The pre-match talk again contained a few surprises, with Jordan Henderson staying in the squad and Luis Suarez starting on the bench---Suarez sitting was clearly a product of his tired legs against Sunderland, and probably the right move given the stage of the season. Dirk Kuyt and Martin Kelly made their returns on the right, with the former on the flank of a three-man advanced midfield and the latter replacing Jon Flanagan. Henderson started centrally next to Kuyt, with Downing left and Carroll up top, and Lucas and Charlie Adam renewed their partnership deeper in central midfield. Jamie Carragher, Daniel Agger, and Jose Enrique rounded out the back line, giving Liverpool an eleven that was similar in formation but slightly stronger in terms of skill and experience.
It was a tight opening for both sides, with a handful of nearly chances at either end. The best chance of the early action fell to Andrei Arshavin, who found himself with time and space on the edge of the area after a half-clearance from a corner, but the Russian mishit a volley that spun away harmlessly. Shortly afterwards Emmanual Frimpong, new hate figure for the Liverpool Offside, got his first booking on the day, and a dangerous free kick from Charlie Adam minutes later gave Liverpool their first real threat.
Right on the twenty minute mark Andy Carroll gave the guests their best chance of the half, heading a sharp Jose Enrique cross toward the corner of Wojciech Szczęsny's goal. The Polish keeper made a terrific save to deny Carroll, who had struggled to exert any influence on the match to that point. Things didn't get any easier for the front man, as he was booked soon after for kicking the ball after the whistle had gone---letter of the law, it's bookable, but in the context it was a farcical booking for Martin Atkinson to give.
The rest of the half included a few decent efforts; Charlie Adam tried one from just inside the Arsenal half, Emmanuel Frimpong force Pepe Reina into a save from twenty-five yards, and Samir Nasri took on most of the Liverpool eleven as part of a fantastic end-to-end run that ended with an effort pulled just wide. The hosts grew in stature as the half progressed, and finished with nearly all of the meaningful possession in the final minutes.
Liverpool forced a chance immediately from the second half kickoff, with Jordan Henderson laying off for Charlie Adam to blast again from midfield. Unfortunately that's about as good as it got for a long spell, with Martin Kelly's effort off the post the only real chance the guests could create until Frimpong was inevitably sent off for a terrible tackle on Lucas. Frimpong's exit occurred at the same time Kenny Dalglish decided to bring on Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles, and as it would turn out, those three changes had a massive say in the way the match would end.
With only ten men Arsenal were clearly going to be stretched, and fresh legs for two of Liverpool's most creative players almost instantly wreaked havoc. First Enrique played Suarez in on the left, with Szczęsny again saving well, and a minute later Charlie Adam found a streaking Stewart Downing, who blasted from a tight angle but could only force a corner. Arsenal weren't completely finished, as Thomas Vermaelen tested from distance at the other end, but the winner was soon to come.
It goes down as an Aaron Ramsey own goal, but the credit goes to Suarez and Meireles, whose one-two forced Ignasi Miquel to rush the clearance off Ramsey's chest. As a pairing they were electric, and, with the help of Lucas, they were principals in the second. The Brazilian's patience allowed Meireles to get forward on the right, and his first-touch pass to Suarez in front of goal made for an easy tap-in, and Liverpool's first win away to Arsenal in over a decade.
There's plenty of noteworthy individual performances to discuss today---the freshest are Luis Suarez and Raul Meireles, who came on at a perfect time to great effect, slicing their way through a depleted Arsenal defense and energizing a Liverpool side that had yet again looked to run out of ideas. With Suarez on the heels of a busy summer and Meireles recovering from a preseason knock, you'd think they're both working their way back to full match fitness; if today is any indicator, that can't come soon enough.
Most consistent on the day was Lucas, though, as he turned in a vintage shift in a slightly more advanced midfield role. Still excellent in disruption and distribution, he found himself moving further forward as Charlie Adam sunk deeper. He rarely put a foot wrong today and was all-around terrific; his involvement in the final goal was the capper, but the performance stood on its own as the best of the early season.
Similarly excellent was Jose Enrique, who, for the second match running, combined skill in defense and going forward to give Liverpool a consistent presence at left back. Early days in his Liverpool career, but he's already looking like the first-choice back from here on out, fitting into a back line that was effective and assertive on the day. Fellow new boy Jordan Henderson had a much better day, spending more time centrally and working possession to great effect throughout the match. Much more composed than last weekend, seemed to play much more within himself, and while I'm still of the opinion that he's not first-team ready on a weekly basis, had a positive presence.
Not so encouraging for Charlie Adam, who came off as lazy at times and displayed some suspect decision-making. Not roundly negative, as he had a few dangerous deliveries from set pieces and played a perfect pass on Downing's late chance, but I think the side needs much more from him. Andy Carroll had a few struggles as well, mostly down to the quality of Thomas Vermaelen, but also showed continued promise in a difficult role as the lone man up top.
There's plenty of ready-made excuses on the Arsenal side---club in turmoil, injuries, suspensions, sendings-off. In the end, though, it's an excellent early season win for a Liverpool side looking to rebuild form and fitness, and an indication that the club are capable of getting a big result.
Great start to the weekend, so hopefully you're all able to enjoy this one for awhile. Noel will be back tomorrow with extended analysis and/or video; until then, soak it up.