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Liverpool and Arsenal draw, Is this the same old Arsenal?

Week 1: Barclays Premier League and Arsenal vs Liverpool!

The 2010-2011 Barclays English Premier League is off and running with newcomers Blackpool stealing the show on the opening Saturday of the season with a stunning 4-0 win away to Wigan Athletic. On the same day champions Chelsea rubbed off a poor pre-season by hammering new boys West Bromwich Albion 6-0 at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a Didier Drogba hat-trick.

Yet all eyes were on Sunday as a new era was ushered at Anfield under bright Merseyside sunshine. Liverpool, under new manager Roy Hodgson, welcomed a somewhat new look Arsenal to the North West in a mouth-watering opening day fixture.

Andrey Arshavin did not do much in the match inspite of his stunning record against Liverpool

Andrey Arshavin did not do much in the match inspite of his stunning record against Liverpool

May 2005, was the last time the Gunners won any kind of silverware and hopes are high that this will be the season that the North London side tastes success for the first time since moving to the Emirates Stadium from Highbury yet Sunday’s lacklustre 1-1 draw with the 10-man Liverpool makes one wonder whether this is the same old Arsenal for a brand new season. Lots of points need to be discussed to assess the chances of success at Ashburton Grove.

To be fair to both the sides, this fixture has come a bit too early for everybody concerned, yet fixtures are always matters of lottery and fate has brought two of England’s most illustrious clubs head to head on the very first Super Sunday of the 2010-2011 Premier League.

Looking at the match there are basically two versions on how Arsenal, as a team, faired on a tough trip to Anfield! Firstly, a 1-1 draw against one of your close title rivals, away from home on the opening day, is a job well done. Understandable! There goes one point of view.

Setting aside the result, if one looks at the overall performance of the team from N5, a lot is desired from the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Theo Walcott and ofcourse the new signings Marouane Chamakh and Laurent Koscielny. Arsenal dominated play for the whole of the first half without really bothering Pepe Reina’s goal apart from a thunderbolt free-kick from Thomas Vermaelen in the fourth minute that the Spaniard punched clear. The Gunners passed a lot but as usual never had the killer final ball to undermine a well-drilled Reds defence led by the brilliant Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher.

Andrei Arshavin boasts of an Anfield record envied by many a forward that pay a visit to this hallowed ground. The Russian, before this match, had five goals to his name in two games (including the stunning winner that he scored last season) but for some reason the former Zenith St. Petersburg star was heavily subdued on the day and the Arsenal fans expected much more from the skillful Arshavin. Maybe the pressure of the fixture on an opening day got to the Russian sorcerer.

Samir Nasri too looked out of sorts

Samir Nasri too looked out of sorts

Samir Nasri had a good game but his free-kicks were horrible. Arsenal must be given the credit for taking the game to Liverpool right from the first minute and it has to be said that not many teams come to the red half of Merseyside and enjoy so much possession and attacking verve like Arsenal did in the first half. Yet Arsenal’s final ball was poor. The amount of close range free-kicks missed by the Frenchman Nasri cannot go unnoticed in the experienced eyes of Arsene Wenger. The Gunners could have easily been punished by such an irresponsible waste of crucial set pieces when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s vicious free-kick was saved by Manuel Almunia on injury time when the scores were leveled at 1-1.

Talking about goalkeeping, Manuel Almunia was selected ahead of Lukasz Fabianski and was given the captain’s armband for the match due to talisman Cesc Fabregas’ absence from the trip but is he the man to be trusted for the whole season? The Spanish goalkeeper with a British passport might have pulled off some good saves on Sunday afternoon but a lot is desired from a club’s no. 1 goalkeeper.

Almunia again looked a bit vulnerable from corners and his punching of balls from set pieces sometimes looked ugly and his defenders felt the pressure somewhat. Arsene Wenger must address the situation on his goalkeepers. If the wily old Frenchman trusts his current No. 1 for the whole season ahead, one has to feel that this would be a mistake. Arsenal just need to buy a world class keeper, a centre half and may be another creative player although there are lots of them in the club’s reserve.

What was annoying as an Arsenal fan was the way the Gunners handed the initiative to the home side right after the break having a man advantage when debutant Joe Cole got himself sent off just before half-time after a horrendous lunge on fellow debutant Laurent Koscielny. The Liverpool goal was a combination of Arsenal’s too much passing in dangerous areas, complacency having a man up on the opponents, 18-year old Jack Wilshere’s inexperience and Manuel Almunia’s lack of anticipation to a David Ngog rifle shot at the near post. Great goalkeepers rarely get beaten on their near post giving due respect to Ngog’s stunning strike.

Maroune Chamakh did well by putting pressure on Liverpool's Pepe Reina

Maroune Chamakh did well by putting pressure on Liverpool's Pepe Reina

Honestly, having a man down never made the home side retreat from the Arsenal pressure. Infact the Reds mocked the situation by launching wave after wave of attacks after going in front. For once it looked Liverpool were the team playing with twelve men, with the Anfield crowd behind them, against Arsenal’s eleven. This proves Cesc Fabregas’ importance to the Emirates faithful as the North London side lacked the brain of the Barcelona-target Spaniard in the midfield and both Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin were well monitored by the Reds defenders.

Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Robin Van Persie were all thrown into the match in the second half but apart from two quality Pepe Reina saves, Arsenal remained toothless despite having a man advantage. On one occasion, the home side had to play with nine men given Daniel Agger’s mysterious injury and the Danish international had to go off for a few minutes with Liverpool denied of further substitutions having completed the quota of three earlier.

Yet Arsenal never really threatened the home side and ultimately it was a mistake from trusted Reina that handed the Gunners a somewhat unexpected point right on ninety minutes. Moroccan Chamakh has to be credited for the goal by putting pressure on the Spanish number two keeper from a left wing cross and after the ball had ricocheted off the post, Pepe Reina put the ball into his own net unable to catch it.

Maybe lady luck is with Arsenal and this could be the season to cheer yet there are lots of things to ponder upon if the Emirates stadium is to witness a major silverware come May.

One thing’s for sure Liverpool grabbed their goal and, quite understandably, defended it very well. Arsenal’s job was to find a way through. Eventually they did, certainly not in confident terms but nonetheless a vital equaliser.

The fight the two teams  showed this afternoon bodes well for the rest of the campaign.

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