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Opinion

Signs still strong for Arsenal despite Liverpool drubbing

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Roar Rookie
29th September, 2020
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Liverpool continued their unbeaten start to the Premier League season with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal at Anfield. The Gunners made a few changes from the side that beat Leicester City midweek as Mikel Arteta looked to go to Anfield and get a result.

From the outset it was clear Liverpool were on another level to Arsenal, maintaining possession, closing down the midfield and forcing mistakes as Arsenal tried to play out from the back. To put it mildly, Liverpool utterly dominated the first half in every way could look at it. From shots to possession and the scoreline, Liverpool had the Gunners covered.

It was an impressive first-half performance until Arsenal took a shock lead in the 25th minute. Alexandre Lacazette latched onto a miscue from defender Andy Robertson and scuffed his shot but did enough to get the ball over Alisson Becker and into the net. To say it was against the run of play would be the understatement of the century.

However, with Liverpool still in full control, the lead lasted only two minutes, with Sadio Mane equalising after some neat play from Naby Keita and Mo Salah. Bernd Leno parried the resulting shot right into Mane’s path, and he converted to level it up at 1-1.

Now, much was made of Mane’s incident with Kieran Tierney, as many fans were furious that he was not shown a red for his high elbow. To me it didn’t seem enough to brandish a red card, but that take will surely divide opinion.

After the equaliser Liverpool were as hungry as ever – they were first to everything, fighting tooth and nail and not giving Arsenal any room to breathe.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian and Lacazette were basically passengers for the entire first half as Liverpool suffocated the Arsenal backline and midfield, which cut off the supply to the forwards. The first 30 minutes of the game was probably the most dominant performance I have seen from a team this year and possibly last year too. Liverpool were on a whole other level.

All the pressure paid off just two minutes later as Liverpool took the lead as Andy Robertson made up for his error to dink over Leno. It started with some great work again from Mo Salah, who found Trent Alexander-Arnold, who played a perfect ball to find Robertson unmarked at the back post to give his side the lead.

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Hector Bellerin was drawn too close to Rob Holding, which left space at the back, and Willian did not track the run of Robertson, which proved costly. All of Arsenal’s resilience and hard work was erased in six minutes as they went from 1-0 up to 2-1 down.

Arsenal were simply on the defensive foot for the entire first half, having only one shot on target and only two touches inside Liverpool’s box in 45 minutes. Compare that to Liverpool’s 11 shots, five of which were on target, and 13 touches in the Arsenal box. It tells you all you need to about the dominance of the champions in the first half.

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After the interval it was clear Mikel Arteta had made some changes, with Granit Xhaka and Mo Elneny taking up more advanced positions in midfield and forcing Liverpool to play slower and more patiently than in the first half. Arteta knew Arsenal needed a creative spark, and on the 60-minute mark Dani Ceballos came on for Granit Xhaka and made an immediate impact. Picking up the ball and running at Liverpool’s midfield and defence, he gave the Gunners the life they needed.

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He picked out Lacazette with a beautiful pass only for the forward to be offside even though Allison saved his shot anyway. In the 63rd minute Lacazette had the best chance to level for Arsenal, playing through by a neat ball from Ceballos, but the forward tried to shift Allison before taking his shot. It did not work, as the keeper stood tall and kept Arsenal at bay in what proved to be a costly miss. Had that chance fallen to Aubameyang, it might have been different.

The second half from an Arsenal point of view was much better. They were more of a threat going forward as well as keeping the score at 2-1. It was a more assured performance, as the Gunners did not let the Reds have it all their own way, unlike the first half, and you could sense Liverpool were getting a little restless as Arsenal had shown the ability to counterattack and put Liverpool under pressure.

Arteta brought on Nicolas Pepe for Willian, the Brazillian having had a very underwhelming performance as Arsenal pushed for an equaliser. Youngster Eddie Nketiah was brought on with 15 minutes to go, replacing Lacazette, but it was all for naught as new Liverpool signing Diogo Jota scored in the 88th minute on his Premier League debut for Liverpool to finally put the game beyond doubt at 3-1.

After the shambles that was the first half Arsenal showed grit and determination to get back into the game in the second half. They did not allow Liverpool to do as they pleased, and you can bet that Arteta’s tactical planning had something to do with it. The call to bring on Dani Ceballos was a great move. Perhaps he should have started given his creative ability and his energy in midfield, although in truth with the way Liverpool played in the first half the argument could be made that he would have suffered much like the rest of the side.

So I am happy with how Arsenal did not roll over and continued fighting right up until the end, and that’s a credit to how Mikel Arteta has his side played and their mental approach to the match. I wasn’t expecting a win, as that would have been foolish considering where Arsenal are at in terms of their development, but maybe the chance to steal a point was there for the taking.

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Surely the second half will give the team confidence going forward even though they came away from Anfield with nothing to show for it – in previous years they would have been blown off the park.

It is another step in the right direction even though it might not seem like it today. However, reinforcements are needed in the midfield, and hopefully they come soon, because as we saw today, even though the Gunners have shown improvement, there is still a long way to go when it comes to competing with the best in the land.