The Emirates jinx continues for Liverpool
The trip to North London to face Arsenal provided Liverpool with a wonderful opportunity to make a bold statement of intent against a potential title rival that would make the rest of the Premier League sit up and take notice. Two wins from two against Stoke and Bournemouth may have been a start that many expected Brendan Rodgers’ side to make, especially with the quality of new arrivals coming through the doors at Anfield, but coming up against much stronger opposition required a step-up in performance levels. Liverpool have not enjoyed a good record over the years at the Emirates either with only one victory in twelve previous attempts, but with first-choice centre back pairing Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny missing for Arsenal, they were presented with a wonderful chance to make the thirteenth meeting a memorable one by taking all three points back to Merseyside.
Games between two big teams often flatter to deceive amidst considerable hype built up by Sky Sports and both sets of fans, but this game certainly lived up to the billing. It is therefore surprising that a game that turned out to be a wonderful end-to-end spectacle packed with great chances, wonderful saves and the odd piece of controversy that modern day football often throws up ended without either team scoring a goal. This is largely due to two outstanding displays from Petr Cech and Simon Mignolet who certainly earned their corn between the posts; it was particularly pleasing to see the Belgian look so impressive after all the criticism he received last season, and if his performances so far this season are anything to go by, Mignolet has come out stronger as a result.
Liverpool seized the initiative from the off as they sensed the vulnerability in Arsenal’s defence that featured Gabriel Paulista and Callum Chambers at the heart of their defence. It took just two minutes for Rodgers’ men to create their first real opportunity as Arsenal’s makeshift backline allowed Christian Benteke way too much space to run into the box, before the Belgian cut the ball back to Philippe Coutinho whose shot crashed back off the crossbar. Taking the lead so early in the door would have been no less than Liverpool deserved, but they almost went behind eight minutes later in one of the rare moments that the home team were able to breach the Liverpool defence. For the second game running, Liverpool have the linesman to thank for ruling that Aaron Ramsey was offside after being found by a lovely through ball from Santi Cazorla, with replays suggesting that the Wales midfielder was just onside.
Coutinho and Benteke continued to create all kinds of problems for Arsenal as Liverpool looked the most likely to open the scoring in the first half, and only Cech’s brilliance preventing Rodgers from having a smile on his face at the interval. The Czech international first made an unbelievable save in the 38th minutes to stop Benteke tapping in from just five yards at the back post after a low cross found its way to him, before making a fine fingertip stop to Coutinho’s wonderful curling effort onto the far post not long afterwards.
Liverpool fans would have been forgiven for wondering if their side would live to regret not taking their first half opportunities, and they were nearly punished early into the second half. Alexis Sanchez, who Bookies.com had predicted would make the difference between the two teams, nearly lived up to the billing by hitting the near post following a neat move, although the Chilean was fortunately off balance when he struck the shot towards Mignolet’s goal. If the first half was the Petr Cech show, then the Belgian certainly showed his worth in the second half with a commanding performance which included a wonderful save to prevent what looked a certain goal from Olivier Giroud at close range.
Local boy Jordan Rossiter came on as substitute late in the game to make his first top-flight appearance for Liverpool, and received a warm reception from the travelling fans who hope he will become the next in the line of local-born players that make their name at the club. He played his part in a collective team effort as Liverpool’s well-drilled defence stood firm against late Arsenal pressure to secure a thoroughly deserved point that, on another day, could easily have been all three.