Having played eight Premier League matches without defeat (10 in all competitions) and significantly improved their table rankings after an abysmal start to the season, Arsenal traveled to Merseyside on Saturday to face Liverpool in what was mostly described as a proper test for their new-found form and confidence. The match proved just that and the Gunners went back to London heavily disappointed.
Sadio Mane took advantage of poor set-piece marking and a trademark cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold to open the scoring after 39 minutes. Diogo Jota pounced on a poor sideways-pass from Nuno Tavares to send both Gabriel Magalhaes and the excellent Aaron Ramsey the wrong way before hammering in the second in the 52nd minute. The brilliant Mohamed Salah finished off a great team move in the 74th, before substitute Takumi Minamino also made the most of Alexander-Arnold’s crossing accuracy to set the final score to 4-0.
Ramsdale is proving to have been a real bargain for Arsenal, who acquired his services from Sheffield United for a reported fee of around £25 million. Bernd Leno started the season as the first choice between the posts, but Ramsdale was given his chance after the opening three defeats and it’s fair to say he has impressed.
The fact that he saw the ball hit the back of his net four times in this match is very harsh. There was nothing he could do to prevent the goals, but he did what he could for his team. He made five rather difficult saves, denying Mane, Jota and Salah, as well as Alexander-Arnold, in situations when the Liverpool players all thought they would score.
Ramsdale made his England debut against San Marino during this month’s international break, and Gareth Southgate will probably want to consider putting him between the posts ahead of Everton’s Jordan Pickford for more challenging games in the near future.
Liverpool forwards too much for Arsenal defence
Much like Ramsdale, Ben White has established himself as a regular member of the starting XI in Arteta’s team following his arrival from Brighton and Hove Albion this summer, forming a fine partnership with Gabriel in the heart of defence.
Nuno Tavares, the 21-year-old left-back who arrived from Benfica to act as a backup option for Kieran Tierney. With the Scotsman not quite 100% fit, he was given a start and a chance to square up to Salah, the league’s leading goalscorer. Tahekiro Tomiyasu, the versatile Japanese defender, played on the right, with Mane mostly the man to pay attention to.
All four players showed ability to win duels against their formidable opponents, but all four also showed tendencies to succumb to Liverpool’s fluid attacking play which frequently had at least one of them out of position, leaving the others to do what they can without him. Further more, Tavares made several mistakes which fully revealed his lack of experience as a glaring weakness.
With all that in mind, it was really no surprise that all four forwards Jurgen Klopp used in this match managed to get on the scoresheet.
The Red control
When Liverpool get into their stride and play as composedly as they can in the middle of the park, there is rarely anything any opponent can do to shake off the shackles placed on their game-plan. Pressing high with incredible levels of coordination from the first to the final whistle, the Merseysiders not only managed to keep the ball in their possession, but also to keep it in Arsenal’s half most of the time. The most obvious result of such an approach, apart from the final scoreline, is the fact that they took 19 shots, as opposed to Arsenal’s five. And of those five, only one posed any real threat to Alisson Becker in the home goal.
Thomas Partey and Albert Sambi Lokonga should have done more to provide protection for the back line, and Arteta won’t be too pleased with the nerves Lokonga showed in possession, though he’ll probably forgive the 21-year-old and put it down to the notable learning curve of the Premier League. Also, Emile Smith Rowe, the player on whom this Arsenal team relies the most for creativity, was completely neutralized and invisible for 99% of the match, but this could arguably be put down to Partey and Lokonga failing to secure possession for their team too.
On the other hand, Liverpool had real composure stemming from the vast experience of Thiago Alcantara, incredible levels of determination constantly shown by former Gunner Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the ever-increasing defensive shrewdness of Fabinho. The middle of the park was arguably the area where the difference in quality between these teams showed the most, resulting in 639 Liverpool passes compared to just 384 between the visiting players.
Passions running high
The match started as a fierce competition with plenty of hard tackles, pulling from behind, as well as a few elbows. The tension between the two sets of players ran rather high in the first half, with referee Michael Oliver obviously reluctant to start waving the yellow card around too early. It culminated when the two managers broke into a spat on the touchline, forcing their staff and fourth official Andy Madley to act as peacekeepers and earning a booking each – the first of the match.
Mane and White had a number of heated encounters, but only the Liverpool forward got booked for a particularly unnecessary foul on White in the 44th minute. The only other player to earn a yellow card in this match was Fabinho in the 70th, and Oliver should be commended for conducting such a potentially explosive match without further incidents.
Losing a match on a visit to Anfield is never something a team or a manager should be worried about too much – Liverpool have proven themselves quite capable of beating anyone at the iconic stadium. Nonetheless, there will be a tinge of regret for the Gunners because a win, as far-fetched as the notion of it may seem in retrospect, would have seen them overtake Liverpool in the Premier League table.
As it is, Liverpool have reduced the gap to leaders Chelsea back to four points. They’ve also moved up to second place, overtaking title defenders Manchester City, if only for a day – the defending champions play their match today (Sunday), at the Etihad against Everton. And as for Arsenal, they remain fifth, and they’ll be looking to get back to winning ways when they face relegation-threatened Newcastle at the Emirates next Saturday, the same day when Liverpool play Southampton at Anfield.
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