Substitutes Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles made the difference for Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool kick-started their season with a first away win against Arsenal in 11 years.
This was hardly vintage fare, as both sides rather laboured for 70 minutes and genuine chances were at a premium. However, the introduction of Suarez and Meireles – combined with the dismissal of Arsenal youngster, Emmanual Frimpong – turned the game is Liverpool’s favour.
Perhaps due to concerns over the Uruguayan’s match fitness, Dalglish took the somewhat surprising decision to leave Suarez on the bench, having started the opening game of the season. Instead the Scot opted for Andy Carroll as a lone striker. With support coming in the form of the recalled, Dirk Kuyt, and Stewart Downing.
Pre-match this game had been billed as the ideal opportunity for the Reds to end their Emirates Stadium hoodoo. Arsenal being without suspended duo Gervinho and Alex Song, as well as a host of injuries. The Gunners having also recently parted company with former captain Cesc Fabregas. And manager Arsene Wenger’s well-tested methods coming under some intense scrutiny.
However, for the most part, Liverpool struggled as much as their hosts to fashion the opportunities to break the deadlock.
Suarez – and, it must be said, Meireles to an equal measure – eventually proved his worth once again. Yet there will be some concern regarding the Reds over-reliance on their lethal number 7. Despite the heavy financial investment which has taken place over the summer.
Liverpool moved the ball around well for the most part and appeared comfortable in possession. In fact, rarely can a Liverpool team have enjoyed such long periods of superiority in midfield against a Wenger midfield – albeit one which was depleted.
But the Reds too often lacked a genuine threat in and around the box, as the impressive Thomas Vermaelen quelled the threat of Andy Carroll impressively. Despite playing alongside a very much makeshift Arsenal defence. Liverpool face much more work if they are to get the most out of, the often one-dimensional, Carroll.
Arsenal, though, were similarly as impotent in the final third. And so developed a rather blunt affair, devoid of enough creativity. That was up until the introduction of Suarez midway through the second half. It was only when Suarez and Meireles arrived that Liverpool genuinely took the game to Wenger’s side.
The counter argument could be that Dalglish would still prefer to have players of the quality of Suarez and Meireles at his disposal than not. Whether he chooses to utilise them for the bench or from the start. And, in hindsight, Dalglish’s game plan reaped reward. Suarez used to great effect as an impact substitute and ultimately proved the match winner, whilst also benefiting from some valuable rest.
The Gunners took the surprise decision to include the, seemingly Manchester City-bound, Samir Nasri in their midfield. It may have seemed a puzzling decision to include a player who seems so intent on a move away from North London. However Nasri proved his worth and probably posed the home side’s main attacking threat.
Liverpool began the match in control. However Arsenal grew into the game as the half progressed. In spite of losing Laurent Koscielny to injury early on. Nasri picking up the ball in midfield driving at the away defence and sending a shot just wide of Pepe Reina’s right-hand post.
Earlier, Carroll had come close when he sprung to out-jump the Arsenal defence and force Wojciech Szczesny into an acrobatic save from Downing’s left wing cross. Whilst Jordan Henderson – who seemed more comfortable in a central role – also tested Szczesny with his head.
Frimpong and Robin van Persie also forced Reina into action – the second instance despite what seemed like a foul on Martin Kelly.
In honesty though, a game which had lacked in quality could easily have teetered in the favour of either side, but seemed a goalless draw seemed the most likely outcome. That was until the games obvious turning point, with 20 minutes remaining.
A draw away to Arsenal could hardly have been considered a negative result – particularly when Liverpool’s dreadful away record of the previous campaign is considered. Yet, there was a feeling that this would have been something of an opportunity missed had that been the end result. And, when the hosts were reduced 10-men, the Reds had to take advantage.
And take advantage they did. Frimpong may have had reason to feel hard-done-by after receiving a yellow card for some petulance when contesting the direction of a throw-in with Henderson in the early minutes. But the referee had little choice but to show a second card to the midfielder after he left his foot in on Lucas after 70 minutes.
Frimpong departed and Dalglish swiftly acted to introduce both Meireles and Suarez for Kuyt and Carroll. A change the manager was already preparing prior to the dismissal.
Liverpool took the game to the Gunners but it was the arrival of the technically gifted duo which proved decisive.
There was a large degree of good fortune about the opening goal on 78 minutes. An offside decision in the favour of Suarez was marginal. And, under pressure from the Uruguayan, rookie defender Ignasi Miquel’s attempted clearance struck Aaron Ramsey and looped over Szczesny.
But it was the presence and pressure applied by both Suarez and Meireles in the final third which counted. Such a goal is less likely to have been scored if Carroll was still on the pitch as a lone striker.
Meireles has come under some pressure for his first team place following the arrival of a trio of new midfielder’s to the club. Even suggestions that the Portuguese might be sold on earlier in the summer, despite some impress form last term.
But, on evidence such as this, Meireles will be an important player for Liverpool this season. And there is an argument that the dynamic, technically-minded Meireles would be a better option for the time-being to the likes of Adam and Henderson.
The influence of Suarez is, of course, without question. And the two substitutes combined to secure victory in the closing moments. With Arsenal stretched, Meireles got behind the home defence and played in a precise ball for Suarez to collect his second goal of the season with a simple finish.
Man of the Match
Another good showing from the Spaniard despite little training time with his new team mates. The left-back makes a difference both defensively and going forward. Money well spent.