Resilient Reds Rescue Deserved Draw

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
Sunday, 17th April 2011

Liverpool gave a demonstration in the value of team spirit and a strong work ethic at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon. A heavily depleted and youthful Liverpool side held their own against title-chasing Arsenal, before ultimately earning a thoroughly deserved draw in the dying moments.

Ignore the potential implications of a superbly taken Dirk Kuyt equaliser from the penalty spot in the twelfth minute of injury time! This result may prove decisive in relation to the destination of this season’s league title. But Liverpool must focus on the positives of a resilient performance from their own perspective, rather than preoccupying themselves with issues out of their control.

This was a performance borne out of sheer team spirit and resilience. With an inadequate squad already deprived of a number of senior players, Liverpool’s resources were made to look even more threadbare – once Dalglish had been forced to withdraw Fabio Aurelio, Jamie Carragher and Andy Carroll.

There will be an anxious wait over news of the extent of injuries to both Aurelio and Carroll. Although Carragher should be okay despite a nasty collision with young full-back John Flanagan, which left the stand-in captain out cold.

In the meantime, the Reds had to make do without arguably their five first choice defenders. Yet, the manner in which a makeshift Liverpool rearguard coped with the threat of Van Persie, Nasri, Walcott et al will have particularly satisfied their caretaker manager.

This was an especially good weekend for the Reds youth system. Following the under-18’s 6-0 demolition of Man United on Saturday, two full-backs who are both still eligible to play for the youth side turned out mature and assured performances for the first team. In fact, Liverpool’s full-backs had a combined age younger than that of Gunners sub Jens Lehmann.

Jack Robinson was particularly impressive. The 17-year-old – making just his second first team appearance – would not have expected to enter the field as early as the 21st minute, following injury to Aurelio. But Robinson took to the situation admirably and successfully neutered the pace of Walcott down the Arsenal right.

Flanagan followed up his fine display against Man city with another solid, mature performance. Whilst the, still relatively youthful, midfield pairing of Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva produced another display full of energy and endeavour. Both were candidates for man-of-the-match – despite Spearing’s late penalty concession.

Add two or three genuinely top class players to this Liverpool squad. With the promising youth getting a chance and the team spirit demonstrated on occasions such as this. The Reds can realistically be a force to be reckoned with next season. As Alex Ferguson was even willing to concede in the past week.

The first half was ‘backs-to-the-wall’ stuff for the Reds. With the onus clearly on Arsenal to attack as they sought three valuable points in their pursuit of leaders Man United, Liverpool dug-in. The defending was dogged, although the visitors rarely looked like testing Wojech Szczesny at the opposite end.

It could have been a different story had Abou Diaby’s header drifted the other side of the Pepe Reina’s left-handpost from Samir Nasri’s delivery in the fourth minute. Or had Laurent Koscielny been luckier with a header which came back off the bar having out-jumped Reina.

In fact, despite dominating large swathes of possession, the host’s main attacking threat surprisingly came from set-pieces. A resolute and tireless Liverpool performance largely kept the opposition at arms length from open play.

Martin Skrtel had to be alert to block Emmanuel Eboue’s effort towards the end of the half. But the visitors reached half-time on level terms. And could even have been in a better position – had Eboue not escaped conceding a penalty for a clumsy challenge on Spearing.

Liverpool had to relieve some of the pressure on their backline though – even more so, once Carragher left the field on a stretcher in the early stages of the second period. And, to their credit, Dalglish’s men were able to show a more expansive side in the second half.

Luis Suraez had to endure a largely frustrating afternoon, defunct of service, but he did almost punish the Gunners lack of cutting-edge in the final third. Suarez picked up possession, ran at a back-tracking Arsenal defence and sent a shot just wide.

Van Persie fired over and Suarez forced Szczesny into a save. But Liverpool appeared to be headed for a well-earned point and a rare draw with the game entering injury time.

Eight minutes additional timewere added by referee Andre Marriner, as a result of Carragher’s earlier treatment. And in the eighth of those minutes the hosts thought they had salvaged a vital, if unlikely, win.

Spearing had been excellent throughout but his tired challenge on Cesc Fabregas gave the Spaniard the opportunity to go to ground which he was looking for. Marriner had no option but to award the penalty and Van Persie made no mistake.

The goal deflated all those of a Liverpool persuasion inside the Emirates – all that is except the Liverpool players. With additional time permitted by the referee due to Van Persie’s lengthy celebration, the Reds went in search of a last gasp leveller.

Lucas’s endeavour was awarded with a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area and provided Suarez with seemingly the last chance of the game. But the Uruguayan’s free-kick was deflected into the path of Lucas. With the Brazilian heading away from goal, Eboue inexplicably bundled him over. Marriner had little option but to point to the spot again.

Under pressure, Kuyt expertly converted his penalty into the corner of Szczesny’s net. Maintaining his one hundred percent record from the spot in a Liverpool shirt and in the process granting Liverpool’s young warriors a draw – which was no more than their performance deserved.

Man of the Match
An enthusiastic, energetic performance alongside Spearing (who could just as easily have received the accolade). Set the tone for this performance and should great endeavour to win both the free-kick and penalty which lead to the equaliser.

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