Petr Cech has probably never had so much fun after the kind of all-action man-of-the-match display he rarely got to enjoy at Chelsea; but Arsenal’s defensive frailties should not be the only concern as they were held to a goalless draw by an improving Liverpool side at the Emirates.
The result denied Liverpool a chance to move up to second in the Premier League – and perhaps left question marks over their finishing despite a largely encouraging performance – but they will certainly come out of the night with fewer concerns than their hosts as transfer deadline day looms.
Brendan Rodgers has completed his dealings for the summer but Arsenal are still in the market for a marquee striker; and having failed to score at home for the second match in a row that may be as big a concern as the defensive madness that presented Cech with so much to do in a match that was hugely entertaining despite the final result.
“When you start with a new club and everything goes wrong, you need to bounce back and this is what I tried to do,” said Cech last night.
“Today was one those games where I was in the right place at the right times and helped the team overcome a difficult moment in the first half. The shot of Coutinho, I saw the ball all the way so I managed to get there. With Benteke, I think it was Gabriel who tried to intercept the ball in front of me so I had to wait, I knew I had to be there fast and I got a bit of luck, I closed it down quickly enough.
“The positive thing is the number of chances we created in the second half. It’s hard to believe, with all the chances there were, that the game finished 0-0.”
Arsenal now sit ninth in the Premier League, five points behind leaders Manchester City at this early stage, and so inevitably calls for Wenger to pull something out of the bag before next Tuesday’s transfer window deadline are likely to grow.
Rumours of a move for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema refuse to go away – despite the striker’s denial yesterday – but if the Gunners manager dares to watch a DVD of the opening 45 minutes of this match, in which Liverpool were outstanding and Arsenal panic-stricken, he will start to wonder if other areas need strengthening too.
Wenger’s defensive options here were decimated thanks to a back injury to Laurent Koscielny (he’s expected to be fit for the weekend) and illness for Per Mertesacker – and boy did it show.
So fragile and panic-stricken were Arsenal at the back – where Calum Chambers was an unmitigated disaster alongside Gabriel - that Liverpool seemed to create chances at will, especially in a breathless first half.
Benteke had already wasted one very presentable opportunity in the first minute when Coutinho swept a shot against the crossbar with Cech well beaten – and the Arsenal keeper then had to fling himself to keep out an effort from Milner.
One comedy interlude, in which four different Arsenal players gave away the ball trying to clear from their own penalty area, rather summed up the situation; but they didn’t learn because when Bellerin threw away possession yet again just before half-time, Cech had to make an even better save from Benteke close in.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had remarked pre-match that you didn’t need to dominate possession to win at Arsenal but instead to dominate space; and his team took that mantra to heart. They seemed to have bought a lease on the space behind Arsenal’s back four so often did they occupy it – and in return the visiting strikers gave Wenger’s defenders absolutely no space or time to operate in.
Cech was called on yet again to miraculously tip a curling Coutinho effort onto the far post before the break; and just how the first half ended goalless is still a mystery.
Wenger’s side did survive it, however, and in fact they should have gone ahead when Ramsey superbly finished a wonderful through-ball from Cazorla in the 10th minute, only to see the effort - erroneously - ruled out by a linesman’s flag.
Cech’s face at half-time was a picture - perhaps it is slowly dawning on him just how much different life is going to be at Arsenal than down the road at Stamford Bridge. And yet in the end Arsenal came out of it with a point and spent the last 30 minutes desperately looking for a winner.
As for Liverpool, with Coutinho outstanding, Milner organising midfield with energy and guile, debutant Firminho solid on the right and young Gomez impressive at left-back, they got their tactics just right; so make no mistake, this was a big improvement on the team of last year. The only problem was they didn’t finish their chances.
By the hour, Arsenal were beginning to believe they could escape to victory – especially when Sanchez fired a shot against Mignolet’s right-hand post – and the atmosphere changed.
Giroud forced a stunning save from Mignolet when he should have scored; and the last 15 minutes were something of a bombardment as Liverpool’s keeper almost matched the heroics of opposite number Cech in the first.
Liverpool, though, could be happy with a point. Arsenal were left wondering what they need to take the next step - and who could help them take it.
As Cech said; “The positive thing was the number of chances we created in the second half. But we made plenty of errors in the first.”
Cech 9, Bellerín 6, Gabriel 6, Chambers 4, Monreal 6, Coquelin 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 82), Cazorla 7, Ramsey 7, Ozil 6, Sanchez 7, Giroud 6 (Walcott 73; 6)
Mignolet 8, Clyne 6, Skrtel 7, Lovren 6, Gomez 7, Milner 8, Can 7, Lucas 7 (Rossiter 76; 6), Firmino 7 (Ibe 64; 6), Coutinho 9 (Moreno 88), Benteke 7
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