Five Thoughts After Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1

Rank incompetence from Howard Webb, a gamble that paid off for Arsene Wenger, possession is not the law and a pundit that has no place on the television...

Last Updated: 17/02/14 at 09:27 Post Comment

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1) Howard Webb...
Of course, you can find any idiotic view you like if you look in the right places on Twitter, but there were some Liverpool fans in the 140-character world who linked Howard Webb's performance to his former job with the South Yorkshire Police. Hopefully it doesn't need explaining what an idiotic and offensive view that is, but you can understand why they might have been upset after Arsenal's 2-1 win on Sunday. His decision not to give Liverpool a second penalty, after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wiped Luis Suarez out, not ten yards from the referee, was just astonishing.

Aside from a sudden and vicious growth of cataracts seconds before the incident, the only possible explanation for the decision would be the old crowd favourite of 'he bottled it'. Webb had of course given Suarez a penalty minutes before, so presumably he thought awarding a second simply would not do. It almost seems redundant to say so, but this was a scandalous decision that turned the course of the game. The buffoonery didn't stop with Suarez, however, as shortly afterwards, Steven Gerrard fouled Oxlade-Chamberlain with a late and rather 'robust' challenge at the other end, and with the Liverpool captain already on a yellow card, it was baffling that he stayed on the pitch. There were half a dozen or so other incidents throughout the game that caused eyes to be rubbed and brows to be furrowed, to cap a ludicrous day in the middle for Webb.

Of course, the other explanation is that Webb is incompetent, and his reputation as a top-class referee is based entirely on looking a bit scary and having the appearance of someone who knows what he's doing, rather than someone who actually does know what he's doing. Still, at least Roy Hodgson's players won't be the biggest English embarrassment at the World Cup this summer.


2) Arsene's gamble
It worked, but Arsene Wenger's decision to pick a weakened team was still a gamble. He was, in effect, risking a game that Arsenal could win in favour of one they probably won't. Wenger needs a trophy - at this stage, any trophy - so with a few of the big boys already eliminated from the FA Cup, it would perhaps be more prudent to sacrifice the Champions League in favour of the cup. Of course, Wenger would never do that, hence his decision to play Lukasz Fabianski, Nacho Monreal and Yaya Sanogo, prioritising the game against Bayern Munich in the week over this one.

Obviously, while he did gamble, he did so with the right players, and did seem to learn a lesson or two from the blitz at Anfield a couple of weeks ago. The selections of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski were shrewd ones, not just because of the goals both scored, but because of the respective workrates of the two widemen. In the 5-1 defeat, Liverpool attacked Arsenal with ferocity that was almost impossible to defend against, but Arsenal's backline wasn't helped by a relatively passive midfield, who offered little or no protection. With Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski in the team, they at least ensured that Monreal and Carl Jenkinson were not left quite so exposed. Wenger took a risk, but it turns out he knew what he was doing. This, perhaps, should not be a shock.


3) Possession not the law
Before the game at Anfield, Wenger said wanted to dominate possession of the ball, largely in order to starve Liverpool's attacking threat of service. "The plan is for us to dominate the game and leave them as few balls as possible," Wenger said. "That is one of our targets. If you can't the task might be a bit more difficult but the philosophy has to be the same - to master the ball and dominate the game."

However, having more of the ball isn't necessarily the best thing for Arsenal. As Matthew Stanger has pointed out, Arsenal averaged 57% possession in their 0-0 draws with Manchester United and Chelsea, and their defeats to United, Manchester City and Liverpool, while in their five wins against teams in the top half of the league this term, they averaged 48%. Indeed, as if to prove the point, on Sunday they had 43% of the ball. Read what you like into statistics like that, but it seems to suggest that having more of the ball possibly inhibits Arsenal because they have more opportunity for those sideways passes across the edge of the penalty area, whereas when they are starved of the ball a little more, they are perhaps forced into being a little more decisive. It isn't a foolproof theory (they had 54% of the ball in the league win over Liverpool, for example), but it does suggest that Wenger's preoccupation with keeping the ball is not necessarily the way to go for Arsenal.


4) Liverpool need the top four now
No excuses for Brendan Rodgers and his side now. With no European football and now no domestic distractions, their focus is entirely on making the top four. Qualification this season might be a year ahead of schedule (the aim when he took over was for Champions League qualification inside three seasons), but expectations have been raised now, with some rather optimistic sorts even suggesting a title bid is realistic. Even though they are in touching distance of the top of the Premier League, that is still fanciful, but with nothing else to take their minds off it, Champions League qualification now becomes a minimum.


5) Andy Gray
Writing about a former Sky employee (and indeed former Football365 columnist), currently working for BT, on a Sky owned-website is a tricky business. However, we're probably on pretty safe ground by saying that Andy Gray has no place on British television. You could argue that Gray has served his time, even if more footage has emerged recently showing that Gray and his buddy Richard Keys were even more enthusiastic sexists than initially thought, but forgiving someone for their transgressions relies on them recognising that they have done something wrong. Keys and Gray may have apologised at the time, because there was nothing else they could do, but a quick glance at Keys' Twitter feed reveals that they still really don't get what they did wrong.

Indeed, Keys claimed recently that they were 'bugged', which brings up two primary issues - firstly, even if they were 'bugged', they still said some pretty abhorrent things, so the method of catching them out hardly matters, but secondly, that 'bugging' equipment was rather cunningly disguised as TV cameras, which tend to record things any person in front of them does and - this is rather important - says. That Gray was good at his job 15 years ago and still comes up with the occasional salient point doesn't matter - BT should end this experiment as soon as possible.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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