Arsenal 3 – 3 Liverpool
This is a different post to the one I was writing at half-time. As that whistle blew, the players trudged from the pitch to a chorus of well-earned boos.
Without hesitation, I nominate it as the worst performance at the Emirates by an Arsenal team in the Premier League. We were fortunate to be just the one goal down and failed to register a shot on target.
I questioned whether the players would respond to the manager; dredging a performance from that shambles was a Herculean task. They did respond before slumping back into old ways.
The key to the response was getting at the Liverpool backline and we did. They responded as predicted in yesterday’s post, “one half-decent side they faced put three past them”. Make that two half-decent attacks.
Three goals in five minutes turned the match on its’ head. By then Salah had taken advantage of more slack-jawed defending to put Liverpool two-up. Alexis stooped to head in, Mignolet flapped Xhaka’s shot in and Mesut Özil dinked the ball over the goalkeeper to put Arsenal 3 – 2 ahead.
The response to manager’s words took time to appear and but come it did. Eventually. Briefly.
We weren’t done with the goals. Petr Cech turned the ‘Mignoletometer’ to 11, flapping Firmino’s shot into the net for the equaliser, which deflated everyone. Both sides reverted to huff ‘n’ puff without testing either goalkeeper. Mignolet pushed Özil’s shot onto the roof of the net when it seemed he might gift us three underserved points.
This morning we survey the world in a lighter hue than the bleak darkness which engulfed Arsenal at the interval. It’s murky at best; so much was wrong with the majority of that performance that relief is tinged with concern about the second half of the season.
Down in the Dumps
The positives from the evening are few and far between. A point; three goals and recovering the two-goal deficit. I’m not sure who I’d nominate as the Arsenal Man of the Match. For each of them, there are as many, if not more, negatives than positives.
At a push, I’d put Jack Wilshere’s name forward for the ‘honour’. Even then, he contributed inadvertently to the first goal. His slip opened the pass over the defence for Salah where Maitland-Niles inexperience meant he was out of position, further up the pitch. That slip meant Coutinho stole a march on him and outpaced Xhaka as well, with the Brazilian meeting Salah’s deflected cross with a cushioned header.
The second Liverpool goal began with Maitland-Niles robbed of possession near the Liverpool corner flag. Salah outpaced the midfield and like children in the playground, the Arsenal defence all followed the ball while the Egyptian passed and ran into the gap which appeared in the middle of the last third. Salah finished, something he failed to do in the first half when Cech pulled off what proved to be an important save.
It was negated, if you like, by the third when he pushed Firmino’s shot upwards and watched helplessly as it dropped into the net. That came about as a result of Alexis losing possession, trying to counter a Liverpool corner.
Mane’s volley was also a clear opportunity in the first half as well. Going for the spectacular worked in Arsenal’s favour; he had time to set himself for the volley and execute, pushing the shot over the bar instead of guiding it into the net in an unfussy way. The defence was busy chasing back, out of position and dishevelled by this point.
You Were Only Supposed to Park the Bloody Bus
There is a lot to digest from the performance. The fundamental issue is we cannot defend. There’s no ‘like that’ to add in here, we are just hopeless defensively. There was a good reason for moving to a back three all those months ago and last night provided more of a reminder why.
Fundamentally, we have central defenders who are bereft of confidence and understanding. Laurent Koscielny’s injury is I think, impacting on his performances. He’s certainly not providing the leadership at the back which we desperately need. That’s why Per Mertesacker’s return for the cup final last year was such a success; we had an organiser, someone prepared to bark instructions to others, reining in their attacking instincts before they became defensive ill-discipline.
Ultimately, the buck stops with the players for the naivety of the performance. The manager sat and watched in horror as the shower unfolded in the opening 45 minutes. The half-time interval gave him the opportunity to put things right but even then, there’s something to be done with the defending of leads.
I don’t know what you mean by parking the bus, I don’t know who created this expression, but it has not a lot to do with football. We defended well, but you know that with their quality going forward they can always score a goal. I hoped that we could score one as well and I think in the second half we were not so much in trouble, but they have quality everywhere going forward and it’s difficult to say that you guarantee that you don’t concede a goal.
Instead, we pile forward, leaving holes to be exploited for which we were punished for a sloppy error.
Pretending to See What the Future Will Hold
The spoils were shared and joy abounded. Television celebrated the game as it unfolded, selling the world the spills and thrills of the Premier League. The rest of the world marvelled at the game before asking, “So, you English, you don’t defend anymore?”
It’s a fair question and the answer is indicative of why neither club is challenging for the title. No manager watching this will believe they are going to see their side end the game without creating at least two or three good chances. If you can do that, anything is possible.
That’s what Arsenal need to work on. The defence is creaking and the midfield too slow to protect it. Adding quality to the spine of the team is imperative this winter if we are to genuinely challenge for the top four finish Wenger so obviously craves. If we don’t, lower than 5th is a genuine reality we face.