Monday, August 16, 2010

Liverpool 1 - 1 Arsenal






Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal
David Ngog celebrates his powerful strike

Updated: August 15, 2010, 7:22 AM GMT
Jose Reina's late howler enabled Arsenal to snatch a draw from a thrilling Premier League opener at 10-man Liverpool.

The Liverpool goalkeeper saw the ball rebound off him after Marouane Chamakh had hit the post in the final minute at Anfield to cancel out a David Ngog strike.

The goal was reward for a late spell of Arsenal pressure but it was unfortunate for Liverpool, who had survived most of the second half unscathed after the sending off of Joe Cole.

The big-name summer signing from Chelsea was dismissed on his league debut for a reckless challenge on Arsenal debutant Laurent Koscielny.

Koscielny himself also received a red card, but not until moments before the final whistle when he earned a second booking for handball.

The equaliser denied Liverpool what would have been only their fourth victory over the Gunners in their last 19 league meetings. It remains to be seen how much the new wave of optimism which has swept into the club since Roy Hodgson was appointed as manager has been punctured.

One of the reasons for the upbeat mood had been Cole's arrival but while the midfielder's first league start was one to forget, Hodgson did coax a solid showing from wantaway Javier Mascherano.

Fernando Torres was left in reserve, and later entered to a huge ovation after pledging his future to the club and recovering from a groin injury, but Arsenal missed two of their bigger stars more.

Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie were both said to be lacking match-fitness and while the former was absent altogether, the Dutchman made only a late appearance.

Thomas Vermaelen tested Jose Reina early on with a fierce free-kick but aside from that, the first half was almost devoid of action until exploding into life in the closing moments.

Dirk Kuyt created Liverpool's first opportunity when he turned in the box but Manuel Almunia easily gathered his cross. New signing Milan Jovanovic cut through the Arsenal midfield with a determined run but Kuyt's final ball again found Almunia.

Arsenal's Samir Nasri had another long-range free-kick blocked and Vermaelen put the rebound wide. Gael Clichy had Arsenal's first serious chance from open play when he broke clear down the left after 30 minutes and fired a shot narrowly over from outside the box.

Liverpool thought an opportunity was opening up soon after when Almunia failed to claim a corner but referee Martin Atkinson spotted a foul by Daniel Agger on Vermaelen.

The action on the field was tight with neither side giving much away but Arsenal were almost caught when Jovanovic raced onto a long ball. With Cole walking back from an offside position, the Arsenal defence let the ball bounce and the Serbia international darted into the box, only to blast wide.

The game suddenly came alive in the closing minute of the first half. First Glen Johnson had a shot tipped over by Almunia and Ngog then had a header cleared off the line from the resulting corner.

The complexion of the game then changed completely in injury time as Cole was sent off for his lunge at Koscielny. The defender returned to the dressing room on a stretcher at the interval but ran out to start the second period as normal.

He was greeted by boos from Liverpool fans but replays of the tackle suggested that, although the initial decision may have seemed harsh, the law had been applied correctly.

Liverpool seemed determined not to let their numerical disadvantage bother them and made a blistering start to the second half.

They claimed the lead within two minutes of the restart as Mascherano threaded a ball into the box for Ngog and the Frenchman fired home at the near post. It was his fourth goal of the season after three in Liverpool's first Europa League qualifying tie.

Not content with that, the Reds pushed forward again and Martin Skrtel headed wide from a dangerous Steven Gerrard free-kick. Ngog had an even better chance when he leapt to reach another Gerrard set-piece but could not direct his header on target.

Kuyt created another fine chance after skipping past Clichy on the right but no-one could turn in his ball across goal. Liverpool were reduced to nine men when Agger left the field for treatment after all three substitutes had been used.

Arsenal stepped up the tempo and Tomas Rosicky showed great control with a slaloming run into the area before seeing his shot brilliantly touched over by Reina.

The pressure eventually told in the last minute as Reina and Chamakh collided after Rosicky's cross. The ball spilled loose and hit the post, but in his rush to claw the ball back Reina could only help it over the line.

Gerrard almost snatched victory as the game went into five minutes of injury time but Almunia kept out his free-kick. The game ended on more controversy as Koscielny picked up a second booking for handball, though the decision seemed harsh.

# Hodgson: Cole left ''devastated''

Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson said Joe Cole was upset after he was sent off on his league debut for the Reds.

Hodgson said: ''He is devastated - his debut at Liverpool, fantastic atmosphere, so desperate to do well. He was not playing at the top of his game, but was trying hard to get to that level, when suddenly he gets sent off. He was saddened by it all and not least because it put us in a difficult situation.''

Arsene Wenger said: ''It was completely in the corner and I was on the bench, so I couldn't see it. But Joe Cole is usually a fair player, he is not one I would record is a guy who tries to hurt people. It is not his style. Maybe he was a bit rushing in his tackle.

''He kicked him - certainly accidentally - well because he [Koscielny] had a big knock on his shin. Fortunately his shinpad protected him well. We were scared it was broken because when he was moved off the pitch the physio told me it could be broken.''

Hodgson added on the Cole incident: ''Of course we now have the benefit of replays on the TV and those replays suggest to me he was a little bit unlucky. I don't think he dived to tackle the player, he dived in front of the ball to try to stop it being played down the line.

''The player got his legs caught up with him and maybe slightly twisted his knee. I was pleased to see there was no serious damage as he was able to play the second half.

''I thought it was a fantastic effort but points are hard to come by in this league, so when you get so close you can't avoid that feeling of disappointment. Maybe that second-half performance deserved all three and not just one, but if someone had said at half-time you'll defend well and get a 0-0 or 1-1 I would probably have accepted that.

''But to lose it so close to the end to a rather scrappy goal was tough on us. He [Reina] took it hard because he is a very serious professional who really believes in himself and the team. There were an enormous number of positives but the unfortunate negative was that he let in a goal which under normal circumstances he would have kept out.''

Javier Mascherano put in a superb display despite wanting to leave the club, and Hodgson said of the Argentine: ''It doesn't surprise me. I have had two weeks working with him and he is an outstanding player. He is a top-quality player, one of the best at his job in the world and he showed that once again today.

''Let's be frank, he is playing at Liverpool, which is a good club. How many clubs can he move to which will be better or even at the same level? We are not looking at clubs for Javier Mascherano that go into the tens - we are looking at clubs in the single figures.

''As yet we have not received any offers. The fact is we want to keep him here and we will keep him here unless an offer comes in that is correct, ie commensurate with his value and one we feel would be wrong for us to turn down because we have said if that offer comes in we will accept it. At the moment it is not there, not on the horizon.''

Wenger, whose side were without Cesc Fabregas due to sickness, felt his team deserved their point. He said: ''They took the fluency, intelligently, out of the game. We just kept going and threw more and more people forward and in the end got, I believe, a deserved equaliser.

''I couldn't see us losing a game like that without being deeply hurt. We had a lot of possession and I agree we lacked a bit of spark in the final third, in combinations, in speed but overall we have shown the right attitude.''





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