Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
As a way of losing a match, that was a new one from Arsène. Dropping your top scorer to the bench may be a sign of big cojones but it’s also a decision which you have to get right.
And when it goes wrong, big cojones becomes cussedness.
The second half performance underlines the folly of leaving Alexis Sanchez on the bench for the opening forty-five minutes. Midway through the first half, it was obvious the tactic was not working. Wenger and Bould sat grim-faced as Liverpool dominated, but did nothing. The only comparison would be Richard Dunn using Rope-a-Dope on Muhammed Ali; carnage is the only possible outcome.
He changed it at half-time but by then two defensive errors meant we were two down and a couple of Petr Cech saves away from oblivion. Making changes early in the first half is against received footballing wisdom but had he done so, we may have still be in the game.
Rope-A-Dope Leaves Arsenal Floundering
Liverpool’s opening goal underlined our defensive woes. From a goal-kick, Koscielny missed the header and from a drilled pass, Firmino scored. Poor marking, no understanding of how their formation was working and no tracking back from the midfield.
The latter part is nothing unusual; it’s a failing we regularly see. Coquelin and Xhaka didn’t work together, the former’s initial impact in the side has slid into insignificance. He’s not even Mr Right Now anymore, with the side needing a more thoughtful defensive midfielder. Kante, like Makelele, is the template at the moment.
Half-time loomed when the second arrived. Iwobi failed to track back, and Liverpool overloaded the defence, leaving Mane unmarked at the far post. He delivered the finish the move deserved. The failings of the first goal repeated themselves in the second. That isn’t down to the tactics on the night, it’s cultural.
Defensively, Arsenal are inept; there’s no other word for it, and that’s down to the manager and the coaching staff.
More Direct? Is That Mail Order?
Throughout the first half, Alexis was caught playing up to the cameras and I am sure part of him took pleasure in it going horribly wrong. He was going to play and the performance showed he should have been on from the start. As Klopp said afterwards, he gave Liverpool different problems and they didn’t adjust to it until late in the second half.
Why did Arsène do it? He claimed it was tactical, that the gameplan was to play the ball over the top as Liverpool pressed. Olivier Giroud is not the striker to play in those circumstances; he tries but he doesn’t have the pace. You need a centre forward with pace for that ploy to work.
Arsène set the team out to defend, soak up pressure and be “more direct”. He should have looked at the reigns of Mee, Neill, Howe and Graham; they all went “more direct” at the end of their reigns and it didn’t end well. Wenger hasn’t assembled a squad to play that way and last night they proved it.
There was no innovation behind the move, no startling tactical input to behold. Just a manager out of ideas about how to stop the rot. Is there a personality problem, a footballing issue between the two? I don’t know but it’s not hard to believe that Sanchez said something in training.
I wonder if Mesut Özil is ill? Did he comment “I feel sick” at the prospect of playing in this formation and it was misinterpreted as illness?
Forty-five minutes of unenterprising dross, coupled with slack-jawed defending. We got to half-time with just a two-goal deficit but we were lucky to score nil.
Business As Usual?
Revert to the norm and another near-heroic comeback was on the cards. There were moments on which the game hinged; Mignolet pushed Giroud header onto the bar four minutes into the second half and the warning klaxons rang around Anfield. Countering that, Origi hit the post later on.
Welbeck’s cute finish was a well-worked goal with Arsenal on top but we never looked like scoring after that. A lot of the ball but genuine chances were few and far between.
No, I’m Not Letting The Officials Off The Hook
Referee Bobby Madely impacted proceedings. The biggest influence came when he booked Granit Xhaka for dissent instead of showing Emre Can a second yellow. The German international’s injury healed remarkably quickly after it became clear he was off the hook; the prospect of playing ten-men is being held up as how unlucky we were in the end.
Supposition, of course, and I don’t believe we’d have won anyway. I don’t.
Adding insult to injury, Liverpool’s third came about as a result of Origi’s offside position being ignored by the linesman and referee. But it made no difference; time was over. You can say we might but do you honestly believe we would? I don’t.
Today, we left with the mess the manager created. Fifth, still within a win of the top four, isn’t a catastrophe. By the end of next week, Europe will be over, leaving a dogfight for fourth and an FA Cup semi-final, most likely, against teams above us in the table.
The question is do you believe Arsène is capable of winning that tie? I don’t. As I’ve got down to the end of the post, I reminded of the time he dropped Arshavin against Chelsea because the team had to get used to playing without him. Almost a decade on, similar skewed thinking further chipped away at the foundations.
A mess of Arsène’s own making.