Liverpool 3, Arsenal 1
Match report by Umarah Naz.
It’s never usually the case that a resounding 3-1 win over Arsenal would leave Reds infuriated but that’s what some may be feeling.
Infuriated because it comes a mere five days after a crushing defeat against a struggling Leicester team; one of those teams that Liverpool are so generously charitable against.
Beating Arsenal should really be the perfect remedy for such fresh wounds but, unfortunately, it’s all been seen before, thus leaving everyone with a sense of dejavu.
Just a few weeks ago, a fantastic win over Spurs was preceded by a 2-0 humbling by Hull City. The point being that no one really knows which Liverpool will turn up. And with a Burnley visit looming next week, the apprehension is real.
But on Saturday evening, Liverpool reverted to the very best version of themselves; at Anfield and in their comfort zone against top six opposition.
It seemed Arsene Wenger would try and surprise Liverpool with a more direct tactical approach as he benched his best player and decided to start with Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck upfront.
Alexis Sanchez cut a forlorn figure on the Arsenal bench as he watched his side completely overrun by the rampant Reds. As expected, Liverpool looked energetic, hungry, committed and sharp. The quick, decisive passing was back and with it the clinical edge in the final third. Something that has been sorely absent this calendar year.
Defensively, they looked better with Jurgen Klopp opting to play Ragnar Klavan in place of the highly criticised Lucas Leiva who bore the brunt of much of the blame for Leicester’s win. Whilst Klavan isn’t necessarily blessed with greater pace, a natural centre-back’s game is more about interpretation and reading of the game, and that was evident on Saturday.
Klavan and Matip looked infinitely more comfortable in defence and the pair should remain together, at least until Dejan Lovren returns from injury.
The front three of Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, who terrorised defences in the first half of the season, returned to their former selves; running in between the lines and linking up beautifully.
It took all of nine minutes for the Arsenal defence to be breached with an attack that began with Simon Mignolet. Adam Lallana, who ran the show in midfield with a man of the match performance, collected the ball and found Mané who crossed it to a waiting Firmino. The Brazilian making no mistake and finding the roof of the net.
The majority of the half consisted of Liverpool relentlessly attacking the Arsenal goal, and in the fortieth minute the perseverance paid off.
This time a stunningly worked goal involving Milner and Wijnaldum, whose deft touch set up Firmino. Mané found himself in acres of space on the right and Firmino unselfishly teed the Senegalese up to hit home for a two-goal lead.
The only “negative” at half-time being that the home team hadn’t scored a few more.
In the break, Wenger appeared to realise the error of his ways and replaced Coquelin with Sanchez. His impact was felt almost immediately as it gave the players around him a lift and they suddenly began to find their rhythm.
Mignolet was called into action just three minutes after the break when he spectacularly saved a Giroud header. But he couldn’t keep out Danny Welbeck’s clever finish after a certain Chilean played a lovely pass into his path, and it made for an exciting, end-to-end last half an hour if nothing else.
Emre Can gave Liverpool a taste of what they have been missing in the team; snide.
He “took one for the team” with his tactical foul on Sanchez near the halfway line and it was glorious to see. So many times opposition players have been allowed to run at the penalty box with often disastrous consequences. Sometimes cutting out the danger early and conceding a free-kick higher up on the pitch is the only option to protect your goal.
A tense end to the game for Liverpool fans was made no easier when Matip failed to connect with a Coutinho free-kick that was whipped in to perfection. Any kind of contact would probably have resulted in a goal.
Divock Origi, who had replaced Coutinho, saw his headed effort hit the post from a similar Milner free-kick.
The minutes ticked by and as Arsenal pressed for an equaliser, and it was increasingly feeling as though Liverpool may drop more points. But as the visitors pressed, the gaps opened up and Liverpool broke on the counter in injury time. All defined by a moment of genius by Lallana, who having realised that Origi was offside, held the ball up in midfield with a customary pirouette until the Belgian sorted himself out.
Once he did, Lallana obliged him and he, in turn, served it on a platter for Wijnaldum who finished confidently to seal the win and a much needed three points.
Jurgen Klopp made his habitual Lucas substitution in the dying minutes but his side managed to see the game out without any issues.
A brilliant win for Liverpool giving them a momentary advantage over their rivals. What’s needed now is for them to capitalise and win the next game. And so on.
Klopp mentioned a “long term project” in his post-match interview and maintained that “development is inconsistent at the start”, which shows us that he’s aware that much needs to be fixed but that patience is required.
One can only hope that until then those inconsistencies aren’t too detrimental to this season and the aim to achieve a top four position.