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Reds display gives reasons to be cheerful

TEAMtalk guest Rich Kitto praises Liverpool's display at Arsenal and insists there is plenty of reasons for Brendan Rodgers to be optimistic.

Last Updated: 31/01/13 at 14:45 Post Comment

Jordan Henderson: Energetic display against Arsenal

Jordan Henderson: Energetic display against Arsenal

It was a game billed as crucial in the fight for fourth spot, and the manner in which it was played out will have brought back fond memories for Liverpool fans of their famous 4-2 Champions League victory over the Gunners in 2008. But after their embarrassing loss to Oldham in the FA Cup, it was fundamental that the Reds showed they were still up for the fight, which they did with aplomb.

Liverpool supporters will come away from the Emirates slightly disheartened not to have left with all three points, considering the position their team was in after 63 minutes. Although there were many positives to take away from the performance both their players, and their manager, put in.

A friend of mine used to own a T-shirt which depicted a caricature of a former Liverpool manager stuck in a maze with the quote "we've turned the corner" ironically rising out of his mouth. Whilst the man portrayed was in fact Gerard Houllier, it's fair to say that any of the men that have filled his shoes since could equally have been crudely illustrated instead.

That's why the performance and result at Boundary Park on Sunday probably didn't come as such a huge surprise to the Liverpool faithful. Having won four of their last five in all competitions, and off the back of a hugely-impressive result against Norwich, the inevitable murmurs of "they're back" resurfaced at the weekend before quickly being laughed off again on Monday morning.

Brendan Rodgers was surprisingly candid before the Arsenal game in his evaluation of the defeat against Oldham, claiming blame should be placed solely on his shoulders. Perhaps it was a slight backtrack on the comments he initially made, when he slammed the contribution of his younger players - comments that scarily echoed Roy Hodgson's criticism of the Liverpool team that lost to Northampton Town in the Carling Cup - but a side worth roughly £90million should have comfortably seen off the League One team regardless.

Though if Rodgers is to take the blame for the cup exit, then he deserves much credit for the team he chose last night against Arsenal, and the style in which he deployed them.

By dropping Martin Skrtel to the bench in replacement for the evergreen, and ever mouthy, Jamie Carragher, it provided some much needed steel, experience and composure to the defensive line-up. Whilst Andre Wisdom was probably the Reds' weakest link - with his consistent decision to play the ball back to Pepe Reina, instead of getting his head up and playing forward, showing a real sign of his nervousness - he has shown much promise since being pushed into the first team, and will learn an awful lot from the Liverpudlian's presence next to him.

Similarly, Rodgers decision to drop Joe Allen who is still struggling to find his way, in place of a rejuvenated Jordan Henderson, paid real dividends. Rodgers finally seems to be coaching the kind of performances out of the young English midfielder that first encouraged Liverpool to pay £18m for him in June 2011.

By deploying Henderson alongside Lucas and Steven Gerrard in a tightly knit trio, it suffocated Arsenal and prevented the likes of Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere to find the space or the deliveries to hurt the Reds. But not only did it press the Gunners into forcing the ball wide, but when the ball was won back Henderson regularly found himself as the spare man between midfield and attack, and provided the service for Stewart Downing, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez to go off on the break. His passing, movement and energy were impressive all night, with his goal signifying everything that came before it.

Whilst Carragher steadied the back, and Henderson provided the vitality in the midfield, the blossoming relationship between Sturridge and Suarez looked very exciting. In the first half Sturridge was superb playing up on his own, as he regularly tussled with and out-muscled the Arsenal back line, and at times linked very well with Suarez who drifted in from wide to create space.

It was only as Arsenal began to take a firmer grip on the game, and Liverpool grew tired, that Sturridge faded, however the decision to replace him with Jose Enrique - who fans will be happy to see back - and sure up the left side of the pitch, was again a sensible move from the manager. Though, as Suarez was then re-positioned to a lone striker role he became as isolated as he was in the recent league game against Man United, which is something Rodgers will have to address when he tweaks the formation.

Ultimately, although it could be said that throwing away a two-goal lead in two minutes displays the frailties, and perhaps quality, of this Liverpool side, there were certainly many progressive elements to take from the game. The Reds showed an ability to dig in and look dangerous even though they spent large majorities of the match without the ball - something which they have been criticised heavily for in the past for not doing enough of.

As Carragher himself made light of in the post-match interview when receiving the Man of the Match award, a draw is only seen as a credible result on the back of a good performance in the following fixture. Up next for Rodgers' Reds is Manchester City at the Etihad, in what will be an even bigger test of their character in their pursuit for the elusive Champions League positions. If they win there then maybe, just maybe, they'll have begun to turn the corner.

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