A cold windy day in Kirkby had a big effect on this game with Arsenal kicking into the wind and struggling in the first half and Liverpool struggling with the conditions in the second.
In the opening minutes Liverpool were completely in control and looked as though they were set to take advantage after Raheem Sterling’s brilliant trickery saw him ghost past a host of Arsenal defenders only to see his shot saved by Arsenal’s highly rated Argentine ‘keeper Damián Martínez.
A couple of minutes later and the ball is deflected up into the air, Sterling with his back to goal uses his body to hold off Gavin Hoyte; what came next was a truly remarkable piece of skill. Sterling brings the ball beautifully under control and turns in one smooth movement whilst accelerating like a F1 car towards 15-yeards out, this beautiful movement made space for him and he looked up, picked his spot, composed himself and hammered it past the goalkeeper. Brilliant goal to give Liverpool the lead on 5 minutes.
Ten more minutes pass with Liverpool still very much in control, looking comfortable… for some maybe too comfortable. Andre Wisdom played a loose pass across his goal around 25-yards out which was intercepted by the pacey, powerful Benik Afobe who was not about to be caught. Afobe was desperately unlucky as he cannoned his effort past the helpless Brad Jones, straight against the post.
Wisdom didn’t take the hint, in the very next phase of play the LFC skipper was caught in possession on the edge of his box by the busy RW Zak Ansah. Wisdom, not one to let both the man and the ball past kicked the Arsenal No7 up in the air. The Dutch born, Turkish U21 international O?uzhan Özyakup whipped in the resulting free kick, which Andre Wisdom defended well- climbing above Abou Diaby to concede a corner that led to nothing.
On the half hour mark Arsenal finally started to show what many of us had expected from them; crisp, clean passing and build-up in the middle third.
They were however struggling to continue this improvement in the final third; mostly due to an imperious display by Liverpool’s 6ft 2” CB Stephen Sama. Rodolfo Borrell must have lit a fire up under the German’s backside after his less than convincing display last time out against Ajax.
The physical presence of Benik Afobe was providing the biggest threat to the Liverpool back-line and on 36 minutes he had a good effort well saved by Jones after a driving run through the heart of the reds by Diaby.
Almost directly after that however, Nathan Eccleston showed great determination to win the ball back high up the pitch, he then played in Sterling who duly finished. Queue: astonished faces as the young reds realised the linesman has his flag up against the Jamaican born winger.
Then on 42 minutes the referee dealt Liverpool a softer hand when Suso went into a tackle well over the ball, ending with his studs planted firmly into LB Jernade Meade’s shin. The fact he stayed on his feet may have been what persuaded the ref only to reach for a yellow. Suso lucky not to walk, Meade lucky just to walk.
Half-time was upon us and Liverpool looked good for their 1-0 lead.
Arsenal came out from halftime with renewed vigour and indeed, just 4 minutes after the kick-off had drawn level. The ball was passed into the feet of Benik Afobe who was strong enough to hold the ball up and lay in out wide left to the increasingly impressive O?uzhan Özyakup who in turn found the untracked dash of Abou Diaby. Diaby used only one touch to lob the ball over the helpless Brad Jones. Liverpool 1 – 1 Arsenal.
There was an increasing feeling that the team who could win that game didn’t have a Liver bird upon their chest. However, Liverpool trenched in, donned the hard hats and weathered the Gunners bombardment until the 60 minute mark, when it was decided that Abou Diaby had contributed enough on his return from injury. Whilst the oncoming substitute, tricky winger Kyle Ebecilio, looked a good player Arsenal had subbed their driving force and subsequently lost momentum.
As this half wore on it was clear that Liverpool’s NextGen exploits had taken their toll on the side and they just didn’t have enough in the tank to take advantage of Arsenal’s lack of impetus. The game rather fizzled out from 70 minutes onward.
One a piece it finished; a result we can take a lot of pride from. Not so much from the quality of the football on the field but the mentality of the young squad to bounce back from a result that would have crushed lesser players. Instead they competed with and in spells (namely the majority of the first-half) dominated a very strong Arsenal side.
Liverpool reserves: Jones, McLaughlin, Mendy, Sama, Wisdom, Coady, Suso, Roberts, Eccleston, Adorjan, Sterling. Unused subs: McGiveron, Ward, Roddan, Morgan, Ngoo.
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