Liverpool 3 – 1 Arsenal
In the end, defeat was unsurprising but from that defeat came a number of positives and pointers for the rest of the season.
It might have been so much better; Aubameyang and Pepe had chances to put us two, maybe three goals ahead before Liverpool scored. Pepe, in particular, will rue failing to beat Adrian when clean through on goal.
Don’t worry, monsieur; Steve Williams got an Arsenal side without much cash knocked out of the FA Cup at York in one of his early appearances for the club. Things which prove costly in the end happen to anyone.
Unai Emery will be encouraged by the strength of character shown by the squad. In particular, the youngsters who after a shaky start, stood toe-to-toe for almost the remainder of the first half. After the match, the Spaniard noted: “I think the team showed in one moment good character and it’s one step ahead we want to do.”
Yet, it was individual errors which, in a six-minute spell either side of half-time, proved our undoing. Matteo Guendouzi got the ball rolling with a shirt pull on Van Dijk before Matip’s pushing began; the midfielder then formed a ramp for Matip to use as he headed in the opening goal.
There’s something about the permed hair; David Luiz then had a ‘Sideshow Bob’ moment. An obvious shirt pull in the area, followed by the obligatory hands raised in an admission of guilt, meant Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Salah scored emphatically and the match was gone.
The Egyptian added the third with a fine solo goal; unstoppable. Any foul at that point gives the officials a choice over the colour of the card and Lord knows the VAR was determined to help Liverpool in any way possible.
This Was Anfield, Not Ebbsfleet
For Emery, the biggest lesson is trust; he must trust his front three together a lot sooner in matches when only two start. Alexandre Lacazette injected enthusiasm and danger into a flagging side but it was too little, too late.
It’s a tough call for the coach to make. Going with a front three from kick-off is brave but potentially more costly; less pressure in midfield offers Liverpool more room. However, the potential to disrupt and disturb the home side’s defence offers hope.
Football in hindsight is a wonderful sport; we’ve won every game with the perfect performance.
Jurgen Klopp admitted afterwards that he was surprised by Emery’s use of a diamond midfield. The players kept their shape. Too much was made of the space afforded Liverpool’s full-backs; their crossing was distinctly average. Where I would take is the personnel; Torreira must be the defensive base of that formation.
Emery also noted that we defended too deep, repeating the problem which surfaced at Newcastle with this shape. The gap between the attack and the rest of the team is too wide.
“It’s not all we wanted to do in the match because we wanted to keep the ball and keep possession better,” he said. “But their pressing was very strong and we didn’t break their pressing of the ball as much as we wanted.”
That’s not acknowledged when losing the ball close to our area is discussed. “Play the ball long” is the cry; so we cede possession further up the pitch and it still comes back. Not in such an immediately dangerous area but too quickly for us to regain our shape properly.
It’s important to remember who we played. European champions, second in the league and unbeaten at home in something like two years.
Not Ebbsfleet United away.
One, two, three
Gary Neville came up with the most specious argument for our defeat yesterday. None of the players had won at Anfield previously and didn’t understand what it takes. On the surface, it seems not an unreasonable assertion if you accept it from the psychological perspective.
It’s b*llocks, however. If that logic applied, Crystal Palace, for example, wouldn’t have won yesterday at Old Trafford which is as imposing a stadium as Anfield. Nor would they have won at the Emirates or Etihad last season.
Neville’s cod psychology just doesn’t cut the mustard.
Emery summed where we are perfectly: “We reduced the difference [between the two sides] from last year.”
Klopp is three seasons ahead of Arsenal in the rebuilding programme and still chasing the title dream. The Champions League soothes the sting somewhat…
“We need to be realistic but also confident in each training and the next match,” Emery believes. “Now we need to show how we can be different with other teams.”
Not too different to last season in the next match; we won the North London Derby although maybe with a clean sheet this season…?
Yesterday’s defeat but to shamelessly steal from Ian Dury, there are reasons to be cheerful.