Saturday 16 December 2017

Credit is due to Rodgers for defence

Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers (c) looks on at the Emirates
Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers (c) looks on at the Emirates

Brendan Rodgers spoke fluently and fervidly about his passion for passing football and the fact that he lies awake in his bed worrying about how his teams look.

Ironic then that it should be Liverpool's defence that earned so much credit at the Emirates last night. He may talk an awful lot about the beautiful game but he has clearly put in some hard and ugly work drilling his new back line.

His boast that he wanted his players to pass regardless of the consequences looks good in a headline but in reality, he has tightened his team up and no risks were taken inside the Liverpool half.

It was breached once in the first 45 minutes, a perfectly good goal scored by Aaron Ramsey which was disallowed for offside but apart from that, Rodgers had every reason to look and feel secure about the way his team was playing.

Wenger took eight years to realise that he should probably do something about his goalkeeper but at no point has the same urgency registered about his defenders.

Sick notes for Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny meant that Callum Chambers, a relatively raw 20 year-old, was thrown into the very deep end against the significant physical presence of Christian Benteke and Philippe Coutinho's twinkling feet.

Both carried an attacking threat and both delivered for Rodgers. Chambers and Hector Bellerin were in a heap from the first few minutes and never recovered.

The familiar sight of Wenger's ever more lined face, clenched in a bitter grimace was back and all the nice talk about corners turned he verbalised in the week before the season started forgotten.

It's early in the day for Wenger to look so worried but events forced him into his traditional pose. His defenders' anxiety raced through the team like a virus.

Liverpool were strong across the back and broke fast. New man Roberto Firminio and Coutinho ran the channels and Arsenal's midfield was largely marginalised.

But Wenger had Cech and the goalposts to protect him and both performed heroically. Twice Coutinho rattled the post and when Benteke was poised to score from six yards out, fingertips intervened and saved the Gunners.

The second-half was a much better contest. Arsenal found a rhythm but Liverpool soaked it all up and pushed back against Mehmet Ozil's invention.

There were hairy moments for Rodgers, especially in the final ten minutes when Martin Skrtl almost put the ball into his own net after a sweeping Arsenal break out of defence but more than not, Liverpool looked comfortable at the back.

He deserves praise Rodgers for finding a way through the morass created by Luis Suarez's exit and then Raheem Sterling's decision to find a bigger wage packet elsewhere.

Nobody looked more vulnerable on the final day of last season and bookmakers had him firmly installed as a front-runner for the sack early in the autumn.

If only he would say less and not be so concerned about how he looks in the media.

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