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Liverpool raise their game but Arsenal still can’t find the net

Published: August 27, 2012 | 8:25 am
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Liverpool close to victory over Manchester City before Martin Skrtel gifts champions second equaliser

MARTIN SKRTEL played the role of hero and villain for Liverpool as the Reds were held 2-2 at home to reigning champions Manchester City on Sunday.

Skrtel gave his side the lead on 23 minutes with a well-directed header past Joe Hart. Yaya Toure levelled for City midway through the second half but three minutes later Luis Suarez re-established the Liverpool lead with a razor sharp free-kick.

Then, with the home side dominating possession and looking good for three points, Skrtel gifted the Sky Blues a second equaliser ten minutes from the end. His wayward backpass to Pepe Reina was easily intercepted by Carlos Tevez, who coolly rounded the Liverpool keeper and slotted the ball into the empty net for his 100th goal in English football.

Saturday match report: How Chelsea went top of the table
It was tough on Liverpool, who were vastly improved from the shambles that went down 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion last week. “I thought the best team didn’t win. I thought we were outstanding against a top side,” said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. “The fight and the quality we played with today – and the atmosphere – was incredible… We’re disappointed not to win the game but there were a lot of young players giving us great hope for the future.”

Liverpool fielded their youngest starting XI for nine years with an average age of just 24, and the baby of the team was 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, the Jamaican-born England U19 winger. The teenager showed impressive composure and Rodgers singled Sterling out for praise afterwards, saying: “For a 17-year-old, playing against the champions, I thought his performance was fantastic.”

As for Skrtel, Rodgers apportioned no blame on the big Slovakian, saying simply: “It’s all part of our learning… He’s a strong character, and he’s disappointed now but all his team-mates and the staff rallied around him.”

The result didn’t sit well with City boss Roberto Mancini, who last week saw his side claw back a 2-1 deficit against Southampton to win 3-2. This time there were no such heroics and the Italian is becoming irritated with his team’s defensive frailties: “This is the time to finish conceding two goals every game,” he fumed. “We need to work… we need to improve.”

If there were goals aplenty at Anfield, the entertainment on offer at the Britannia Stadium was fleeting at best as for the second consecutive week Arsenal were held to a scoreless draw. Stoke, doing what Sunderland had done to the Gunners last week, created few chances of their own but also denied their visitors scant opportunity to shoot for goal.

The result will raise more questions about Arsenal’s attacking edge in the light of Robin van Persie’s departure to Manchester United, although it’s worth noting that the Gunners also failed to score in their opening two matches last season even with the Dutchman in their side. The difference between then and now is that having drawn 0-0 with Newcastle on the opening match of the 2011-12 campaign, the Gunners lost 2-0 to Liverpool in their second outing.

The Arsenal defence is the most encouraging aspect to the Gunners’ new season, the influence of new assistant coach Steve Bould clear to see in the greater organisation and solidity of the back four.

Nonetheless the club needs goals, as manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged. “Offensively we still have some work to do because we are missing a bit of accuracy in the final third — in our movement and in our passing,” conceded the Frenchman, who then asked Arsenal fans to be patient as new signings Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla find their feet in the Premier League. “They don’t have an understanding yet… One month ago they didn’t know each other. That will come. We have some work to do on the training ground.”

Last season, Arsenal’s third Premier League outing ended in the now infamous 8-2 humiliation at the hands of Manchester United at Old Trafford; next Sunday they face the less daunting prospect of a trip to Anfield. But should the Gunners lose, Arsene Wenger will inevitably have his methods called into question once more.

theweek

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