New season, same old Arsenal, but enough to deny Hodgson's dream start

They had more possession and in the first half, in particular, played some neat football up to the Liverpool 18-yard box. Yet there was the familiar lack of end product.

You have to go back 25 years for the last time Liverpool opened their league campaign at home against Arsenal. Then, as now, they were starting life under a new manager but the parallels end there. Kenny Dalglish was a 34-year-old Anfield playing legend just beginning his coaching career in August 1985. Roy Hodgson is a 63-year-old at the other end of the scale in terms of age and experience, albeit embarking on potentially his biggest challenge after 15 coaching posts in eight countries.

Not even the most optimistic Liverpudlian would expect Hodgson to match Dalglish's feat in winning the league and cup double in his first campaign in charge, although he almost emulated him with a debut victory over visitors from north London. Indeed his team's response to the loss of Joe Cole, who marked his league debut in a red shirt with his career's first red card, would have left Hodgson happier than his counterpart Arsene Wenger.

Hodgson's expert organisation of Fulham took the club to the Europa League final last term and Liverpool produced a resilient display that would have earned three points but for Pepe Reina's freakish last-minute own goal. Hodgson has managed to keep the key pair of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres - a second-half substitute - at the club and while the manager has sought to play down expectations given the proposed change of ownership at the Anfield, Wenger has talked up his team's prospects for the campaign, saying now was the "time to deliver".

According to Wenger his young team have become "real men". Yet with Cesc Fabregas, the captain, absent with a reported chest infection, they lacked a driving force. This was a case of new season, same old Arsenal. They had more possession and in the first half, in particular, played some neat football up to the Liverpool 18-yard box. Yet there was the familiar lack of end product. Liverpool created the better of the few chances there were and not until the closing moments - with the hosts effectively down to nine players because of Daniel Agger's concussion - did Arsenal force Reina into a save of note with his tipover from Tomas Rosicky's superb effort. Reina will kick himself for a late error, but it was the performance of his compatriot at the other end that was more of a talking point.

Manuel Almunia gave another unconvincing display - twice he came out and missed crosses and he was beaten at his near post by David Ngog for Liverpool's goal. Wenger had said whoever started in goal would be his No 1 for the campaign, but this display merely underlined that Mark Schwarzer's mooted arrival from Fulham cannot come soon enough. While the game leaves Wenger question marks, Liverpool's spirited display has given Hodgson some answers.

sports@thenational.ae

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