Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool: Mirror Images

I frequently post on the message forums of one of the larger Arsenal blogs out there. Earlier this season, I posted something to the effect of how we used to laugh at Liverpool, but really, we are them now. At the time, I got roundly slaughtered for it, despite all evidence to the contrary. Well, here we sit neck-and-neck in the table, having dropped points to them at home in disappointing and preventable fashion and susceptible to the same indifferent periods in games that costs both of our clubs valuable points.

Oh, except they've significantly strengthened in the transfer window, while we've done nothing to address the gaping holes in the squad.

Of course, our starting XI is fairly good on paper. Aaron Ramsey came into central midfield for Abou Diaby, but otherwise we had our best non-injured players out on the pitch. But, what does us in time and again is a complete inability to grasp the basics of defending. Wojceich Szczesny was largely correct in his Guardian interview the other day about how it isn't the personnel that's the problem -  I guarantee you that if you took Thomas Vermaelen or even Bacary Sagna on current form and stuck them on Bayern Munich tomorrow, they'd recapture their old form inside of a month.

I bet you could take Andre Santos...ahh, hell. Who am I kidding?

They're here though, and inside of five minutes they conceded one of the stupidest goals of the Premier League season. A standard attack down the left led to Luis Suarez miskicking a pass to Glen Johnson. Sagna had a one-car accident, falling over and allowing Johnson in. Per Mertesacker should have been quicker to come over to help, but Johnson got his low cross in. Vermaelen tried a flying kung fu clearance that got nothing but air, letting Daniel Sturridge in alone. Szczesny stayed composed and made a wonderful save to keep it out. The rebound came to Ramsey who made a ridiculously poor attempt to clear. Mertesacker was again slow to close down Suarez, who tucked it into the net - replays showed that Per had deflected it in and wrong-footed poor Szczesny.

That is, by my count, six catastrophic individual defensive mistakes - three by a player with over 80 caps for Germany, one by the man who was until recently the best right back in the country, and one by a man who was known as a fearsome defensive stopper for his last club.

Something is seriously wrong here. Training, coaching, mentality...probably some combination of all three, really. That is all on the manager. All of it.

Less than a minute later, a raking diagonal pass from Jack Wilshere sprung Theo Walcott in completely alone. The angle was a bit tight though, and Pepe Reina covered it well in the Liverpool goal.

It so easily could have been 0-2 a while later, Szczesny guilty of an ill-advised Cryuff Turn in the penalty area. In a sense, I don't blame him though. When you're dealing with Keystone Kops defending like the events of the first goal, you can lose your head as a goalkeeper sometimes, and try too much to take the law into your own hands.

Arsenal did control much of the play afterwards though, and Reina had to be sharp again to claw out another decent effort from Walcott. The passing and movement from the home side was largely there, but more often than not the Liverpool defense did just enough to deal with the threat.

They were dangerous on set pieces though, and soon before the hour Szczesny flapped badly at a corner. Luckily, he was bailed out by Lukas Podolski on the goal line. That was soon the least of our worries though, as Kieran Gibbs pulled up short after running for a ball and eventually he had to be substituted. Who knows how long he'll be out, meaning we're treated to the comedy stylings of Santos for a significant period of time. SUPER TOP QUALITY.

It didn't take long for the Brazilian to make an instant impact, as he lagged behind the rest of the defense to allow Stewart Downing to beat the offside trap. He crossed to Jordan Henderson at the edge of the 18-yard box. Szczesny came all the way to the edge of the area, stranding himself. Luckily, Henderson panicked and his chip attempt went harmlessly over the bar. Again, mental goalkeeping whose roots can be found in our Sunday league defending.

The visitors improved after the halftime break, and could have extended their lead further a few minutes into the second 45. Thankfully, referee Kevin Friend correctly applied the intentional handling rule and did not whistle when the ball inadvertently struck Vermaelen on the upper shoulder area. Up the other end, Podolski had a shout for a penalty that was also rightly turned down.

