Result: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Competition: Premier League
Date: 15 July 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Starting lineup: Martinez, Holding, Luiz, Cedric, Torreira, Xhaka, Tierney, Pepe, Lacazette, Saka, Nelson
Subs: Macey, Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Willock, Aubameyang
Alex Lacazette and Reiss Nelson took advantage of lax Liverpool defending as Arsenal came from behind to secure a very unlikely 2-1 win against champions Liverpool.
Having dominated possession from the off, the visitors deservedly went ahead when Sadio Mane slotted home a Robertson cross. Gunners fans might have feared the worst at that point only for Jurgen Klopp’s men to self-destruct. High pressing from Lacazette and Nelson earned each other chances to find the net, which they did with our only two efforts on target all night.
It was backs against the wall for the second half as the visitors probed repeatedly but some organised defending saw us home. The win means Arsenal retain 9th place heading into the final week of the season and means we retain two potential routes into the Europa League for a little longer.
Mikel Arteta, possibly with one eye on Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Manchester City, made five changes from the side that started against Sp*rs on Sunday. Rob Holding, Cedric Soares, Lucas Torreira, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka all came in. Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolasinac, Dani Ceballos and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all dropped to the bench. We set up with a three-man defence with Tierney on the left of it and Saka outside him as a wing-back.
From the off Liverpool stifled us with their pressing. Even playing in second gear, the immediate gulf in quality on and off the ball was apparent. While the champions pinged the ball from flank to flank and played intricate football on the edge of our box, we seemed startled when we completed a pass and really struggled to get out of our half.
Our doziness was epitomised on 11 minutes when Martinez dawdled on a pass and was closed down by Firmino who blocked his clearance against the post. The reprieve didn’t last long. On 20 minutes, Robertson, fed the ball by Firmino after winning a header, played a pinpoint low cross to Mane who tapped home from close range. If you were pointing the finger of blame you could probably ask questions of Cedric who went racing forward to challenge for a ball high up the pitch only to pick up a knock and leave his side of the pitch utterly exposed. (1-0)
The Reds, playing in black, continued to strut around confidently. When we did push forward, invariably the offside flag went up. It was difficult to see where an Arsenal goal would come from. At the half-hour mark, we’d still not mustered a shot on target.
Thankfully, our dopiness was contagious. Under a teeny bit of pressure from Nelson, Van Dijk scuffed a pass to Gomez that Lacazette cut out and the Frenchman rounded Alisson to tuck home. (1-1)
A minute before the break, Liverpool gifted us another. Receiving the ball from a Robertson throw in, Alisson attempted a first time pass back towards the Scot only for Lacazette to read the situation. Our striker stole the ball, picked out Nelson with a diagonal pull-back and the winger calmly tucked home his first Premier League goal. (2-1)
On the bench, Klopp did not look amused.
Torreira and Alexander-Arnold traded bookings inside three minutes of the restart before things settled down into a familiar pattern. Liverpool had the ball. We didn’t.
The chances followed soon after. Alexander-Arnold, Robertson and Salah all attempted shots in the same passage of play. Luiz then blocked a Mane effort and Martinez made a decent save to deny Salah who tried to lift the ball into the top corner.
By the hour mark, we’d been outshot 14 attempts to two. At least we’d been efficient. Arteta responded by making a triple substitution. Aubameyang, Willock and Ceballos replaced Lacazette, Nelson and Torreira. Willock assumed a central role but you’d be hard pushed to say he was playing as a striker.
Nothing changed. Liverpool continued to dominate possession as we sat deep and tried to soak up the pressure. Sometimes the defending was diligent but mostly it was desperate; legs stuck out to deflect the ball anywhere but goalwards.
Substitute Minamino went down under pressure from Tierney but had his calls for a penalty dismissed and Salah couldn’t get any real purchase on a header from close range.
The longer things went on, the more it looked like we might actually hold on. Liverpool did go close through Mane, but they grew increasingly frustrated and ragged as we dragged them down to our level.
A minute before the end, we even had a chance to extend our lead. Willock met an Aubameyang cross but sliced his shot wide with the goal gaping. Had that gone in we might have been able to relax. As it was, five minutes of stoppage time meant hearts in mouths for Gooners, especially when a deflected Alexander-Arnold shot forced Martinez to tip around the post.