The opening weekend of the new Premier League season belonged to goalkeepers. Yesterday, speculation surrounded the respective futures of Shay Given and Mark Schwarzer as Joe Hart produced an inspired performance at White Hart Lane. Sunday afternoon’s match at Anfield saw both Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia and Liverpool’s Reina at fault as the two clubs shared the spoils.
ArsÃƒÂ¨ne Wenger travelled to Anfield after opting to select an adventurous team. With Cesc FÃƒÂ¡bregas unavailable for selection with a chest infection, Samir Nasri was given the vital role behind new recruit Marouane Chamakh.
The visitors dominated the possession stakes but lacked penetration. Liverpool were content to afford Arsenal time on the ball with Roy Hodgson’s men looking dangerous on the counter-attack. Steven Gerrard continually searched for the early runs of N’Gog, but the 21-year-old continued to stray marginally offside.
Liverpool’s newly ordained number ten, Joe Cole, failed to flourish in his creative role. Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere were able to limit the former Chelsea man’s influence and his Anfield Premier League debut took a dark turn after he was shown a straight red card a reckless lunge on new Arsenal centre-back Laurent Koscielny just seconds before the break.
Hodgson defended his new recruit after the match, but admitted the speed of the incident made for a difficult decision for referee Martin Atkinson.
“There was certainly no intention from Joe Cole to foul the player, that’s out of the question,” said Hodgson. “He’s throwing himself to try to block the ball. In real time it would have been very difficult for me to have a clear opinion of it.
“Obviously those challenges where players throw themselves and unfortunately there’s a collision, the referee often sees it as worse than it is.”
Arsenal failed to seize the initiative despite the luxury of the extra man. As the second period commenced sloppy play in their own half afforded want-a-way Argentine Javier Mascherano the opportunity to steal possession and slot N’Gog through on goal. From a seemingly impossible angle the former PSG striker unleashed a rocket past Almunia’s near post.
It was a stunning strike from Fernando Torres’ understudy but inevitable questions will once again be directed at Almunia, who failed to defend his near side.
Following the goal, Liverpool displayed admirable character as they frustrated the superior Arsenal team. Indeed, despite the man advantage and overwhelming dominance in the second half, it took 41 minutes for Tomas Rosicky to conjure up an opening.
The Czech midfielder dribbled through a host of tired Liverpool players but was denied by a superb save from Reina.
With the match approaching the 90-minute mark and Arsenal devoid of ideas, it appeared the raucous Anfield crowd would once again propel Liverpool to another narrow victory.
However, it was not to be. Much has been made of Chamakh’s aerial ability and Gunners fans gained a glimpse of his impact as he caused the disarray amongst the Liverpool rearguard which led to the equaliser.
Rosicky’s floated cross deceived Reina and deflected onto Chamakh’s chest. The ball rebounded off the post before bouncing back off the recovering Reina and into the net. It was an innocuous leveller but nevertheless it was deserved on the balance of play.
Koscielny then became the second debutant to be dismissed after he was shown a second yellow card for a handball deep into stoppage time.
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