Arsenal were still in it, though, the German hitting a thunderbolt that Jamie Carragher was lucky to block without it making an exit wound. Unfortunately for us, the second goal came out of nothing a few minutes later. Unsurprisingly, Santos was in the midst of it. Sturridge dropped deep to receive the ball, and he played it forward to Henderson. Mertesacker was in attendance, but his pointless lunge was easily evaded. Santos came to help, but was effortlessly brushed off. The initial shot was blocked, but somehow Henderson was first to it despite being outnumbered literally five to one. Ramsey had slid forward and missed everything, the captain jogged back Denilson-style like nothing was wrong, Mertesacker again was found wanting.

I have been an Arsenal supporter since 1992. I have never, ever in my time seen an Arsenal side defend like this. It's astonishing, and it'd be hilarious if it were any other club than the team I support.

It must be said though that the Arsenal refused to give up, as they continued to press the attack. Giroud sent the first warning shot, flashing an effort just wide. Soon after, the home side had pegged a goal back. Johnson put his team under pressure when he fouled Walcott just outside the area. Wilshere sent in a beautiful curling free kick, and Giroud ghosted past the static Daniel Agger to nod home from close range.

He has taken his share of stick this season, but where would we be without our French hitman this season?

Liverpool seemed shaken by loosening their grip on the game so soon after they had it by the throat. Arsenal smelled blood, and pressed forward with urgency. Before they knew what hit them, the Scousers had thrown it all away.

Off a clearance from Carragher, Friend (who had a brilliant game) rightly played advantage when Suarez fouled Walcott. Cazorla and Sagna played a one-two, the Spaniard's resulting through ball eluding the lunge of Steven Gerrard. Giroud smartly tapped it into the path of Walcott, who fired a screamer past Reina, the ball nestling in the net before the Spaniard could so much as think to dive.

As bad as the first half was, we could have gone on to win it. Walcott sent another tracer just wide of the post, while Brendan Rodgers pulled off Sturridge for a defender, Jose Enrique. Liverpool were clearly on the back foot, but Arsenal couldn't find the decisive third goal.

Giroud came the closest, with one effort parried away by Reina and another miskicked after Podolski had fed him a chance on a plate.

The visitors played the rope-a-dope all through the second half, but they nearly nicked it at the death,. A ridiculous slip by the hapless Santos allowed Suarez the run of our penalty area. Szczesny got down low to make the save, and Sagna was able to clear.

The curtain came down on a ludicrous game soon after, leaving us to ponder the aftermath. There are 14 matches left to play, with us in sixth place, three points ahead of Liverpool. Swansea and West Bromwich Albion lurk a point behind them, with this weekend's opponents Stoke trailing a bit further. Needless to say, a home loss to those Neanderthals would be disastrous. Everton's win sees them three points clear of us, the scum down the lane one point better in 4th.

So, there is truly all to play for. Champions League football has not eluded us yet, but even the most ardent Gooner must admit that it is not the foregone conclusion that it has been in seasons past. This team cannot defend worth a good goddamn, and the manager refuses to do anything about it. Andre Santos is now going to get tons of playing time, and the manager refuses to do anything about it. The team hasn't worked out for a good month now that games are 90 minutes long, and you have to play the first 45 and stuff. You guessed it, the manager can't or won't do anything about it.

The potential for 4th is there...but do you have confidence that we'll get there? Unless this nonsense gets cut out of our game and quick-smart at that, I frankly do not.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 6, Gibbs 7 (Santos 4), Vermaelen 5, Mertesacker 3, Sagna 6, Ramsey 6, Wilshere 8, Podolski 8, Cazorla 8, Walcott 8, Giroud 8.

Man of the Match:  Now, this one is actually difficult as our five forward players were equally fantastic on the night. But, despite the several bad misses that could have won us the game, I think it has to go to Olivier Giroud. If he hadn't have scored so soon after Liverpool went up by two, we may never have gotten back into the game. The assist on Walcott's scorcher was exceptional as well.