Mertesacker’s illness and Koscielny’s sore back forced Wenger to field an inexperienced pair of centerbacks in the goalless draw against Liverpool on Monday. While Paulista had a decent game, Chambers’ flaws were cruelly exposed in a nightmarish first half. It took a couple of outstanding saves from Cech to prevent the Gunners from losing a second straight home game in the Premier League.
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Chambers proved the weak link against the Reds because of his poor reading of the game and dodgy positional play. I think not loaning out Chambers is a mistake. He could stagnate if he stays in the Arsenal squad this season. At the age of 20, Chambers needs some playing time at a lower-profile club to mature more quickly. The best example is England international Stones who has improved dramatically since joining Everton in 2013.
In the first half, Liverpool pressed high up the pitch to pressure the Arsenal defense. Chambers failed to smell the danger and lost possession with a risky pass to Bellerin in the second minute. However, Benteke dragged his shot wide. Coutinho intercepted another pass from Chambers in the 24th to feed Milner, whose close-range attempt was tipped away by Cech. In both cases, Chambers underestimated the danger and should have tried to hit Giroud with a long ball.
Two super saves
Chambers’ positional play was tested in the third minute as he played Benteke onside for the first scoring chance of the match. Benteke cut the ball back for Coutinho, who rattled the bar. Chambers was so nervous on the ball that he gave it away to Coutinho in the 14th. It took a challenge inside the area from Coquelin to stop the Brazil midfielder. Chambers’ bad performance was so contagious that the entire team became shaky and had a high turnover rate. Can took advantage of Chambers’ lack of awareness to steal the ball in the 43rd. Despite another dangerous turnover in the 51st, Chambers somehow managed to calm his nerves in the second half.
Cech definitely salvaged a point for the Gunners with two super saves in the first half. Firminho capitalized on a Bellerin turnover in the 33rd to make a low cross for Benteke, whose tap-in was miraculously stopped by Cech. On the stroke of halftime, Coutinho cut inside Bellerin for a curling shot that Cech tipped onto the far post. Arsenal would have been trailing 2-0 at halftime without Cech. The Czech goalkeeper also made more routine saves, stopping an angled strike from Benteke in the ninth, denying Firminho with his leg in the 39th and parrying an effort from Coutinho in the 81st.
Liverpool dominated the first half with four clear-cut chances compared to only one for Arsenal. It was the other around in the second half as the Reds could no longer press our back four with the same intensity. Sanchez, Giroud and Ramsey were our most threatening players. The Chile forward headed a Monreal cross over the bar in the fifth minute before hitting the post in the 60th from a Giroud pass.
Giroud had no decent service in the first half. His teammates did a better job after the break but Giroud could not connect with Ramsey’s low pass in the 65th and Monreal’s cutback in the 68th. The Frenchman’s best chance came in the 70th when Ramsey redirected a Bellerin cross into his path. Giroud reacted quickly enough for a sliding effort that Mignolet palmed away. Just as the understanding between Ramsey and Giroud seemed to bear fruit, the manager replaced Giroud with Walcott in the 73rd. In hindsight, I think it was a poor choice simply because Walcott had no impact offensively.
This match could have been a completely different story if the referee had let Ramsey’s goal stand in the eighth minute. Ramsey collected a through ball from Cazorla to beat Mignolet with a low strike. He was flagged offside but TV replays clearly showed Skrtel played him onside. Ramsey destabilized the Liverpool defense with his movement as Can in the 66th and Gomez in the 79th were booked for cynical fouls on the Wales midfielder. He had two goal attempts on target with a curling shot in the 72nd and a deflected low drive in the 83rd.
In the closing minutes, Wenger pulled out Coquelin to send on Oxlade-Chamberlain. Skrtel nearly scored an own goal in the 84th by knocking away the Ox’s cross for Walcott. In the last minute of stoppage time, Mignolet salvaged a draw by turning the Ox’s low drive around the post. I feel bad for the Ox because he should be a starter on current form. He shone against Chelsea in the Community Shield and was our best player in the 2-0 loss to West Ham but had to come off the bench in the last two games.
In the tight matches, I think players like the Ox and Wilshere can make a difference because they have the ability to beat defenders. Ozil has great passing skills but on Monday he was no threat in the final third. Does Wenger want more penetration in the final third or does he prefer to accommodate egos?
The draw with Liverpool should be an eye-opener for the manager. He still has a bit of time to fix the holes in our squad before the summer transfer window closes on Sept. 1. Koscielny has been bothered by his Achilles tendons last season. If he misses some games this season because of a sore back, then we need a better back-up defender than Chambers. Our inability to score in our first two home games also highlights our need for more firepower. It would be excessively optimistic to believe that Welbeck’s return could be the answer.