A season of great promise? Reality, as ever, is not living up to the hype. Pre-season was filled with title predictions, calls to arms and the clattering of hooves as the cavalary charge was set to begin. It’s turning into the Charge of the Light Brigade, an unrewarding exercise in futility. Arsène thinks the start to the season has been average; he left out the word ‘distinctly’ to add in a hint of disdain. Four points out of nine, one less than at the same stage of last season, a start which was deemed to be the club’s worst since records began.
Arsenal are infuriatingly inconsistent and showing little sign of finding any consistency of performance. Aaron Ramsey had a perfectly good goal disallowed, ultimately the cause of two dropped points. That Petr Cech saved a point cannot be overlooked; the Czech was astounding, producing a string of saves to keep his side in contention. When he couldn’t do it all on his own, the woodwork proved to be his saviour as Liverpool sought to capitalise on an extraordinarily nervous and disjointed defensive performance. Sometimes the pair combined to be Arsenal’s defensive wall.
At the centre of this maelstrom was Calum Chambers. Parachuted into the side by Per Mertesacker’s illness, his lack of match sharpness was evident in distribution which made you question if he had ever passed a football in his life. It was a horrendous first half but one which he ‘played’ himself out of, improving as the match progressed. Arsène admitted that he was “tempted” to hook his young centre back but needed an attacking presence for the second half which proved as contrary as the first.
Fortunately, Gabriel put forward a case for regular inclusion in the starting XI. The Brazilian frequently covered for the impetuosity of Chambers youth, positioning himself to make more than one timely intervention. Aided and abetted by Coquelin, the pair were tigerish in the resolution as Liverpool sliced through in a first half where they will wonder how they didn’t breakthrough.
Coutinho proved to be a constant thorn in Arsenal’s side, exploiting the callowness in the right side of the defence, rattling the woodwork inside three minutes, repeating the trick later in an impressive forty-five minutes. And when Cech tired of denying the Brazilian, he exasperated Christian Benteke with saves which in our heart of hearts, we know Ospina or Szczesny wouldn’t have made. Or probably wouldn’t, if you prefer to be optimistic.
Arsenal weren’t on the back foot during the first half so much as their backsides, contributing in no short measure to their own problems. In the second, they had lept to their feet and surged toward the visitors’ goal, invoking as much panic and discomfort in the Liverpool back four as had been evident in their own during the opening forty-five minutes.
Calls for Giroud to be confirmed as Arsenal’s first choice striker were hardly enhanced by his performance. Starved of meaningful service, he was unable to influence proceedings in the first half and in the second, beyond forcing Mignolet into action as the pressure grew, he was left appealing forlornly for penalties which were never going to be awarded. We’re told to marvel at his statistics for last season but the tellingly, his goal at Selhurst Park is the only time he has found the net in the Premier League in ten games; it’s not going to make the difference in the way Alan Smith did, for example, in 1988-89 or 1990-91.
He was far from the only culprit in that sense. Pretty passing patterns wove through the wings but all too often the final delivery lacked forethought, epitomised with crosses into the penalty area when Theo Walcott is the central striker. All too often, crosses were intercepted or clutched by Mignolet without pressure applied. Wenger knows the issues,
It’s a result which leaves Arsenal trailing Manchester City by five points already, a gap which we know from last year can quickly explode into double figures. The lack of goals may be resolved eventually but the concern, the nagging doubt is that it might already be too late by that point. Arsenal aren’t playing well, know it but don’t as of yet have the answers.
They aren’t easy to find either. How Arsène must be wishing he could enjoy the luck Liverpool have, taking four points from nine thanks to the largesse of match officials. Swings and roundabouts? We’ve lept from an ascendent swing, landed on the roundabout only to spin off at 100mph, landing flat on our Arsenal’s.
All in all, a deeply disappointing night and whilst there are some genuine positives to take from the performance, the concerns far outweigh them.