Mikel Arteta said after the match against Liverpool that the gap between the two sides was enormous and he extended his arms one over the other to illustrate how big a distance it was. No one would deny the disparity in terms of quality but the gunners finished this encounter as the bedraggled victors.
Full Time Result :
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1
Lacazette 32, Mané 20
It was a spirited, determined, sometimes desperate performance that required focus, concentration and bodies on the line.
The obvious benefit of not having a crowd was that it allowed the viewer to hear Jürgen Klopp’s impressive white veneers grinding together in frustration.
As I suggested in my preview of the game Arteta ‘s Arsenal had to dig deep and employ a trench mentality as Liverpool, mainly through Robertson and Mane, came at them relentlessly.
24 shots on goal compared to Arsenals 3 went some way to showing how lopsided this encounter was and I’d say that Klopp’s side had 70% of the possession but it’s goals that win games.
“A slow start from Arsenal” could become a catchphrase before the seasons over and within minutes the size of the task ahead became clear.
Arsenal were going to spend a lot of time in the midfield and in defence, less so in attack as the Merseysider’s hassled and chased every ball, they virtually set up camp in the gunners half as they allowed the visitors time and space to dictate the tempo and run the game.
A goal was coming because of the levels of saturation and pressure Arsenal were constantly under. It was clear that Klopp’s generous comments about Arsenal’s attack before the match had given way to the reality of slim pickings and token gestures.
The breakthrough came when Firmino found Robertson on the left, the tireless Scot delivered a sweet ball across the box to Mané to slot the ball into the net (20)
23 minutes in and Arteta and Arsenal supporters alike had a growing sense that when Liverpool really got going they would get three or four.
Without Ceballos there was no cutting edge passes through the middle, no creativity full stop. It was all hands on deck as Arsenal repelled the onslaught.
I also noted that Torreira and Xhaka aren’t really that compatible and that come Saturdays FA cup semi final Ceballos would be reinstated immediately and without much thought.
Liverpool’s pressing game reduced the home side to a series of unimaginative and uninspired forays forward which resulted in desperately poor passing that was easy to intercept.
Torriera, Lacazette and Pepe were stranglers to the ball for 30 minutes. The most action Lacazette had was when he was nearly robbed outside his own area. He managed to rectify his mistake and spent the first thirty minutes of his evening being completely frustrated by chasing shadows.
Then with 32 minutes gone and with Arsenal absolutely no threat, van Dyke gave Lacazette a Kolasinac style gift. Nelson was buzzing at the centre backs heels and that made him rush into a panicked pass.
It was a moment that will haunt the defender every night before a game. The sight of Lacazette’s interception and clinical finish will be tattooed on his brain even when he kisses the premier league trophy.
Sky’s replays were enjoyed by every Arsenal fan who was now wishing they hadn’t been so pessimistic including myself but this game was far from over with the Liverpool artillery still looking like a direct hit was due any minute.
Early on Martinez, who must be causing Leno sleepless nights was close to plucking the ball out of his own net after his kick from goal rebounded off Firmino clipping the post on its way out of play.
Robertson was by far and away the star for Liverpool in the first half, constantly bombing down Arsenals flank to keep the unassuming but diligent Cédric Soares occupied.
In the 44th minute Alisson decided to indulge in role play by pretending that he played for Arsenal and inexplicably punted the ball out to Lacazette.
The striker thumped the ball enticingly across the area for Reiss Nelson to expertly dispatch for his first premier league goal.
2-1 was a score that no one imagined and suddenly, for those that could remember that far back, it all seemed Grahamesque and ‘89’.
In the 48th minute Bukayo Saka was taken out by an increasingly frustrated Trent Alexander-Arnold in an almost identical incident to Eddie Nketiah’s sending off at Leicester, minus the constant VAR replays or the referee consulting his monitor.
In a staggering illustration of inconsistency the player was shown a yellow. Yes, I’m still going on about it !!
Arsenal fans waited for the inquiry but the VAR officials fell strangely quiet, perhaps they nipped out to the loo or abandoned their post for a cup of tea because the game continued as before.
Liverpool regrouped and came at Arsenal again and again with Mané tapping on the door and the odd cameo from Minamino, who looks like another great player in the making.
Arteta paced his technical area probably wishing he could roll back the years and put his boots on and join ranks against the relentless Liverpool onslaught.
Unfortunately he had to watch anxiously like the rest of us as every Arsenal player blocked, stifled, smothered and hacked at the ball to keep the champions at bay.
The only blot on a successful evening was Willock failing to bury the bewildered champions in the last minute of normal time.
As for heroes, It was Martinez that thundered to the rescue even right up to the death. In the 54th minute he was at full stretch to stop Salah after he received a heavenly ball from Alexander-Arnold.
Say what you like but Leno is no longer the automatic choice in goal after the Argentinian’s fine run of form.
Arsenal’s recent wasteful approach to opportunities was suddenly a thing of the past here, they created them against the run of play, seized them and defended them fiercely.
By contrast Klopp shook his head and grimaced frequently from his vantage point in an empty Emirates as each Liverpool attack was nullified.
Eventually his side ran out of ideas and it must have been difficult to comprehend how they lost this match to a side who are 40 points behind them, struggling to get into the Europa league.
Arteta knows that although his team can be admired for their determination and dogged performance they need more quality than they currently have.
I’d say on the evidence of this performance that it may require £150m and four new faces.
Arteta looked like a figure that was searching for assurances when he made a passionate and honest case to the Arsenal board in the post Liverpool match interview.
“You need quality, quality players and a big squad to compete in these competitions. It is a challenge.”
He said, when asked if he knew what he would have to spend this summer he simply said
“ I don’t know.”
They could always imitate Liverpool who paid Hull just £8m for Andrew Robertson, a deal that adds some much needed sanity to the transfer market but despite what the press say, Kroenke will have to part with some cash to prop up this flagging team and help out Arteta.
Energy is one thing but quality is another, Liverpool have not been lucky with their recent success, it’s been a planned and expensive process which has seen them rise to the top of the game. Success isn’t cheap.
George Graham must have enjoyed the spirit and togetherness of Arteta’s side but the work is far from over, it’s just beginning.