By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal went down 2-0 to Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime at Emirates Stadium.
That is the result of this match but it is not the story.
Arsène Wenger came into this game with a couple of debutants due to suspension and injury elsewhere. He brought on another rookie midway through the first half when Laurent Koscielny hobbled off.
And yet the performance was one of pride.
It was bitterly ironic that the epitome of that emotion, Emmanuel Frimpong, saw red 18 minutes from time.
Luis Suarez added another at the death but, by then, the damage was done.
The record books will suggest this was a solid away win but the applause that greeted the home team as they went off, and the songs from the stands throughout, smacked of something different.
If you can have pride in defeat then this was it. Arsenal lost the game - and we know what will follow that - but they have not lost their spirit.
At his pre-match press conference, Wenger had been bullish about including Samir Nasri this afternoon.
“Samir is in the squad,” said the manager. “If I decide to play him he will play. When you are professional you play until the last day.”
In the end, the Frenchman started just behind Robin van Persie.
Van Persie returned from suspension and took the armband for the first time as a full-time captain. Andrey Arshavin was recalled.
Liverpool surprisingly left Suarez on the bench but their attack had the sizeable figure of Andy Carroll at its spearhead. All the summer acquisitions - Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam - started the game.
This was the first of three massive games for Arsenal in nine days. Trips to Udinese and Manchester United completed that tough, tough triumvirate. It might have been only the second week of the season but it was one of the most important.
Arsenal started the game like they were well aware of that. They were pacy and positive, making in-roads down the right flank especially.
Little clear-cut was created but the attitude was spot on. However Liverpool had levelled matters by the time Koscielny was injured.
In the 13th minute, under no pressure, the French defender held his back and nudged the ball out of play. He went down on his haunches and hobbled off.
Miquel come off the bench to make his Premier League debut.
The substitution changed the tide. Arsenal were now on the back foot and, midway through the half, only Szczesny stopped them going behind. Downing’s cross was met by Carroll at the far post and the Pole flung himself to his left to paw the ball aside.
A few minutes later Dirk Kuyt’s cutback was nodded goalward by Henderson but Szczesny saved on the line.
Arsenal were under pressure and Adam tried to catch out Szczesny with a pot-shot from range. The keeper studiously shepherded it over the bar.
To this point, Frimpong, along with Thomas Vermaelen, had been Arsenal’s stand-out player. On the half-hour, it was his effort that heralded their resurgence.
Arshavin’s free-kick came to nothing and the 19-year-old strode forward before letting fly. It was a low, curling effort that looked to be headed towards the corner only for Pepe Reina to thrust out his right hand at the last moment.
Nine minutes before the break, Nasri picked up the ball deep in his own half, outpaced Lucas Leiva, jinked inside the last defender and fired. His shot was a whisker wide.
Downing thundered another effort wide but as the game reached half-time the equilibrium had returned. Walcott broke clear and went right towards Van Persie when Arshavin, on the left, was the better option.
Arsenal were cheered off at the break. An already young side had got younger during the first half through no fault of their own - and they were wearing the shirt with pride. To their credit, the crowd realised that and were pitching in help.
But both still had a job to do.
In the opening stages of a rain-soaked second half, Carroll cut the ball back to Martin Kelly and his rasping drive hit the outside of the near post.
It might have been the conditions, it might have been match, it might have been the opponents, it might have the whole situation. But the third quarter of this encounter was played in an incredible atmosphere.
The pace was frenetic and action intense. The only real chance came when Arshavin muscled off Kelly and cut the ball back for Van Persie six yards out. Reina made a messy save at the near post.
Frimpong had been carrying a booking since the eighth minute but, most of the time, it had barely seemed a burden. In the 70th minute it came back to haunt him. He flicked out a leg, clipped Lucas in a 50:50 and referee Atkinson brandished another booking.
The youngster held his head in his hands as he went off. Apart from that highly significant set-back, it had been a magnificent debut.
Liverpool sensed weakness and brought on Suarez. Wenger tried to shore up the midfield by replacing Henri Lansbury for Arshavin.
It would be easy to say it did not work because that is just when the visitors scored. However the strike had little to do with Liverpool.
Raul Meireles tried to find Suarez on the right of the area but Miquel intercepted and cleared. However Ramsey was on the way back to help. The ball bounced off the chest of the Welshman, looped over Szczesny and found the net.
The Arsenal fans sensed the injustice once more and found their voice.
But their side was a goal and a man down. There was no way back.
Suarez slotted home a simple second on full-time and at the whistle it was hard to know what to feel.
But the points went to Liverpool.
- Koscielny 16
- Frimpong Yellow Card Red Card
- Ramsey Goal!
- Arshavin 72
- Walcott 80
- van Persie
- Miquel 16
- Lansbury 72 Yellow Card
- Bendtner 80
- Jose Enrique
- Lucas Yellow Card
- Kuyt 71
- Carroll 71 Yellow Card
- Meireles 71
- Suarez 71 Goal!