Result: Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 28 September 2020
Starting lineup: Leno, Holding, Luiz, Tierney, Bellerin, Xhaka, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Subs: Runarsson, Gabriel, Kolasinac, Ceballos, Saka, Pepe, Nketiah
A dominant Liverpool inflicted a first defeat of the season on Arsenal as they bounced back from going behind to secure a 3-1 victory at Anfield.
The Gunners took the lead against the run of play thanks to Lacazette’s scruffy finish but the champions hit back with two goals from Mane and Robertson before the break.
The Gunners had a great chance to equalise after the break but after Alisson denied Lacazette the hosts came on strong again and closed the game out thanks to substitute Jota’s debut goal with two minutes remaining.
Mikel Arteta admitted pre-game that with a host of fit players to choose from, he found it very difficult whittling his travelling squad down to 18. The big news was the return of Kieran Tierney to the starting lineup. The Scot took up a position on the left of a three-man defence that also featured David Luiz – in for Gabriel – and Rob Holding. In midfield, Mo Elneny was given the nod ahead of Dani Ceballos while Willian and Alex Lacazette pipped Pepe and Eddie Nketiah to starting berths. The likes of Willock and Nelson stayed back in London with the usual absentees.
This was a very tough 45 minutes for Arteta’s men who did their best to defend from the front and stay compact but just couldn’t handle the sheer relentlessness of Klopp’s unit. The home side dominated possession (70%-30%), had 11 attempts on goal – five on target – and a couple of goals to their name. That we were only one goal behind at the break was something of a miracle.
Sadio Mane signalled the Reds’ intent to press high by barrelling into Bellerin and Tierney inside the first three minutes. The Senegal striker picked up a booking for the latter with his arm flung with intent into the Scot’s face. Might it have been a red card? On another day, quite possibly.
The chances started to flow not long after. David Luiz did well to clear a Van Dijk header from a dangerous Alexander-Arnold cross, Leno blocked a Mane effort from the same source and the right-back hit the bar with a long-range effort that deflected off Bellerin.
Despite Liverpool snapping into challenges, we stubbornly stuck to our philosophy of playing from the keeper and, while admirable, it also led to a chance for Wijnaldum after we gave the ball away on the edge of our box. The Dutchman’s effort was tame.
Up to the 25th minutes, our main problem was an inability to break through the lines. When that finally happened, we scored, completely against the run of play. The initial part of the move involved slick football as Maitland-Niles, Tierney, Aubameyang and Xhaka worked the ball to Lacazette on the halfway line. The Frenchman then fed Maitland-Niles again darting down the left flank. So far, so stylish. Then things descended into comedy. The England international’s cross should have been bread and butter for Robertson, but the Scot panicked, accidentally deflecting the ball backwards where Lacazette was on hand to mishit the ball past Alisson. (1-0)
It proved to be our only effort of the half. Soon the Liverpool onslaught started again and inside ten minutes we’d conceded twice. First Mane tapped in after Leno parried Salah’s shot into his path (1-1) and not long after Robertson nicked in at the back post after another dangerous Alexander-Arnold cross caused havoc. (2-1)
If that was disappointing, so too was a poor touch by Maitland-Niles who was put clean through on goal by a long ball by Luiz. Alisson snuffed out the danger.
Arteta obviously told his players to be more positive and it was noticeable how far further forward Elneny and Xhaka tried to play. We looked a bit better but Liverpool still looked relatively comfortable. Interestingly, it was the Swiss who was sacrificed at the hour mark as Ceballos was sent into the fray.
The Spaniard was quick to make an impact. A brilliant pass set Lacazette free on goal but the Frenchman, despite taking a touch to set himself, couldn’t beat Alisson who blocked with ease. If that had been Aubameyang, we’d likely have been on level terms.
At the other end, Mane swivelled and fired just wide. Another curler by the Senegalese forced Leno to pluck the ball out of the air. Into the final 15 minutes and Firmino had a further effort deflected for a corner.
New boy Jota, on as a sub, then had two chances in quick succession. He hit high and wide with his first attempt and then curled into the side netting. The second should have been the death of us. Let off the hook, could we make the home side pay by grabbing a late equaliser? No. Jota had yet another chance, this time taking it with a controlled volley that trickled in off the post. (3-1)
Aubameyang, who had a very quiet game, did attempt to reduce the deficit in stoppage time with a darting run but his lay-off towards Nketiah didn’t come off. The whistle went soon after.
All in all, not a hugely surprising result. We don’t have much time to chew things over. We’ll be back at Anfield in less than 72 hours to play the Reds in the Carabao Cup. We can expect heavy rotation for that game with Sheffield United coming to the Emirates on Sunday.