Arsenal leave Brendan Rodgers with plenty to ponder at Liverpool
Liverpool 0 Arsenal 2
The world of Liverpool changes yet some things stay the same. When Bill Shankly, who would have been 99 yesterday, arrived at the club bursting with energy and a new philosophy in 1959, he wanted the money to buy Denis Law and Jack Charlton, to put his ideas into practice. The club refused him, much like Brendan Rodgers has been denied the money to equip his squad with Clint Dempsey, the player he was banking on when he let Andy Carroll go to West Ham.
Yet Shankly's hard decade in management had already taught him that you need boardroom allies with influence – like Eric Sawyer, the Liverpool finance director he talked into buying Ian St John and Ron Yeats, who arrived at L4 instead of Law and Charlton and began creating history. Rodgers has been in the game for four years, not long enough to learn that you need cast-iron guarantees from the top before you start letting £35m strikers go.
Rodgers came in for some harsh criticism from the television studios for releasing Carroll after his side's worst three-game start to a league season since 1962, though it was self-evident from the way he discussed Friday's transfer deadline day that he feels he has been sold up the river.
"No," Rodgers said – immediately and very firmly – when asked would he have released Carroll if he had known Dempsey would not be his. "Very," he said, when asked was he confident that the American – a player denied to him late on Friday when the club decided that £7m was too much to pay for a 29-year-old – would be signed. The Northern Irishman declared of Friday's endgame that "there are one or two operational things we need to organise". His relationship with the managing director, Ian Ayre, is fine and this decision has been taken elsewhere in the hierarchy, where no one can say Rodgers has been less than transparent. "I would need to be a nutcase to even consider at this moment letting Andy Carroll go out, unless there are other solutions for that," he said, 11 days ago.
It would help if the one first team front man Rodgers has acquired, Fabio Borini, looked like he was ready to put a smile on the manager's face. The Italian's snatched and premature 20-yard shot – several yards wide – when running at a retreating Arsenal defence four minutes into yesterday's game told of a man looking hard for a shot of confidence. The slumped shoulders and minimal eye contact with Rodgers when he left the field after a mere 54 minutes confirmed how little he has found.
Luis Suarez has not been looking like a goal machine either, for all his energy and influence, and does not always possess an awareness of others who might be better placed to score, as he bursts around. Though some patience and a serious sense of perspective is required about the task of rebuilding Liverpool – which certainly won't happen in a month – Arsène Wenger was the manager who arrived with most questions asked about his summer's transfer work and left with most of them answered.
Santi Cazorla demonstrated once again the benefits of investing £16m in a player with minimal resale value, and Lukas Podolski, another 27-year-old, also shone in the process of opening Arsenal's goal account for the season. It made the afternoon considerably worse for Rodgers that his own debutant Nuri Sahin, secured on loan from Real Madrid from under Wenger's nose, was so overrun by those players who decided the Emirates was their best option.
As Europe's brightest talent at Borussia Dortmund the season before last, Sahin operated as an advanced midfielder but he was ineffective in today's holding role and powerless against the rapid counter-attacking play which yielded Arsenal their first goal of the season. After a loose ball from Steven Gerrard for Suarez – not his only one – was collected by Per Mertesacker and processed to Podolski, the German rapidly fed Cazorla, sprinted 60 yards down the left flank and took the ball back from the Spaniard to ease a left-foot shot into the left-hand corner of Pepe Reina's net.
The greater concern for Rodgers was the way his midfield was cut away again three minutes later, allowing Olivier Giroud the excellent chance he screwed wide from 10 yards when he should have doubled the lead. Abou Diaby, the supplier, was sublime throughout.
Problems have been appearing where Rodgers has least expected them and Reina's fumbling of a near-post shot from Cazorla, which deflected off his elbow into the same net where his error allowed Hearts a goal on Thursday was a worrying one, especially with the absence of any meaningful competition for his jersey.
Cazorla did all the build-up work, with Podolksi operating as the axis of the one-two between them on this occasion. Only Stewart Downing, one of the few remnants of the Kenny Dalglish era that Rodgers has not cleared out, managed to raise the energy, and Jonjo Shelvey found the target twice in the last five minutes. Rodgers also had further strong displays from Joe Allen and 17-year-old Raheem Sterling – his kind of player – to take away.
After signing St John and Yeats, Shankly challenged the Liverpool board to "sack me if they can't play". Rodgers, with only 19 players training last week, won't be risking that kind of talk.
Booked: Liv Skrtel, Shelvey. Ars Mertesacker, Arteta.
Man of match Diaby.
Match rating 8.
Poss: Liv 53%. Ars 47%.
Attempts on target: Liv 4. Ars 5.
Referee H Webb (South Yorks).
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