The Liverpool vs Arsenal fixture has been a goal-fest in the past with Liverpool clouting the Gunners on more than one occasion and they set their stall out early even in this game, with Sadio Mane keen to get involved. He showed a ravenous appetite for the ball and in his exuberance, he committed two successive fouls against Bellerin and Tierney.
Tierney was clattered full in the face with an elbow as the two did battle. Was it worthy of a red card? Probably, but it wasn’t going to happen in the early stages of the Liverpool vs Arsenal game at Anfield.
That was the only luck Mane needed because after that, he was involved in nearly all the good things Liverpool had to offer as part of an exceptional front three. The sight of him flying around the Anfield turf in search of the ball was to become the regular feature of the evening, in a contest where he was justifiably Man of the Match but was equally deserving of a different colour card.
Arsenal’s lineup looked fairly sturdy in the opening moments but as the game wore on, Liverpool virtually suffocated the Gunners and at times, one could be forgiven for thinking that there were 18 players in red shirts. 15 minutes in and the Mane show began with a driven shot down Leno’s throat, but the German stood firm and the ball pinged out harmlessly.
As the Liverpool vs Arsenal game progressed, it became clear that it was entirely Liverpool’s and they tightened their grip early on by rushing forward in numbers and attacking in two lines of three, paying particular attention to Arsenal’s left side which was soft, to say the least.
The Gunners needed to keep the ball better and find their rhythm, the plan was to draw their hosts high up the pitch to breach their lines on the break. It didn’t work, especially in a one-sided first half where their hosts clinically saturated the space and denied them any opportunities.
Robertson was the usual menace on the left-flank and Alexander-Arnold was equally up to the task on the right. The youngster saw a decent strike bounce of Bellerin and on to the bar. At this point, Arsenal needed to get further up and start reversing the pressure.
24 minutes in and Liverpool were caught in two minds at the back. Lacazette pinged the ball to Maitland-Niles on the left, who delivered a decent ball into the box. Robertson suffered a case of scuff foot and it fell to Lacazette to put away his third goal in three games.
However, Liverpool never sat on their hands after they went a goal down and that man Mane scored after Mo Salah mugged Tierney with a dropped shoulder and used his raw physical power to deliver a pass across the box for a simple tap in.
Liverpool then flooded forward sensing weakness and they had at least six players in advancing roles. Robertson was unmarked in the Arsenal box (33), with time to poke the ball in from close range. Left side again!
Luiz popped the ball over the top to Maitland-Niles (41) but instead of the youngster finding Aubameyang, he fluffed it straight into the keeper’s path. It would have been the perfect time to reply.
Willian’s work rate in the Liverpool vs Arsenal game was exceptional, even though it was mainly in the wrong half, as he found himself chomping away at a sea of legs in red shorts. This sums up Arsenal at the moment, they bought a striker and in the last two games he’s appeared in, he’s done nothing but defend.
Liverpool were still vulnerable and one killer pass would do the trick to get the Gunners back in terms, but they simply weren’t allowed the ball for more than four passes. The Liverpool players pressed and pressed and Arsenal looked bemused and awkward, struggling to get the ball out from under their feet.
Arsenal have certainly been better when playing out from the back but here they were harassed by red shirts, it all looked a bit nervy and sweaty. One yearned for variation and perhaps, a long hoof upfield to ignite the fuse of the dormant Aubameyang but Liverpool shut the door on him until late in the game, when he had a chance on goal but decided to pass it to Nketiah. Liverpool took care of the threat.
In the second half, Arsenal looked refreshed, pushing up further with greater purpose and completing more than three passes but the way through to the Liverpool box was heavily guarded. 58 minutes and Lacazette was through on goal, one to one but he tried to chip the keeper without any joy. If the score remained the same, Arsenal might have regretted that chance.
61 minutes, Van Dijk tried his luck from distance with a blistering shot that stretched Leno. A minute later, Lacazette had another chance thwarted by Alisson’s right shoulder. The Frenchman could have had a hattrick but his luck was out.
Sadio Mane nearly grabbed a second (64), but he watched as the ball spin wide as Liverpool found a way through a sea of Arsenal shirts. There was still no sign of Aubameyang, which suddenly led me to think that he might suddenly appear at a crucial point of the game.
Pepe was swapped for Willian, which seems a standard move these days and Liverpool were surprisingly less potent at this point. Almost disinterested. From the 79th minute onwards, the Liverpool vs Arsenal game became a knockabout for those in red, with Arsenal unable to breakdown the precise passing but it had still been a better performance from Arteta’s men since the whistle.
Eddie Nketiah came on for Lacazette (73) to see if he could level the proceedings and still we waited for Aubameyang. The youngster was nearly in (75), but was judged offside, and then Firmino, at the other end, popped a ball in that had Leno flapping.
The holes were getting bigger, the space more evident, and the Liverpool vs Arsenal contest getting more open. There was another goal in this but who would take it, at 2-1 it still needed something.
A lazy looking Arsenal cleared a cross by Alexander-Arnold (88) which was met by the head of Luiz, it fell to Jota who just stroked it into the net past a stationary Leno and made the scoreline 3-1. It looked like an obvious case of handball because the ball came up off his leg and onto his hand but it wouldn’t have made any difference.
Aubameyang finally sprang into action (92) when he was given an almost perfect pass. Ceballos, a replacement for Xhaka, had to twist and turn to get out of trouble and then, looked up to see his Captain available and in his usual left-sided trench. The Spaniard hit the ball sweetly and it sailed over some heads to his magical feet. He cut inside and instead of trying his luck, he tried to put it on a plate for Nketiah. That really was it!
Looking at the Liverpool vs Arsenal game again, it’s the smallest of margins that make the biggest differences. Had Lacazette buried one of his two chances, things may have been different for a spell.
Mane could have been sent off for a blatant elbow but wasn’t. Bellerin got a yellow for his challenge on Mane (68) but moments earlier, Aubameyang was pushed to the ground by Fabinho in a similar incident, nothing given. Jota’s handball wasn’t noticed. It wouldn’t have changed the result but it’s another example of the inconsistencies in the game.
On reflection, Arsenal picked the wrong combination in the middle with Xhaka and Elneny and they were weak down the left where the other pairing of Maitland-Niles and Tierney found themselves overwhelmed. Maitland-Niles was neither wing-back nor midfielder and sadly, he abandoned his number three on too many occasions or was too far away to back him up. In an unfamiliar role, AMN looked out of his depth and appeared to lack the application and conviction to follow his instructions.
Arsenal lost a game to a very good side who could change gears in seconds, they were thorough, full of energy, desire, and above all, quality. Emery’s Arsenal would have been finished by half time but this side made a go of it even if the result was never in doubt.
Arteta needs midfielders because he has no one to control and create, Ceballos was an improvement but if he had support, he might have made a bigger difference. Let’s not be too down about this, progress has been made but more is needed and that’s only possible if Arsenal spend money.