The draw against Arsenal yesterday was Liverpool´s best home showing so far. But it was just one game and too early to think that we have turned the corner. Especially as it was the worst Arsenal side to appear at Anfield in a long time.
In the aftermath of the 2-2 draw manager Brendan Rodgers claimed that Liverpool dominated Arsenal more this time than in last season´s 5-1 win. I agree. And the main reason was the lame effort from the visitors. Okay, perhaps Liverpool made them bad but we must remember that we met a far from full strength Arsenal. They missed attacking players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil and their best defender Laurent Koscielny. The only player we really missed was Daniel Sturridge.
The statistics tells the story. We had 27 attempts at goal, Arsenal 7. On goal it was 10-3 to us. Posession-wise we dominated having the ball 64 percent of the time. Arsenal´s figure of 36 percent is their lowest in any Premier League match since 2003.
It shows we had a good game and Arsenal an extremely bad one. So for Liverpool to just get a point out of this massive dominance is not good and has nothing to with bad luck, just shows the flaws we´ve got. Rodgers and his players claimed that Liverpool deserved more than one point. Well, they are wrong. You only deserve the goals you score, not the ones you should have scored. And the opponents deserve the goals they score. Football is about scoring and not conceding, not about possession and having a lot of attempts. Often enough you get a better result if you create a lot and dominate the ball but that doesn´t mean that you deserve points or goals because of that.
But the performance yesterday was very good and the football entertaining. Liverpool was aggressive and won the ball constantly. We passed the ball around with accuracy and speed. The Reds ran a lot, moved, had ideas, worked hard and put in a shift worthy of a Kop team. And the most encouraging sign was the never-say-die-attitude that earned us a point in the 97th minute.
Sadly our shortcomings was still there. Our defending can be steady and assured and suddenly transform into a bag of nerves and inexplicable mistakes. And almost every time a goal is conceded. No exception versus Arsenal. In attack we have trouble making the final pass count. We also makes the wrong decisions too often when around the penalty area. Liverpool players dribble when a pass is on and try to pass when a shot had been the better option. And so on. And yesterday when the Reds for once created some gilt-edged chances they were squandered due to poor finishing.
Within Liverpool ranks the performance against Arsenal was regarded as proof that a battle for top four is on. They meant that more of the same and the wins will come. Well, not from where I am standing.
In fact, more of the same and the best we can hope for is draws. Why? I´ll explain.
The manager and players thinks that possession and creating chances is the way to results. The two things Liverpool was good at yesterday. Did that give us a win? Nope.
The recipe is instead to score goals and shut up shop. It doens´t matter how much of the ball you have, how many chances you create if you can´t defend properly and be lethal when opportunities comes around.
The game yesterday is a proof of that. We needed 27 attempts to score two goals, Arsenal only needed seven attempts for the same feat. Despite 64 percent of the ball we could not win. Arsenal just needed 36 percent to manage a draw. So it´s time to forget about being good at keeping the ball and creating chances. What Liverpool must improve on is finishing and defending.
Both Arsenal goals yesterday was horrendous mistakes. How can Martin Skrtel let full-back Mathieu Debuchy get the better of him, beat him in the air and nod home? Skrtel just have to body-check a little and the header misses target or won´t even happen. But he was ball-watching all the way and the silly goal was a fact. And why was goal-keeper Brad Jones rooted to the line?
The second goal was also a avoidable but became reality because of lazy defending. When Olivier Giroud found the net four Liverpool players, Mamadou Sakho, Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure were standing five yards away from him marking nobody. Why didn´t two of them close down Giroud and the other two intercept the pass? Instead it was another case of ball-watching and slow reactions.
We were no better in the business of putting the ball in the net. Do Liverpool players know how to shoot? I doubt it. Why would otherwise Lazar Markovic in a perfect position shoot high over the bar? Well, because he leaned backwards and sidefooted the ball. The law of physics then made sure the ball hit row Z. Had he done what most footballers learn when they are seven or eight years old, namely leaned over the ball and volleyed it, then it would have been 2-0 to Liverpool and a another match altogether. The same goes for Philippe Coutinho, he had two golden opportunities right in front of goal and tried to sidefoot the ball on both occasions and mishit it completely. Two shots on the volley would have at least meant one goal. Lucas Leiva did the same with his two shots, using the wrong technique and chances went begging.
I have seen Liverpool players use the same senseless way to shoot on a number of occasions this season and before. Why can´t professional footballers learn how to shoot? And when making the sidefoot/leaning backwards mistake why don´t they learn from their error and try something different next time around. I am sick and tired of being forced to look at this amateurish way of hitting the ball. The players shouldn´t be paid until they put in the hours and learn how to shoot. It´s so incredibly lazy that they don´t.
So, if Liverpool do the same against Burnley on Boxing Day as against Arsenal yesterday then we have to witness another 2-2 draw. Burnley will surely manage a few decent attacks and also get some set-pieces and if Liverpool defend as we have for a long time then two more goals will be conceded. And if we finish as badly as in recent times then we will not score more than twice.
At least we are now playing better football than in the first months of the season. But if Liverpool thinks everything will solve itself because of that then they´ll soon get an unpleasant wake-up call.
Here are my ratings for the Reds who participated in the 17th league match of the season (on a scale from 1 to 10):
GK Brad Jones 4.
Hadn´t so much to do but was at fault to some extent for the first goal.
RB Kolo Toure 5.
Did his job without fuss and had not many problems in defence but was not involved in forward play.
CB Martin Skrtel 4.
Was too weak and unaware when Arsenal scored their two goals. Made some amends with his brave effort after the injury and his point-saving goal.
LB Mamadou Sakho 4.
No major errors but as always he seems an accident waiting to happen.
DM Steven Gerrard 6.
Was involved in the attacking play a lot but didn´t fulfil his defensive duties.
DM Lucas Leiva 4.
Worked hard, tackled well but could have done better when he got a couple of goal-chances.
RM Jordan Henderson 3.
Isn´t a good wide player. Didn´t beat his man or got any crosses in. Ineffective.
AM Adam Lallana 5.
Started well and created and combined well with his teammates. Disappeared too much.
AM Philippe Coutinho 6.
Scored and passed a lot better than in recent times. Could release the ball quicker sometimes. Missed two great chances.
LM Lazar Markovic 6.
Is getting better by the match. Used his speed and tricks well and is growing in self-confidence.
CF Raheem Sterling 6.
Was not so involved as a striker but got more dangerous when deployed out wide. Produced several fine crosses.
CF Fabio Borini 3. (Replaced Lazar Markovic after 74 mins).
Charged to the limit. Had a couple of attempts on goal and two yellow cards.
CF Rickie Lambert 1. (Replaced Kolo Toure after 81 mins).
Didn´t get into the match.
If Liverpool produces the same brand of football for the rest of the season I´ll be satisfied. I have (almost) given up hope about top four so to be presented with entertaining and creative football is good enough in wait for next season when:
We Go Again.