Arsenal 1 – 1 Liverpool
Unai Emery declared himself “50% happy” with yesterday’s match. That’s at least 30-35% less than most of us. That final 10-15%? That’s the gap between a point and three. A draw was a fair result with a great number of positives for Emery to continue to build going forward. Not least of which was the first 90-minute performance of Emery’s reign. Much more of that please, gentlemen.
The pressing game worked well, principally because teamwork ensured no-one was left isolated. Even those whose performances faded began well; Mkhitaryan being a prime example. Some bright moves, to begin with, he became less effective going forward and shifted to the periphery of the game. Nonetheless, his defensive work didn’t diminish. This is the ‘Emery ethic’; as much as your own performance matters, forgetting teamwork is unacceptable.
That notion applies to all with Alex Iwobi shifting to left wing-back when Danny Welbeck entered the fray. Two effective substitutions once again by Emery. Pro-actively changing the outcome of matches, or at least putting the pieces into position to give us a chance of changing the outcome is a sea-change.
Eyecatching performances came from the spine of the team. Holding, Torreira, Xhaka and Lacazette; standing out. Outstanding. There were others such as Mustafi who performed well. The lines in the team held high, held together. They weren’t perfect, as Mane proved for the disallowed ‘goal’. In my view, it was offside; the officials got it right with Mane too close to the action to not be interfering with play.
The officials got it right again by ignoring Mkhitaryan’s claim for a penalty. If that was given, Leno conceding one later in the game when he clattered into Van Dijk as the Dutchman hit the post with a header.
It was a mixed evening for the German. Superb saves, excellent distribution but found wanting with crosses, especially with the Liverpool goal coming from that very source. It was a goalkeeping error, pure and simple. There were three places Leno couldn’t put the ball but alas he put it in one of them.
The response was excellent. For the past decade, that scenario saw us capitulate in big matches – some smaller ones too – but this time, not so. That’s a measurable yardstick, if you’re seeking one, of improvement from earlier this season.
Torreira and Xhaka were fundamental to all the good work. The Uruguayan did everything but tackle with his head; every other part of his body though while Xhaka showed a rare turn of pace to keep up with Salah, before producing an excellent sliding tackle on the Egyptian. Too knackered to moan at anyone for losing the ball afterwards, though…
Xhaka’s value to side is being seen with the right partner. Playing Xhaka as the defensive midfielder is never going to work because he isn’t a defensive midfielder. Monchengladbach and Switzerland played him alongside a defensive midfielder which brought the form we noted to the fore.
It’s not rocket science.
More importantly, the value of the pairing was seen as they outperformed Liverpool’s midfield trio. Keita and Henderson were missing but Fabinho, Milner and Wijnaldum are no slouches. Torreira and Xhaka kept them busy for 90 minutes.
Behind them, Holding continues to thrive with the responsibility of first-team football. He is maturing nicely with each of the left-backs benefits from his presence and willingness to cover behind them. If we could get that mentality on the right side, there’s the basis for a title-winning defence.
Trust Your Instincts
That core of good performances was completed by Lacazette. His finish was instinctive, the sort Wrighty used to produce and a natural goalscorers’ goal. It was sublime, from Iwobi’s pass to the close control which kept Alisson at bay and a shot curled around the defenders on the line. Tantalisingly in their reach but
He’s probably the first instinctive goalscorer we’ve had since Wrighty as well.
Having that spine of performances come together underpinned everyone else’s contribution. They didn’t carry the team, far from it, but they imbued confidence in others. Belief.
So too do Emery’s theatrics on the touchline. Passion, will-to-win; he’s the new breed rather than the cerebral body language of the past. Constantly talking to the players in earshot. Telling them what to do; encouraging.
If there was a match to define a new era, this was it. Not an outstanding result but a watershed moment. That it takes the unbeaten run to 14 is almost unnoticed. There is a feelgood factor emerging; long may it continue.