Roy Hodgson’s Premier League debut as Liverpool manager has suitably prepared him for the rollercoaster ride that lies ahead.
During the 90 minutes that kick started the 2010-2011 season, Roy Hodgson endured each and every emotion that accompanies the role of Liverpool Manager. Roy’s opponent was Arsene Wenger, who has recently signed a new four-year deal and stated that he expects his young and spritely Arsenal to deliver a trophy after five seasons without.
A difficult opening fixture for both teams with the likely outcome being a stalemate to echo those first group games we witnessed in South Africa, with both teams looking to avoid defeat as oppose to searching for victory.
The customary high tempo start by the Reds at Anfield was not to be seen as the Londoners settled quickly, typically maintaining possession. Chances were few and far between with the majority of the play in the middle third. The closest either team came to scoring was young David N’Gog’s header in the final few minutes of a tentative first half. N’Gog’s effort was cleared off the line by French compatriot Gael Clichy.
However, the game took a dramatic twist seconds later as new signing Joe Cole, who was losing out in the battle with Samir Nasri for influencing the game from the attacking midfield role, lunged in to one of Arsenal’s new recruits, Laurent Koscielny. In the corner and in front of the travelling supporters, Cole’s attempted block of Koscielny’s clearance was greeted with great disapproval. Martin Atkinson took little time to issue debutant Cole with a career first red card. Due to the identity of the culprit, many would try to defend the challenge but while done with the best intentions, the execution, unfortunately for Kopites, left the referee with little choice at first glance. Hodgson’s team talk was now going to require a rethink.
Liverpool may have initially gone out looking for the win but the blow of losing Joe Cole meant their aspirations would have to be reconsidered, with a draw being an acceptable outcome.
So began the second half and what many expected to be 45 minutes of Arsenal passing the ball around the ten men of Liverpool and running them in to the ground. Liverpool would be forgiven for tiring in the second half after having more players at the World Cup than any other Premier League team, not to mention this being the opening weekend of the season, but their fitness was never brought in to question. Within one minute of the second half starting, David N’Gog was slipped through down the right of the area after recent England debutant Jack Wilshere had lost possession in his final third. N’Gog arrowed his shot into Manuele Almunia’s, Arsenal’s captain for the day, near top corner. The Spaniard who’s position has come under much speculation all summer would be disappointed to have been beaten at his near post, managing to barely get finger tips to it.
The surprise of Liverpool’s terrific start clearly shocked Arsenal who frequently conceded free-kicks in dangerous positions from which the Reds almost took a two goal lead. Once the hour mark arrived, Arsenal began to settle again and probed time after time, trying to find a way past Liverpool’s two banks of four. The surprise inclusion of want-away midfielder Javier Mascherano proved to be the right one by Hodgson as the Argentine captain did what he’s best at, nullifying and disrupting any potential attack from the opposition. As time wore on, Arsenal found themselves trying difficult passes to get behind Liverpool’s defence which was superbly marshalled by the no-nonsense Jamie Carragher.
The discipline and effort being shown by the men in red mirrored that of the Fulham team Hodgson led to the Europa League Final last season.
Wenger resorted to bringing on Walcott and Rosicky before eventually allowing World Cup runner-up Robin Van Persie to take to the field with 15 minutes remaining. Fernando Torres came on for Liverpool to the second loudest cheer of the day after N’Gog had exerted himself playing the lone striker role.
After making their three substitutes, Liverpool temporarily found themselves down to nine men after Daniel Agger was suffering following a knock to the head earlier. One of those three substitutes, Maxi Rodriguez, found himself at left back with Agger not fully fit for the remaining minutes.
As the clock ran down and Anfield’s heart beat faster, a dangerous cross was played in to the box from the left. New signing Marouane Chamakh, who had been kept quiet for much of the game, challenged Pepe Reina causing the ball to come off the far post. Reina turned towards his own goal but agonizingly fumbled it in to the net to give Arsenal a share of the spoils. The sun didn’t help Reina with the initial cross but he will obviously be disappointed to have conceded such a goal. The goal emphasised the fragility of a goalkeeper’s role with one mistake more often than not paying a heavy price.
There was enough time left for Koscielny to harshly pick up his second yellow card and follow Cole for an early, albeit by minutes, shower. Disappointing for the Frenchman who otherwise had an impressive and composed debut.
The final whistle brought an end to an engrossing second half which saw both teams avoid defeat. At half time Roy’s Liverpool would have accepted a draw, but at full time they would be deflated at the outcome. Arsenal will be delighted to have got something out of the tie but disappointed not to have capitalised on their numerical advantage.
Liverpool’s herculean efforts weren’t quite rewarded but Hodgson can be mighty proud and impressed by the organisation and performance of his side, particularly so soon in to the season. He may not want a repeat of all aspects of his first league game at Anfield but there are certainly some things that he’ll look to carry forward to next weeks away tie at free spending Man City.