Result: Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 20 November 2021
Arsenal: Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Partey, Sambi, Smith Rowe, Saka, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Subs: Leno, Cedric, Holding, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Odegaard, Pepe, Martinelli
Liverpool ended Arsenal’s eight-game unbeaten run in the Premier League with a comprehensive 4-0 win at Anfield.
The Gunners kept the home side at bay until six minutes before the break but life became very difficult after Sadio Mane’s headed opener.
Pressing high up the pitch, Liverpool repeatedly took advantage of naive attempts to play out from the back and ruthlessly put the game out of reach courtesy of decisive finishing by Diogo Jota, Mo Salah and Takumi Minamino.
Were it not for Aaron Ramsdale, who again impressed between the sticks, the score could easily have been worse.
Having spent the Interlull nursing a groin issue, Thomas Partey was declared fit and took up his place in the centre of midfield meaning Ainsley Maitland-Niles dropped to the bench. That aside, it was the same team that started the win against Watford two weeks ago meaning Nuno Tavares retained his place ahead of Kieran Tierney. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alex Lacazette were charged with leading the line with Martin Odegaard, Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli waiting in reserve.
Having paid the price for conceding early goals at Anfield so many times in recent years, Arteta obviously sent his players out with the aim of keeping things tight for as long as possible.
We lasted 39 minutes before our goal was breached by Sadio Mane (1-0), whose presence on the pitch ignited a game that had been predominantly tight and tense and tactical.
There’s no denying that the Senegal striker is a very good player, but he’s also a sly prick and it was quite unbelievable it took until just before the break for referee Michael Oliver to hand him a booking. By that point, he’d already taken out Tomiyasu with a flailing arm that so incensed Mikel Arteta that the Spaniard started a near-brawl on the touchline with Jurgen Klopp. Both managers had to be restrained before being booked.
That incident really got the Anfield crowd going and in the minutes before Mane headed home Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick, the Gunners were thankful for a series of saves by Aaron Ramsdale, including some world-class handling to keep a ball from Mo Salah’s toes.
Desperate to keep our shape at the back, the Gunners were mostly conservative on the ball and too often ceded possession with long balls in the direction of Aubameyang who had to contend with both Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk.
That said, there were a couple of bright moments in attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain blocked a Saka header after the England international was found by a brilliant whipped cross by Tomiyasu and the linesman’s flag ruled out a Lacazette strike after neat build-up play by Smith Rowe and Aubameyang, who knew he was offside.
Heading into the break, it was clear we’d need to do more to get anything from the game.
To say we endured a nightmare start to the second period is an understatement. Lokonga three times gave the ball away in dangerous areas and he was very lucky to see an Oxlade-Chamberlain effort, the result of one of those misplaced passes, go just wide of Ramsdale’s post.
The bad play spread like a virus and cost us dearly. Within minutes Tavares embarked on a suicidal run out from left-back before playing a terrible backwards pass that Jota pounced on. The Portugal international was calmness personified, leaving White and Ramsdale on their arses, before stroking into an empty net. (2-0)
Had Ben White not blocked Thiago’s effort, it could easily have been three in the blink of an eye. This time Tomiyasu was the one guilty of falling apart in the face of Liverpool’s press. Only an injury to Ramsdale who collided with Jota slowed down the onslaught.
Aubameyang, put through by Lacazette, did test Alisson on 65 minutes but it was a rare foray forward. Even with Odegaard and Maitland-Niles on the pitch, we looked increasingly ragged as Liverpool repeatedly hit us on the break.
Ramsdale denied Jota his second with a magnificent save but he couldn’t do anything to stop Salah (3-0) and then substitute Minamino (4-0) from tapping home from close range as we fell apart in annoyingly typical fashion.
It’s strange to think that a win today would have carried Arsenal above Liverpool and level on points with Manchester City and West Ham. This was a very sobering evening on Merseyside and a timely reminder that the gap between us and the best sides in the league remains huge.
Ultimately, our ambition to regain a place in Europe won’t be decided by games like these. We need to get back on the horse next Saturday and see if we can put together another run.