Reina howler lets Gunners off the hook

LIVERPOOL (1) vs ARSENAL (1)

LIVERPOOL boss Roy Hodgson refused to blame Pepe Reina after the goalkeeper’s late howler ensured Arsenal shared the spoils of an absorbing Premier League opener at Anfield.

Reina spilled the ball into his own net during stoppage time, just as it seemed David Ngog’s strike would hand Hodgson a major scalp on his first top-flight Reds match in charge.

His dream debut was spoiled by Arsenal’s equaliser, but a far worse league bow befell Joe Cole, the Liverpool midfielder earning a straight red card before half time for a lunge on Laurent Koscielny.

The Gunners defender, also making his first league start, was carried off in agony but recovered to impress in the second half, only to then also be dismissed for a second yellow card in a chaotic finale.

“He will be the first one not to try and apportion blame to other people, so of course he’s taken it hard,” said Hodgson of Spanish stopper Reina.

“But I thought he played well today. His concentration was good, his kicking was excellent. There are an enormous number of positives. The one negative, unfortunately, was he let in a goal which in normal circumstances he would have kept out.”

Hodgson hinted he would appeal Cole’s dismissal, adding: “He is devastated. He was desperate to do well, and then suddenly he gets sent off. Replays suggest to me he was a little bit unlucky.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, insisted his side’s point was just reward for his decision to end the game with four forwards and two attacking midfielders.

“They intelligently took the fluency out of the game,” said Wenger. “We just kept going and throwing more and more people forward and in the end we got a deserved equaliser.”

Arsenal, without captain Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and Alex Song, dominated the first half without creating many chances, and were handed a numerical advantage when Cole saw red.

But it was Liverpool who seized the initiative seconds after the re-start, Javier Mascherano punishing sloppy defending to feed Ngog, whose rising shot beat Manuel Almunia at his near post. Hodgson’s 10 men successfully kept the Gunners at bay, save for a Tomas Rosicky shot tipped over, until injury time, when Marouane Chamakh challenged Reina for a cross and the ball hit the post before cannoning in off the keeper.