Well, there we are. Liverpool look quite good and Arsenal have some work to do. Who knew?
We were downed 3-1 away from home to the best team in Europe. It was a less than cohesive performance from Arteta, but certainly more worthy than some of the embarrassing post-game shite-takes going around.
I thought the tactical setup for the game was pretty much spot on. It’s easy to have the exact solution after the game, but I think most of the selections could be justified. Ceballos, fancy haircut and all, couldn’t control the midfield against West Ham. If he was in ‘hold-on-to-the-ball’ mood last night, it might have been worse. Auba through the middle is a tired debate, we’ve seen why he’s on the left and we don’t complain when it works. Saka? Not sure he’s making the world of difference. Gabriel? I think experience wins out and Luiz was pretty decent. Plenty more trips to Anfield for our younger Brazilian.
We went there to win the game with limited possession, good defensive structure, and experience in our front 3 to take advantage of the counter-attack. Call that negative all you like, but please, tell me the starting 11 we have that could have gone to Anfield and bossed a game of expansive football, clue: it doesn’t exist.
Liverpool were utterly sublime at times. Their pressing was debilitating and their movement on and off the ball was masterful. We couldn’t match them, though we tried our best. The fact that we went 1-0 ahead said a lot about our doggedness. Lacazette working wonders to turn in a miscued Robertson clearance after we dropped a familiar ‘play out of the back moment’ again.
We couldn’t hold on, Liverpool retaliated with absolute brutality twice within 9 minutes. First, Mane tapped home a spilt Salah shot. Tierney will be having nightmares about the absolute roasting he took in the build-up. The second, Robertson was found totally open at the back post, and he duly obliged. Willian really has too much experience to be letting great players ghost in without a challenge.
The second half we were all expecting the worst, but Arsenal came out swinging as hard as they could.
The two big turning points were Lacazette misses. The first on 59, he beat the offside trap to latch onto a Willian pass, he opted for an optimistic chip, which was thwarted because the chip didn’t go higher than Alisson’s waste. The second, he was slipped in by Ceballos, he tried to cut some space outside Alisson, which he did, but he snatched at his shot, hitting the keeper. Really poor. You felt for him hiding under his shirt when he was subbed off, but a £180k a week 29 year old international should be doing better than that. Pretty sure Eddie would have converted at least one of those chances.
We didn’t have much else on after that. When you play Liverpool, they don’t gift you much. We didn’t make the most of our important spells in the game, then we were punished late on when a Luiz clearance found the Jota on the edge of the box, the exWolves star buried his shot.
So what did we learn?
Well, beating Liverpool 3 times in a row was always going to be tough.
What is clear from all of our performances so far against them is we need better players if we want to play at their level. We simply didn’t have the talent to beat them in that form without a huge dollop of luck. Over those three games we’ve averaged 20 shots a game against us and we’ve only averaged 6.3 shots per game and somehow managed 4 goals.
The criticism of the tactics still feels rich to me considering we’ve not moved the squad forward. I appreciate there’s an inquisition every time we lose a game, but going to the Champions to play the Arsenal Way™ hasn’t exactly been kind to us over the last 10 years. We set up correctly. We played to our strengths. We were always going to have to defend well and deal with the fact there would be an element of us getting battered. My ask in games like these since Arteta took over is that we’re competitive… and we were. We stayed in the game for a long time but we fluffed our lines this time.
Individual errors cost us and hopefully, that won’t always happen.
Tierney isn’t going to get rolled like an u18 every game this season. I also suspect on another day, Mane is red-carded after a rough challenge on Hector followed by a clear forceful elbow to the face of Tierney minutes later. Those are the margins that change big games. If he’s off, we have an advantage, unfortunately, he stays, and maybe Tierney was rattled in the process causing the lack of focus for his mistake.
Bernd Leno might rekindle that form that had us calling him world-class under Bu-mery. I thought he looked fragile again today. He’s not a catcher, which makes him a weak point in our defence. He looked panicked on the ball, it seemed like Liverpool players were roughing him up from corners. His step back from the cross that led to their 3rd goal wasn’t something that would have happened under Emi Martinez. We have to have a solid keeper if we’re going to play the way we play. Bernd has not looked close to the level of Emi this season.
Liverpool away was always a write-off game. If you genuinely feel aggrieved that we didn’t win, you have expectations that far outweigh reality. They, along with Bayern, are the best team in the world. We’re nowhere near that level. The best we can do is hope to compete and catch teams like that on an off day (which we have shown we are capable of doing).
The good news for our season is there aren’t many teams like that in the league. I’d argue that there’s only one team like that: Liverpool.
What is apparent is that our midfield needs both Partey and Aouar. We lack creative guile and mobility. It’s been clear for a very long time, this isn’t new, but Xhaka and Elneny (4 forward passes all game) against quality sides is only going to take you so far. We need to do better. Our desired targets at least move us into a new realm of possibility. The starting 11 yesterday was basically the same squad Emery crashed to 8th with last year bar Willian.
Regardless of my upset at the result, I was still impressed with the way we came out for the second half. We showed fight and bravery at times. There’s a resilience Arteta has instilled that wasn’t there before. I was also pleased with how energised Klopp was with his team in his post-match interview when he threw serious shade at Roy Keane for calling his side ‘sloppy.’ We asked a lot of questions of Liverpool. He called their performance ‘perfection.’ They were made to think. You haven’t always had to reach perfection beat Arsenal away from home, you’ve mostly just needed to turn up. We might not be at the level of personnel we need to be at, but I think the coaching and attitude is there. Klopp has had 5 years to develop that sort of devastation, Arteta hasn’t clocked a year yet. Trust in the process seems a tired line, but let’s be honest, we have seen more than enough to justify it.
Plenty will disagree with me and I’m here for it… buuuuuut you need to be aware that the new ‘perfection’ merchants are generally the folk that had no standards over the last ten years. I suspect they have a work TikTok dance video they did for a ‘laugh’, think their best life stage was ‘the carefree years at school’, and they’ll have a ‘can’t miss’ opinion on home brewing.
Let’s see what Edu can do to move the midfield forward, then see how we play against the rest of the top 8. Nothing will be harder than that, until we play Liverpool again on Thursday. Then it’s a kind of clear run. Plenty of opportunities to pick up more points, regain confidence, and bed in two world-class midfielders (PLEASE GOD).
Yesterday was a slap back to reality. There’s still plenty of work to do to return Arsenal to the top. Some good recruitment in the next week will give Arteta tools to show he’s the man capable of doing that. We move from there.
Over to you, Edu.
P.S. If you are still enraged, this Phillipe Auclair tweet thread was good.
La sévérité de certains commentaires aperçus ici sur la performance d’Arsenal à Anfield ne devrait pas me surprendre: l’art de regarder un match (celui que possèdent ceux et celles qui vont au stade) se perd. Mais lire de telles âneries…d’où ce bref fil.
— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) September 28, 2020