Result: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 24 August 2019
Starting XI: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Luiz, Monreal, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Willock, Ceballos, Aubemeyang, Pepe.
Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Kolasinac, Torreira, Mkhitaryan, Nelson, Lacazette
Liverpool condemned Arsenal to a first defeat of the season as goals from Joel Matip and a brace from Mohamed Salah, one a penalty, saw the Reds run out 3-1 winners at Anfield.
Substitute Lucas Torreira reduced the deficit in the closing stages but despite an improved performance, particularly compared to the same fixture last year, the gulf in quality between the two sides remains clear.
Unai Emery handed a first start to record signing Nicolas Pepe, while Alexandre Lacazette was left in reserve on the bench. There was no place in the squad for Mesut Ozil.
Arsenal’s diamond was charged with keeping things tight in midfield but it also left spaces in the wide areas. Inside two minutes Robertson bound forward off the left flank and fired a low ball that just escaped Firmino at the back post. It was an early warning.
The home side barely let us have a touch in the opening stages. When we did get on the ball, usually from Leno goal kick, we were immediately penned in. Wijnaldum had a snap shot went wide as we rode our luck.
Our policy was one of patience. If we could hold firm at the back, maybe we’d get a chance on the break. On 12 minutes we got a glimpse as to why. A mix-up at the back saw Adrian hack a clearance away that left him exposed and Aubameyang’s attempted lob fell just wide.
Pepe, making his first start for us, was a constant threat. Twice in the first half he made good use of the ball having been found by Willock to make space for a shot. On both occasions, he cut onto his left. The first effort forced Adrian to get down low. The second whipped just past the post.
The Ivorian also made a total fool out of Robertson as he picked up the ball in the Liverpool half, drove forward, beat the Scot and struck straight at Adrian. Our new boy’s contribution was undoubtedly positive, but not taking his chances proved costly.
While the home side were certainly wary of the counter, it wasn’t like they changed their game. Time and again they quickly shifted the ball from flank to flank to stretch our midfield. They also created chances. Salah nearly took advantage of a suicidal pass by Ceballos. Leno was well placed to collect the Egyptian’s shot.
In the final ten minutes of the half, the Reds turned the screw. Henderson’s deflected shot went just wide and we survived a VAR check for an infringement in the build-up. Salah then turned on a sixpence to escape Xhaka but sliced wide.
Not long after, the Reds’ pressure finally told. A corner into the box was met by Matip who climbed over Sokratis to crash home a header. Even if the goal hadn’t been scored, there’s a fairly high chance that the Greek’s holding of Van Dyck might have resulted in a penalty. (1-0)
In stoppage time, Mane had a very similar chance from a corner but his header flew over.
Two minutes after the change of ends, the Reds doubled their lead. Clever play saw Salah escape Luiz, courtesy of a great flick by Firmino, and when the Brazilian pulled the Egyptian’s shirt there was never any doubt that a spot-kick would be awarded. Salah put the ball in the top corner. (2-0)
Aubameyang had a chance to reduce the deficit when he was fed through on goal by Pepe but he was slow to get his shot off. He won a corner. Replays showed that if he’d scored it probably would have been disallowed for offside.
There was a swagger about Liverpool. We were trying very hard but we were chasing shadows much of the time. The Kop loved it. They howled in derision when we had the ball and roared when we lost it. Salah headed over from close range
On 59 minutes, the Egyptian helped himself to a second. A simple touch and burst of speed saw him escape Luiz and after that he just charged towards goal, opened his body and curled home. (3-0)
The ineffective Ceballos was replaced by Torreira as we looked to stem the Red tsunami. Not much changed. They cut through us with ease and when we tried to build play further up the pitch, we looked very laboured.
Pepe‘s quick feet will make turnips of future opponents but as the game wore on, Van Dyck and his cohorts got wise to the shimmies, feints and cutting in from the right.
Surprisingly, Emery kept the new boy on the pitch and decided to throw Lacazette into the fray for the final 10 minutes as we went all-out for a consolation goal. It came on 85 minutes as Torreira’s tenaciousness paid off. A first shot was blocked, but he pounced on the rebound to curl nicely beyond the keeper. (3-1)
Can Unai Emery take heart from the performance? Possibly. This was far from our worst performance at Anfield, a ground that regularly plays host to horror shows from us. Joe Willock looked decent in patches, the front pair will make many other teams soil their pants and we’re more comfortable playing from the back. That’s for sure. Anyway, we don’t have much time to dwell on the bad stuff, next up it’ll be Sp*rs at the Emirates and a chance to get back on track.