Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal were “paralysed” during the first half of their remarkable 3-3 Premier League draw against Liverpool on Friday.
Arsenal failed to record a shot on target in the opening period, while a rampant Liverpool should have had more to show for their dominance at the interval than Philippe Coutinho’s first headed Premier League goal.
Mohamed Salah extended the visitors’ advantage shortly after the restart to suggest Liverpool could dish out a repeat of their 4-0 August mauling of Arsenal, before Wenger’s men – who were booed off at the break – struck three times in five minutes in a stunning comeback. Roberto Firmino’s goal then salvaged a dramatic point for the visitors.
Although Wenger accepted the match was a treat for neutral viewers, Arsenal’s performance in the first half drew heavy criticism from the veteran manager.
“I felt in the first half we were paralysed and frozen – we played too deep,” Wenger told Sky Sports. “We gave a lot of balls away and were second best.
“It was down to a psychological factor and there was a bearing to the Manchester United game [a 3-1 reverse at home] when we had a bad start.
“But at half-time we were only 1-0 down, it could have been game over. In the second half we showed quality and character. We have won the most points from lost positions and you can see why.
“I told the players the good thing is we are only 1-0 down, we had a great opportunity to create a different phase. What we did was not good enough, we had nothing to lose, we wanted to go for it.”
388 – There were just 388 seconds between Liverpool going 2-0 ahead and Arsenal taking the lead to make it 3-2. Rapid. #ARSLIV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 22, 2017
Arsenal were frequently caught out by the speed of Liverpool’s counter-attacking but Wenger denied the approach of his side had been incorrect, although the positioning of left-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles – a surprise selection over Sead Kolasinac – was questionable throughout.
“We knew about the Liverpool pace, but that [defending deep] wasn’t the message we sent to the team,” Wenger added.
“The players had it in their mind that the players are quick but sometimes the best way is to play higher up, play for offside. If you play too deep they have space to keep the ball and that can be dangerous too.
“I believe Ainsley has good pace, he is good one v one and as a full-back it is important not to make the foul, to nip the ball away, and he has that quality. He lacks experience but at 20 when you get a chance you have to take it, and that’s what he did.
“The regret is that at 3-2 we were naive defensively on their third goal but it was a thrilling game. At half-time we would have taken a point. You always have regrets after being 3-2 up but overall it was a fair result.”
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