Arsenal were thoroughly beaten at Anfield on Saturday. The joy that Ainsley Maitland-Niles gave the supporters was extremely short-lived. It took Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino just seven minutes to completely turn the game around, and the hosts never looked back.
All things considered, it has to be said that the result belies the game somewhat. It may feel strange to hear (or say for that matter), but Arsenal played some very good football against Liverpool. A few players put in excellent individual performances.
Quite apart from scoring the opening goal, young Maitland-Niles gave Andy Robertson a lot to worry about with his dangerous runs. He even forced the Scotland international to use his arms from behind to stop him, which prompted referee Michael Oliver to produce a yellow card.
Alex Iwobi, who assisted Maitland-Niles for the opener with a superb diagonal cross, also looked very lively down the left flank. The marauding feet of Trent Alexander-Arnold took the young Liverpool fullback out of position a number of times, forcing centre-back Dejan Lovren to go wide and face Iwobi. There, the Nigerian found it easy to show his pace against the Croatian, and Liverpool’s central midfielders had to be alert and help their back line deal with Iwobi.
Aaron Ramsey looked very inspired with the ball at his feet too, and even though Georginio Wijnaldum could (arguably) be named Man of the Match, the Welshman gave him quite a contest in the middle of the park. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka also put in decent performances.
It has become a regular thing when discussing Arsenal to criticize the back line, but there are two things one needs to bear in mind when dissecting this particular game.
- There was no Hector Bellerin, Nacho Monreal, Rob Holding or (still) Dinos Mavropanos available, Shkodran Mustafi was only just passed fit ahead of the game, and Laurent Koscielny obviously needs time to find form after his long absence.
- Livepool’s front line is absolutely top class. Mohamed Salah broke the Premier League record last season with 32 strikes, and while many considered him a “one-season wonder”, he’s shown this term that such a label is far from an accurate one. Firmino had a patch of comparatively poor form earlier this season, but he has picked his game up and Mustafi, Sokratis and Torreira can hardly take any blame for his second strike, as the Brazilian’s skill proved too much for all of them to deal with.
That said, there’s simply no excuse for Stephan Lichtsteiner’s incredibly clumsy reaction that preceded the 14th-minute equalizer. Xhaka’s tackle to dispossess Salah on the edge of the box was a phenomenal piece of defending, before the former Switzerland captain made the effort of his successor in that role pointless by hitting Mustafi with the attempted clearance and giving Firmino the chance to put the ball in the empty net. Given his mistake which directly cost his team two points midweek, the question whether the 34-year-old can be relied on has become a valid one.
Sokratis can maybe be forgiven for the penalty he gave away. He was in a bad fix, with Salah getting goal-side. Despite the tight angle, the Egyptian is a very dangerous attacker and any defender worth his salt always has to at least try to do something to thwart him, and a tackle from behind inside the box is always a huge risk.
However, it would be interesting to learn what Sead Kolašinac was thinking when he elbowed Lovren in the back right in front of the referee. It’s hard to imagine the Liverpool centre-back doing anything in that situation, and what Kolašinac did can only point to frustration.
Be that as it may, there was probably a lot for Unai Emery to discuss with his fullbacks after the final whistle, and it certainly feels like the return of Bellerin and Monreal, who are themselves far from perfect, cannot come soon enough. Something to look at in the upcoming transfer window?
Let’s wait and see.