This was, without doubt our worst performance of the season. A proud record at Anfield, a place we hadn’t lost in the league since Peter Crouch scored a hat trick way back in 2007, was not just broken, it was smashed. I spoke of this fixture being the first of many difficult fixtures around this time of the season, and it is the worst possible start. It is difficult to know where to start, there is plenty to talk about:
1. We were asleep
Really, that’s what it was in a nutshell. Two early goals off set pieces, granted the first one was offside, but the marking was terrible. You cannot afford give a player of Skertel’s quality space on the ball like that. To do that in the opening minute is sloppy, but to do it again with barely 10 minutes on the clock is criminal. Then there’s the two sloppy mistakes of our £42.5mil supposed midfield maestro which led to the third and fourth goals. You cannot allow a team with the quality of Liverpool those sorts of chances. We have been sloppy in other games this year as well, but managed to get away with draws against the likes of Everton and Southampton to name a couple. To do this against Suarez and Co, you are asking for trouble. We were asleep, but on the other hand Liverpool were high on caffeine. They showed so much more sharpness than us, so much energy, pressing us hard in midfield and forcing the mistakes. Our lack of sharpness ensured that this was a recipe for disaster. They were much better than us and it really boils down to that. Without taking credit away from their scintilalting performance, we just didn’t turn up, but they turned up, were pumped, and then some. It is simply not good enough. The most worrying thing is a similar thing happened against City, and while that performance wasn’t excusable, there were plenty of reasons why we may have not been at the level we should like the Napoli game in midweek and not having help from the officials. This time, there was none of that. That alone makes it the worst performance of the season and raises serious questions.
2. The midfield was hopeless
I’ve already mentioned that a certain Mesut Ozil was abject, but it would be unfair just to single him out because of his price tag. They were ALL terrible, each and every one. It was worrying to see them get the basics wrong. Liverpool came out with a great plan to press us hard, which has worked well against us all season. The way to counter this is to have sharpness in midfield, both on and off the ball. When Ozil was getting owned for those two goals, where was the support? It isn’t always about making forward runs, rather, when the opponent is pressing, to be that outlet for your team mate that is in trouble being suffocated by the opposition. Liverpool scored 5 great goals but it could so easily have been more, for the simple reason, that the midfielders weren’t there for each other. They lacked the sharpness to counter the pressing Liverpool did. This was a recipe for disaster, as Liverpool stole the ball, and broke with our backline in no-mans land. Wenger has a great philosophy, he keeps possession in midfield and bosses that area and scores goals. It is great when it works, but when there’s a spanner in the works, there’s no plan B, and it can go horribly wrong. You lose the ball in critical areas against a guy like Suarez prepare to be punished. Passing needed to be quicker, and off the ball movement needed to be more decisive. It was lazy and static on so many levels, with multiple examples of this throughout the game. Like I said, Liverpool was on fire and could have scored more.
3. Wilshere needs to control his anger
Just a side note on Jack, this isn’t the first time he’s got into trouble. He did get sent off at Old Trafford last season I remember. That was another frustrating game where things weren’t going our way. He was behaving in a very similar fashion like at Anfield. There’s a fine line between showing a great passion, which he always does, and getting yourself in deep sh*t. It didn’t feel good watching him making rash challenges, it was as if he was going to get sent off any minute. This is a big weakness in his game, and I think the manager really needs to sort this out. Things aren’t always going to go our way, and if he gets himself sent off he makes a bad situation worse. I’m not picking on him, each of the midfield was bad like I say, I’m just saying there’s a level to passion, and he sometimes seems to cross that line.
4. We can easily come out of this stronger, but will we?
Now let’s forget the Liverpool game for a second and put things into perspective. We are only 1 point from top after that disaster. How is this so? I’ll tell you why. We’ve shown a level of mental strength and consistency this season which we haven’t seen for the best part of 10 years. After the opening day disaster against Villa, we won 10 games in a row. After the United loss we won three in a row and kept clean sheets (afterwhich our lead over United was actually bigger than before, despite our loss!). After Man City we won six and drew two, which included five clean sheets. This isn’t like recent seasons where when we lose form we take time to get back on song, rather, we are strong enough to bounce back immediately and it is for this reason that we are still so close to the top. For all the greatness Liverpool had yesterday, they would love the winning streaks and consistency we have had this season.
So will we continue this trend and bounce back from this setback? This is where we hit a paradox, our next game is against United. We have tended to struggle against big teams, but we also bounce back well after defeats to big teams. So it remains to be seen if the match against United is the start of a big winning streak, or if it is yet another poor performance against a big team. Both have happened this season, so I suppose anything can happen, but I believe we can bounce back against United, simple because we have to. We can’t play bad against United forever, and there comes a time where something has to give. It will be a true test of our mental resolve but I believe we can do it and put the Liverpool loss behind us.
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