Liverpool’s bandaged hero provides some solace for Brendan Rodgers

Published: December 24, 2014
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Liverpool's Martin Skrtel (2nd L) scores a goal against Arsenal during their English Premier League football match at Anfield in Liverpool, northern England December 21, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Philippe Coutinho gave the lead to the Reds, but it was Martin Skrtel who took the headlines with his header in the stoppage time, which preserved a point for Liverpool after trailing Arsenal 2-1 throughout the second half.

Liverpool drew first blood as the Brazilian scored in the 45th minute after the home side had dominated possession (80% in the opening 30 minutes) in the first half. But, as we’ve seen before, Liverpool succumbed to yet another set-piece goal when Arsenal centre-back Mathieu Debuchy overcame Skrtel to head home the equaliser.

Photo: AFP

The second half kicked off and in the 51st minute, Gunner’s striker Olivier Giroud stepped on Skrtel’s head, bringing the game to a complete halt as the Slovak received treatment. A few minutes later, Giroud gave Arsenal the lead after a successful one-two with Santi Cazorla in the 64th minute after some sloppy defending from the Reds.

Photo: Reuters

Liverpool looked set for another home defeat had it not been for Skrtel, who ran to head Adam Lallana’s corner in the back of the net, right in front of the Kop end.

Although Liverpool drew the match, which they should have certainly won, there are so many positives to take out from the game that it must definitely delight a Liverpool fan.

Photo: Reuters

The creativity is back. Finally!

After watching extremely dismal displays of football in the last few months, it was highly relaxing and exciting to see the Reds sticking to their ‘retain the possession’ philosophy. Although the game against Manchester United had seen the 18 times English champions play relatively better, the match against Arsenal saw the Reds finally showing some semblance to the side from last season.

Lallana and Coutinho worked wonders in their forward wing roles and that is evident by the fact that Lallana created five chances, one of which allowed Skrtel to score, while Coutinho scored the opening goal from a low-driven shot.

The Reds enjoyed the majority of the possession throughout the game and had taken a total of 27 shots against Arsenal’s seven – 10 of these shots were on target for Liverpool – and won 54% of the duels.

Lazar Markovic was another man to watch in the first half as he took on Arsenal’s defence, and although there is much room to improve for the Serbian, he displayed the potential to run through any defence in the world with his ‘almost’ perfect touches and scintillating drives forward.

Photo: Reuters

Raheem Sterling was his usual impressive self as he made some great chances for Liverpool, one of which saw Steven Gerrard almost score as the 19-year-old supplied a wonderful cross after Arsenal had easily lost possession near their penalty box.

The system seems to have matured

What Brendan Rodgers was unable to accomplish with his new signings was the discipline required to stick to the system and with the injury to Daniel Sturridge. The Northern Irishman found it difficult to create a system without the prolific striker.

Photo: AFP

However, the game against Arsenal saw Liverpool much more composed, more determined and more attacking in their style of play and were moving forward with a lethal urge to score. They did not find the back of the net many times but created a lot of chances, which in some time would definitely help the Reds establish their title credentials.

This year is a long shot but we can always dream now, can’t we?

Another plus was the involvement of the entire team in the build-up rather than individual performances. Liverpool passed the ball 609 times during the entire game, almost double than what Arsenal accomplished (345) and boasted a passing accuracy of 84%.

Even more surprising is Liverpool’s ability to cross. Liverpool completed 20 crosses throughout the game with 35% of those successfully reaching their desired targets. They dominated 64% of the possession during the game and displayed the characteristics of a side we were so used to seeing from last season. The flair was back and the players believed in themselves.

The sloppy defence

Liverpool leaked two goals, which were highly avoidable, but then that is the only downside that Rodgers’s side had to bear – a downside which led to Liverpool taking only a point when they easily could have taken three. However, it was Arsenal who enjoyed the lead for the longest time before Skrtel’s equaliser, even though Liverpool had most of the ball.

Photo: AFP

The first goal that Liverpool conceded was just two minutes after Coutinho had given the home side the lead and to make matters worse, it came from a set-piece – Liverpool’s 14th goal from a set-piece this season. The Reds certainly have forgotten to defend from a set-piece and it is becoming increasingly frustrating for the manager and the forwards alike, who toil so hard to give the team the lead.

Photo: AFP

The second goal came from some bad defending, and although some could say that Skrtel was hit in the head and is only human, he certainly should have been marking Giroud as Cazorla supplied the cross which allowed the Frenchman to score from six yards.

Liverpool was playing the 3-4-3 formation and it was expected that the centre-backs stick close and assist each other. When Kolo Toure was marking Cazorla, it was Skrtel’s job to intercept the runs of other Arsenal players. However, that did not happen and Giroud netted his fifth league goal for the Gunners.

Although much can be taken out from the game, it is the positives that matter the most as Liverpool gave arguably the best performance of the season in their clash against the Gunners. It was sad to see the team taking just a point, but on the other hand, it was quite exciting to see the brand of football return to Anfield that Rodgers has been talking about. Surely he must be smiling after this performance.

Photo: AFP

Let’s just hope that the Reds can find their stride just the same way that they did after their 5-1 demolition of the Gunners in the same fixture last year.

Taimoor Siddiqui

Taimoor Siddiqui

A Sub editor at The Express Tribune’s Sports Desk and an avid Liverpool fan. He tweets @mohdtaimoor (twitter.com/mohdtaimoor)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.