sagna and Cazorla combined to make the space and then Giroud set the ball beautifully for Walcott to score. Liverpool came back into the game towards the end, but Giroud's failure to score from Lukas Podolski's cross was the best chance of all to win it.

Man of the match Wilshere.

Match rating 8/10.

Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).

Attendance 60,089.

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