I’ll spoil the content right away for you: that was a brilliant, brilliant performance by Arsenal and any complaints show how ridiculously far we’ve come as a club.
People hammering 4-time Premier League winner Oleksandr Zinchenko for his error need to think about how much good-football-privilege you need to have to go there. We’ve had to watch Andre Santos in the last decade, now we have a Rolls Royce left-back who got done by a start-to-finish wonder goal from the best winger in the league at the peak of his powers. I can’t be having that. Is his defending as good as Tomiyasu? No. But can anyone in our backline open up a game like him and play with consistent bravery even after an error? No. Zinchenko is our TAA, a net plus that will always get into the big games because he is so, so good.
Worst of all, Zinchenko has IMPROVED a lot defensively.
Tackle Success rate – 78% – Top 10 in Europe (@Fbref)
Compared to Trent’s – 39%
Trent is widely known to create enough to “make up for it”.
Zinny inverted much more last season, factor to why we’re less free flowing. pic.twitter.com/AHZPaOePas
— Arsenal Media (@ArsenalMediaX11) December 24, 2023
As fans, we’re moving into Luxury FC problems. It is mad to gripe about a draw at Anfield with a team like the one they have, with a manager like Klopp, playing in a cauldron that had gasoline poured all over it.
Does that mean I won’t talk about those luxury problems? No way.
Bukayo Saka needs to have a chat with a dark arts coach. He’s too kind. Butter doesn’t melt with this man and it needs to vaporise if he’s to find the next level (which is very high). That moment when he broke through on goal he had two chances to make bad things happen… he could have slowed down for a Joe Gomez clattering, then he could have gone over Allison and landed another penalty. Those are the dirty tricks Liverpool and City has with older, more seasoned professionals.
Saka had a really solid performance outside that. I thought he looked a menace all game, he moved with grace, opened up space, but was a little off with final decisions. Still, this is Liverpool, it’s always gonna be a game of fine margins, next time, he’s getting a winning assist or goal.
Martinelli was a little problematic for me. He’s a wonderful player, but still very much a head-down merchant. He doesn’t look up and scan, so even when he’s beating people in his one-vs-one attacks, he doesn’t know where to put the ball. His next level is better awareness of his surroundings. He’s a Ferrari engine, with an Amstrad chipset. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him dropped for West Ham. Still, always frame who he was playing against and how old he is.
The main difference between Arsenal and City is the age of our professionals. Saka and Martinelli are 7 years away from their peak. Exciting, because their levels are so high, sometimes frustrating because in big games, they don’t have the tools someone like Salah has. The goal they scored was really good, however you cut it. Perfect long ball, the perfect player receiving it out of the air with a deft touch, Zimchenko struggled to show him down the line, he allowed the cutback, and the finish was out of the top drawer. Zinchenko should have done better, but remember, Tomiyasu made a gross error against City last year. Big teams punish you, and it hurts. The criticism is far too harsh for a defender who played in a starting 11 that reduced Liverpool to their lowest xG conceded at home of the season.
Declan Rice. Need I say more? You already know the review. It was a draw last season, but the difference this time of year was the defensive solidity we had. He was THE guy. Kai was also excellent, but he doesn’t combine all the attributes Declan has… and he doesn’t have that Patrick Vieira aura. I just can’t get over his size, power, speed, all wrapped in a bow made of TOTAL CONTROL material.
William Saliba and Gabriel also need a shoutout. I feel like Gabriel is Andy Murray in a Federer era, he was so good yesterday. He’s cut out the errors this season, he’s playing at a really high level, but he’s always overshadowed by the main man… Bill Saliba. Is it weird to call him the Dennis Bergkamp central defenders? The way he moved the ball around, his fierce concentration on his surroundings, and the classy way he passes just remind me of the Dutchman. We just watched the two best centre-backs in the world and I think Saliba showed he’s better.
Gabriel scored the goal though with a towering header – so he can share the crown.
Let me also say that Eddie’s cameo was really, really good. No goal, but he added to our attack with his direct running and some clever ‘smack me over for a foul’ play. He’s a good player we’ll need for the second half of the season, because we’re very unlikely to get a striker in before the summer.
Away day results haven’t gone for us, but the underlying metrics are Premier League winning. xG conceded (shots on target conceded) in tough away games: Liverpool 0.98 (3) Villa 0.63 (3) Newcastle 1.12 (2). Arteta won’t like the lack of points, but losing two games and drawing one off of 8 shots on target and just under 3 xG isn’t sustainable. We will turn losses into draws and draws into wins. We are doing so, so well with a team that is nowhere near peak.
Arsenal are hard to play, just listen to players talk about us. The team is big, relentless, and trained as well as any in the world. We need to be in the race until the last day this season and we need to be ready for a City ramp-up. My gut says Liverpool fall away, they are at their max now. Arsenal are still in 3rd gear with two more to go.
What a moment to be an Arsenal fan.
Ok, that’s me done; check out the podcast below. This one was SPICY.