Reina robs Hodgson of victory deserved by rejuvenated Reds

Liverpool 1 Arsenal 1
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The Independent Football

For four weeks during the summer Pepe Reina watched while his Spain team-mates won the World Cup, playing not a single minute in the greatest episode in his country's football history. A simple footnote in Spain's finest hour, yesterday Reina reclaimed centre stage, although not in the fashion he would have planned it.

Reina's injury-time howler, when he inexplicably chased the ball into his own net to give Arsenal the equaliser their second-half performance did not deserve, was the game's standout moment. But there was plenty more to remember in this August opening game that was played with the energy of an April cup tie and featured two red cards.

Until Reina blew it for Liverpool, yesterday was David Ngog's day. The French striker, so long held up as an example of the mediocrity of many of Rafael Benitez's signings, scored a goal after half-time that Liverpool defended stoically with 10 men. The goal emboldened their players' spirit, it whipped Anfield into a frenzy and, until the 94th minute, they thought they had won it.

It will not be much consolation to Joe Cole that his red card in first-half injury time marked the moment his team turned the game around. Before then, they had been outpassed by a snappier, more fluent Arsenal side. Once Ngog had scored in the minute after the break, Roy Hodgson's side dug in for a victory.

There was more than a touch of the Benitez principles of good organisation and ruthless defending about the new era under Hodgson. Yet, even with one fewer player on the pitch, Liverpool carved out some chances, too. Reina made a magnificent save from the substitute Tomas Rosicky with four minutes left and, after that, Liverpool should not have thrown it away.

As for Arsenal, they were progressively worse after the break. Laurent Koscielny, the victim of Cole's red card tackle, was sent off in injury time for his second yellow card but he was one of the better players. Their new striker Marouane Chamakh, despite a marginal role in the equaliser, was anonymous. Andrei Arshavin will surely not have a worse game all season.

Early days yet but, for either of these sides to frame a proper title challenge this season there will have to be improvement. Arsenal will be a different team with Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie, a late substitute yesterday, in their side. The kindest thing you can say about Chamakh is that it took Thierry Henry a season to find his feet in England. These days, however, players get considerably less time.

Hodgson said that he felt Cole's dismissal was harsh but it did not look that way. As he made contact with Koscielny by the touchline deep in the Arsenal half, his leading boot was studs up and, when he brought the other through, the defender's leg was caught in a pincer. At best it was foolish; at worst it was extremely dangerous.

Thankfully, Koscielny, taken off on a stretcher after the tackle, came back out for the second half intact. The same could not be said of Arsenal. A minute on, Jack Wilshere miscontrolled a ball out to him, Glen Johnson seized upon it and pushed it forward to Ngog in the right channel of the area.

He hit it first time, a brisk shot that beat Manuel Almunia at his near post In the opening stages of the first half, Wilshere in particular had looked excellent, dictating the tempo of Arsenal's passing in the centre of midfield to the extent that he found himself stalked by Steven Gerrard, who was anxious to lay down a marker with the teenager.

Yet for all his undoubted talent, Wilshere remains some way off the finished article. He was culpable in conceding possession for the Liverpool goal and he was caught out badly by Javier Mascherano shortly afterwards. He will learn but it is surely too soon to be talking about him as an integral member of Fabio Capello's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

By the time Wilshere was replaced on the hour, the spirit at Anfield was well and truly stirred. They gave another debutant, the Serb Milan Jovanovic, a rousing standing ovation when he was substituted on 66 minutes after a performance that was not exactly game-changing. When Fernando Torres took his bow, the place was shaking.

For a few minutes in the latter stages of the game, Daniel Agger's absence from the pitch – he took a ball in his face – meant that Arsenal had a two-man advantage but only in the very final moments did the tide change. Jamie Carragher had launched himself in front of Samir Nasri's shot on 70 minutes, which was the best Arsenal mustered for some time.

Then came the goal from a Rosicky cross on the left that Reina missed and Chamakh deflected goalward. Reina chased the ball back to his own goal and, when it bounced off the post, his failure to react in time meant he simply pushed it over his goal-line. Reina ended up in the back of his own net. Anfield started to empty. The consolation is that there are another 37 games to get things right.

Match facts

Liverpool 4-2-3-1: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger; Gerrard, Mascherano (Lucas, 79); Kuyt, J Cole, Jovanovic (Rodriguez, 66); Ngog (Torres, 74). Substitutes not used Cavalieri (gk), Aurelio, Kelly, Babel.

Booked Gerrard. Sent off J Cole

Arsenal 4-3-3: Almunia; Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Clichy; Eboué (Walcott, 60), Diaby (Van Persie, 76), Wilshere (Rosicky, 60); Nasri, Chamakh, Arshavin. Substitutes not used Vela, Song, Fabianski (gk), Gibbs.

Booked Wilshere, Rosicky, Koscielny. Sent off Koscielny

Man of the match Carragher.

Referee M Atkinson

Attendance 44,722.

Cole and Koscielny see red: More nightmare debuts

Liverpool's Joe Cole and Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny were both sent off at Anfield yesterday. But they are not the first players to see red on their debuts for a new club.

After sealing his dream £13.4m move from Newcastle to Real Madrid, Jonathan Woodgate was sent off and scored an own goal against Athletic Bilbao in his debut at the Bernabeu in September 2005. "It was not the best start in the world," he admitted later. The defender opened the scoring for Bilbao after heading Joseba Etxeberria's shot past Iker Casillas, and was then sent off after 66 minutes for a second yellow card. Real won 3-1 despite his horror show.

The Fulham midfielder Kagisho Dikgacoi got stuck in during his brief league debut against West Ham, the South African being given his marching orders 41 minutes into last October’s 2-2 draw after slapping Scott Parker in the face in an off-the-ball incident.

Ade Akinbiyi was really charged up for his Burnley debut when the striker came on with 10 minutes left in the 2-0 defeat by Sunderland in March 2005, and got himself sent off for immediately head-butting George McCartney.

He may have gone on to captain Blackburn and make more than 250 appearances for the side, but Garry Flitcroft was sent off just three minutes into his debut for the club in March 1996 for elbowing Everton's Tony Grant. They went on to lose 3-0.

Graeme Souness's career as the Rangers player/manager started memorably as he was dismissed 34 minutes into his debut in the 2-1 defeat to Hibernian in August 1986, gaining a second yellow card for a two-footed lunge. He redeemed himself by leading the team to the league title.