THE story was about the new face on the pitch, the chatter in the stands centred around new owners and the day was especially significant for the new man in the dugout.
While it was impossible to escape the all pervading sense of change at Anfield yesterday afternoon, some things reassuringly stay the same where Liverpool are concerned – namely the refusal to bow to adversity and admit defeat.
Though Liverpool were made favourites to mark Roy Hodgson’s first game in charge with a victory, trying to eclipse Arsene Wenger’s elegant ensemble was never going to be what you would think of describing as a straightforward task.
Even when a team has its full quota of best players on the pitch, they can never have total faith that Arsenal will be beaten, so when you consider Liverpool played 50 minutes with a numerical disadvantage you begin to see why it was folly to expect a winning start.
But had it not been for a cruel twist of fate in the shadows of time, Hodgson would have entered the history books by becoming the first man in the club’s history to register three wins from his first three competitive games at the helm.
Poor Pepe Reina. The man who did so much to keep Liverpool afloat last season he is the last person you would expect to fumble under pressure yet that is precisely what happened with five seconds of normal time remaining.
Blinded by sunlight and under pressure from Marouane Chamakh, Reina inexplicably put through his own net, depriving a Liverpool side full of energy and endeavour the maximum return many home supporters felt they deserved.
To be truthful, a draw was probably the fairest outcome but conceding so late leaves the bitterest of tastes – think back to the amount of times it happened last term – and, inevitably, some will feel flat and frustrated as they reflect on matters today.
If that is the case, think again. Liverpool, remember, are having their top four credentials written off in plenty of places but here was the evidence – especially in a vibrant second half display – that suggested they might not be too far off the pace.
From the outstanding central defensive partnership of Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher, through to the tireless Javier Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard, there were plenty in red who impressed; such a shame, then, that it was another red that stole the focus.
There is no doubt Joe Cole would have spent the days before this game dreaming about grabbing the headlines with a game shaping contribution.
Well, that’s precisely what he did, but his dream became a nightmare; desperate to get involved in a contest which had hitherto failed to catch fire, Cole’s enthusiasm and anxiety to impress carried him into a tackle hindsight says he should never have made.
Anyone who believes Cole went out to deliberately maim Laurent Koscielny is utterly wide of the mark but a strict interpretation of the rules of the modern game meant Martin Atkinson had no choice other than to give him his marching orders.
With half-time to chew on the decision, many in the ground would have anticipated Arsenal keeping the ball for much of the second half before pouncing but, happily, within 60 seconds of the re-start, Liverpool got the boost they needed.
Thanks to an encouraging pre-season, David Ngog started yesterday with confidence and while there were times when he looked lost in between Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen, there was no disputing the quality of the strike he smashed past Manuel Almunia.
How Ngog develops again this season will make for interesting viewing but he will realise that interventions such as this are going to have to become a regular occurrence rather than a bolt from the blue if he is really going to keep the sceptics quiet.
In some ways, you could say the same about the team; it was thrilling to see them running and chasing as if their lives depended on it – full credit, in this case, to Mascherano, who never played like a man who wants to move – and the crowd fed off their efforts.
Yet, at the same time, it is vital to keep a sense of perspective; Hodgson, more than anyone, will know that bigger challenges lie ahead and there is still plenty of work to be done before Liverpool can start moving forward with purpose again.
Should the spirit and determination remain as it has done throughout the ages, however, Hodgson’s job will be just that little more simpler.
“He's the best keeper in the world; there is no doubt about that. We all make mistakes” – JAMIE CARRAGHER puts Pepe Reina's last-gasp fumble into context.
“He is not one I would like to record as a guy who tried to hurt people. That is not his style; he was maybe a bit rushy” – ARSENE WENGER absolves Joe Cole of malice.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher, Skrtel, Gerrard, Cole, Kuyt, Mascherano (Lucas, 79), Jovanovic (Rodriguez, 66), N'Gog (Torres, 74). Not used: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Kelly, Babel.
ARSENAL (4-5-1): Almunia, Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Clichy, Diaby (van Persie, 76), Nasri, Wilshere (Rosicky, 60), Arshavin, Eboue (Walcott, 59), Chamakh. Not used: Fabianski, Gibbs, Song, Vela. GOALS: Ngog (46), Reina (og) (90+1).
CARDS: Booked – Gerrard; Koscielny, Wilshere, Rosicky. Sent off – Cole; Koscielny.REFEREE: Martin Atkinson.
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