Well knock me down with a feather duster, I did not see that result coming, not in the slightest.
A 2-1- home win against the champions and a game that I like to call a classic ‘Champ Man Skanking’. If you’re old enough to have played Championship Manager in the 90s and early 2000s you’ll know what I’m talking about. When you guild a side who essentially sweep aside everyone in front of them, then you play a league game against some random team in which you batter them as you’d expect, but somehow you end up losing because the computer has decided that the team it is representing is going to score with their only two shots of the game, even though you’ve had about 50, and you can’t believe it.
That’s what happened last night as Liverpool had 24 attempts at goal, 69% possession, 85% pass completion, 13 corners, 83% tackle completion. In comparison we had three shots in total (of which two were the goals), 31% possession, 64% pass completion and 42% tackle completion. It was your archetypal big team goes for small team and small team just sits in and holds on for dear life. That, boys and girls, has rarely ever happened to us as Arsenal fans.
The difference in quality was stark and let’s be honest, whilst we’re all happy today, it is not a blueprint we would want to see on a regular occasion.
Arteta rotated his team from the start whilst Liverpool went as strong as they possibly could and the first 20 minutes until Liverpool scored their goal was painful. You could see that some of our players were just not at the races yesterday. We were second to almost every challenge, we turned over the ball in our half way too much, Liverpool pressed us very high and we put ourselves under plenty of pressure from the first minute. The forwards we had on the pitch just couldn’t link up in any way, shape or form and as a result it was like we were playing with about three players less. There was no outlet to pull us out of the defensive third and when Liverpool, scored on 20 minutes I’ll be honest with you, I thought it would be ‘TV off’ within five minutes.
In fact we had just over ten minutes after that where Liverpool continued to dominate possession, we looked like a rag-tag bunch of misfits, and Arteta even admitted afterwards he feared the result of the game, until of course Liverpool decided to ‘Arsenal’ themselves right up.
I gotta tell ya, it’s waaaaay nicer when that happens to opponents, but also it kind of feels like the footballing gods had answered my complaints about us having to always score fantastically worked goals or nothing whereas opponents get gifts. Well yesterday evening we were presented with two.
And it was Lacazette again. Here we are. Three goals in four games and much like we all know of him, he’s a streaky player who when his confidence is up and he’s bagged goals, he can look very different. His finish looked like the one of a man with a bit of confidence. Props must be given to Nelson for closing down Vin Dijk, but it was a terrible error to give the ball away and Lacazette anticipated the pass back, rounded Alisson and we were level after being second best for a third of the game. It was the kind of finish you’d expect him to be scoring all season and we just haven’t seen enough of it. But we saw it on display yesterday and as a ‘thank you’ to Nelson he returned the favour for the second goal.
This is what we like from Lacazette though. Pressing, finishing in tight spaces, being a nuisance. He was the one that closed down Alisson’s poor ball out from the back and then found Nelson perfectly for the kid to get his first Premier League goal. His celebration was interesting; barely even a celebration. I wonder if he thought “we’ve got 45 minutes in which we have to play against them, i’ll not get too excited just yet”. Sensible approach.
So we came to the second half and I don’t know about you but I was waiting on the ‘when’ rather than the ‘if’ with Liverpool’s equaliser. But it never came. We stayed compact in our back three, our full backs essentially tucked in to make a compact five, with Xhaka and Torreira the screen in front. The approach was a ‘backs to the wall lads’ affair and despite the volume of shots Liverpool had, the whole match they only managed eight on target and I remember a couple which might be symptomatic of their night. One was where Salah found himself with the ball at his feet in the middle of the box on the six yard line, but he could only flick it up enough for Martinez to nudge it over, the second was a cross to the back post in which Salah nodded straight into Martinez’s grateful gloves.
We hung on. We ACTUALLY hung on and had Willock finished an opportunity in injury time then we could have made the result look even more of an anomaly.
But this was a big result for confidence. After Sunday the players were probably mentally on their knees but they found a way to get a win and this morning the players will be waking up feeling a little happier about life. Going in to an FA Cup semi final that’s quite massive and Arteta knows that, mentioning it after the game.
But we can’t deny we have longer term issues and that’s something Arteta also addressed after the game when he was asked about having money in the transfer window. He essentially admitted the gulf in class between the two teams is huge and said that these teams don’t get this good by luck. It is good coaching, good tactics, but it’s also investment. Perhaps a bit of a public nudge towards KSE? That’s what we want to hear. It will fall on deaf ears because they don’t care that much, and my worry is that in a year’s time if we see improvement we’ll end up with an Arteta whose happy to go somewhere with more ambition, but for now let’s just stick to that winning feeling and pray he has some kind of idea as to how the hell we’re going to get something against a City team who will provide the same level of threat that Liverpool offer. Only lightning won’t strike twice in terms of profligacy in front of goal. Will it?
Catch you tomorrow.