Brendan Rodgers was forced to shuffle his pack due to a number of players being unavailable. Although the Reds could have used the control of Steven Gerrard in central midfield, the pace of Jordon Ibe at right wing-back and the invention of Adam Lallana in attack; another absentee’s omission was firmly felt.
Martin Skrtel is certainly not a glamorous footballer but his stubborn presence in the Liverpool team this season – and for a prolonged number of years – has been a key element to the club’s progression.
The Slovakian enforcer missed the clash at the Emirates Stadium after being handed a three-match retrospective ban by the FA for an alleged stamp on Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea. This will be hard to take for Rodgers and the Kop given the collective pleas of innocence and Liverpool were simply not as watertight without the 30-year-old at the core of their three-man defence.
Although Emre Can has caught the eye since switching to centre-half, it has been Skrtel’s consistency that has been a standout feature in a miserly Reds rearguard. The visitors failed to get to grips with Arsenal’s in-form striker Olivier Giroud, with the Frenchman bullying Liverpool’s defence and bringing other attackers into play as a result.
Skrtel’s replacement Kolo Toure had an afternoon to forget. The Ivorian was culpable for giving the ball away too often and also found himself being caught out of position.
Although Martin Skrtel rightly gains plaudits for his aerial ability and no-nonsense approach, his organisation and leadership are often overlooked. A three-man defence requires a vocal central component to provide the positional fulcrum that the other two centre-halves follow.
Skrtel does this very well. Toure, on Saturday, did not.
Had Skrtel been in the Liverpool line-up at the weekend they would certainly not have been as soft a touch at the back, with lapses in concentration being much more seldom without the calamitous figure of Kolo Toure. This ban may well have cost Rodgers’ men dearly, with it now appearing that the points gulf between fourth and fifth is too great for the Merseysiders to overcome.
A lot of talk has been going into potential new Liverpool captains as Gerrard prepares to bid farewell to his boyhood club and set sail for America this summer. Although the consensus is that Jordan Henderson will be the English star’s replacement and Can has also been touted as a potential option, Skrtel’s name should firmly be put forward also.
A loyal servant of the club, the veteran’s actions on the pitch inspire his teammates. He has all the attributes of an excellent Liverpool captain.
The Reds really missed Skrtel against the Gunners and the Anfield fans will hope that his absence in forthcoming fixtures does not derail the club’s season completely.