Comedy of errors costs Liverpool chance of passing the century mark
Arsenal put in brilliant defensive display to hold off second-half charge from champions
Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson scores his team’s second goal during the Premier League football game against Liverpool at the Emirates stadium. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images
Arsenal 2 Liverpool 1
Anything you can do we can do slightly worse. At the Emirates stadium Arsenal produced a stirring display of deep rearguard defence, leavened by two moments of slapstick from the Liverpool backline. It was enough to inflict a third league defeat on the Premier League champions, and in the process to ensure that Liverpool will not now reach the 100-point mark in this overspill- season.
All three goals in this 2-1 home victory came from defensive errors triggered by energetic, well-drilled forward pressing. The fact that the two most decisive came from Virgil van Dijk and Alisson was both a surprise, and a tribute to the sustained defensive concentration of Mikel Arteta’s team after conceding an early lead.
By the end Liverpool had taken 21 shots at goal to Arsenal’s three and spent the second half playing a violently compressed game of all-out attack against desperate but dogged red and white defence.
The season may be done, ready to be put out of this bizarre zombified midsummer state. Liverpool may have massacred the Premier League field, but sport never rests, and right now Jürgen Klopp’s team have also lost six and won five of their last 13 games in all competitions, keeping just three clean sheets in the process. The final, final whistle can’t come quickly enough.
Arteta made five changes here, including three to the defensive heart of the team. Although, as ever with this Arsenal incarnation, the word ‘defensive’ is used with a string of shrill advisories.
Klopp played his best available XI, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain given the most delicate of returns in this empty north London megadome. It was a muggy, slow, slightly frantic start from both teams. There is something particularly draining about the larger grounds right now. The Emirates is a vast, swooping cantilevered thing, host in these lockdown days to an enormous bowl of empty air. Early on Arsenal struggled to find any rhythm through midfield, pressed by that hungry black-shirted double line.
Liverpool squeezed in the way teams tend to squeeze this Arsenal defence, with a kind of cruel, knowing certainty. With 12 minutes gone the first chance arrived via a mini-blunder from Emiliano Martínez, who went to hammer the ball upfield and saw his clearance blocked on to the outside of the post by the flying Roberto Firmino. It is surprising how, week after week, the people most surprised by the Arsenal defence are still the Arsenal defence.
The opening goal on 19 minutes came from a similar set-up. Sadio Mané almost charged down another Martínez clearance. His punt was won back easily in midfield and Firmino spun and played in Andrew Robertson. The cut-back found an unmarked Mané to score a goal that seemed to meet no real resistance from halfway line to the back of the net.
For a while it looked as though Arsenal would be swallowed up by their own weakness against this kind of pressure, with Firmino as ever a highly skilled master of the block, the swivel-tackle, the swallowing up of angles.
But it was a similarly fine spell of pressing at the other end that brought both an equaliser and then a second goal. With 32 minutes gone Van Dijk was so busy complaining about a minor tug from Reiss Nelson he ended up playing a terrible back pass straight to Alexandre Lacazette. He took the ball past Alisson and rolled it into the net. Van Dijk frowned and pointed. But even the most revered defenders can be hurried.
Just before the break it was Alisson, too cute by half, who failed to execute a dainty chip out to Robertson from his own goalmouth. Lacazette intercepted and played a nice pass for Nelson to finish neatly.
Arsenal had two goals from forced errors, two shots on target, and an unexpected lead earned by some fine hustle from the Nelson-Lacazette partnership.
Liverpool began the second half like a champion team with a flea in its ear. On 50 minutes there was an almighty scramble in the Arsenal box, with four thumped close-range shots swallowed up by a series of blocks.
Moments later Mohamed Salah produced a startling switch of feet to elude David Luiz’s lunge, then dinked an imaginatively conceived shot that was palmed over the bar.
For long periods the game was played not just in Arsenal’s half, but in their penalty area. There was some fine in extremis defending, David Luiz and Rob Holding hurling their bodies into the line.
Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka did a fine, diligent job of holding the left side tighter against Liverpool’s most potent flank. Only Salah really seemed to have the close-quarter craft needed to forge a clear shot on goal out of a series of urgent but repetitive Liverpool attacks.
There were further chances for Mané and for Salah, and a run of Liverpool corners in added time. But somehow that red and white line never quite looked like being breached. – Guardian