I don’t think there are many of us that will argue that in the cold light of day Liverpool were a far superior team than us last night. Kind of makes it frustrating that they were so average against Leeds and against Chelski they weren’t really tested because of the red card, but as is par for the course with The Arsena, we came we we saw, we were conquered against a Big Six Team.
I tweeted after the game that it feels like we’ll never win away from home against one of the big teams ever again, but that’s the instant reaction of an upset man. The reality was that this Liverpool team are further along on their journey with Klopp and that shows when you watch games like last night. Arteta also admitted it too when he was interviewed after the game.
What I said I did want to see, however, were signs that we had improved and I think we can say that whilst we had some pretty poor performances individually from some players last night (which I’ll come to) the second half felt like a game in which we competed for. Had we seen more of what we saw in the first half I don’t think i’d be able to draw any positives from the game. They were just quicker, faster, dealt with the press well and were able to get back into their shape when we had the ball. That was helped by the fact that we, in contrast, dwelt on the ball too much. Or when we tried to string together passes they were too laboured and too slow.
It is a real frustration. When you play teams like Liverpool you need to move the ball quicker from a turnover from front to back. We knew we were going to see less of it, so when that happens and you do win the ball back from a breakdown or whatever, you need to spring on the opponent so they don’t have time to set themselves. But throughout the game when it looked like we could get beyond their high press, we picked the ball up and quickly went backwards or sideways. It was frustrating to watch at times.
But that is what happens when you have players who are limited and clearly not top quality material. Rob Holding is what you used to call a ‘good honest pro’ but he’s just not good enough for a team with aspirations of Champions League football. He is yards slower than most attackers in the Premier League and his distribution is poor. As soon as he was put under pressure he essentially just booted it long for us to lose possession. But even if he did manage to find a man with a ball forward to feet, it was MOhammed Elneny, who picks the ball up, then releases it, rarely with a progressive pass up beyond the middle third. The difference when Ceballos came on was obvious – he was happy to collect the ball deep and work beyond LIverpool’s press with the ball at his feet and he did that a few times within the first five minutes of being on the field. He also picked out the pass of the game for us, only for Alexandre Lacazette to deliver a truly pathetic finish when one-on-one versus Alisson. Sky were fawning over how good the ‘keeper is but I’m sorry, that wasn’t world class goalkeeping to essentially stand big as your £55million striker just smashes it at you.
Laczette got the goal and that’s three in three which is good, but he and Auba are different animals. Imagine if that was the Gabonese striker in the middle to pick up Ceballos exquisite pass last night? Maybe Liverpool would have scored a third afterwards, but you can be damn sure we’d have got a second equaliser. And in games like this that is the sort of margins where you need your big players to step up. I thought Lacazette was poor last night. His touch was off, he also missed another one-on-one in which I’m sorry, but I’m not buying the ‘he knew he was offside’ nonsense. Every striker wants to put those away and make sure. His attempted flick was embarrassing.
Arteta rightly pointed to how good Liverpool are and yes, it would be unfair of me to ignore that this morning, but there were some pretty shoddy performances from our players. I thought Bellerin was patchy at best, whilst Willian was anonymous and whilst Pepe didn’t do much better with his cameo, with longer on the field I’m convinced he’d have given Liverpool more worries than Willian did. Willian was also the one who wasn’t alert at the back post for Liverpool’s first goal and if that’s why he was preferred to Pepe – his ability to track back and cover ground – then he failed last night.
Leno wasn’t great for the first one either though and wasn’t really that good all night. He was weak-wristed for the first goal and certainly when we saw Emi claiming everything for us at the end of last season, it’s hard not to think that he would have completely have avoided the situation of David Luiz’s pathetic header away for number three.
All in all it is hard to find any player who didn’t have an off night. It’s hard when the opponent forces errors, I know, but two shocking corners, two foul throws, then a couple of passes like Maitland-Niles’ one in the second half when he lumped it out for a throw in, in our half when not under pressure, symptomised the fact we were also to blame as much as Liverpool’s greatness.
Let’s also give a sarcastic clap to Craig Pawson too, who decided that when you close your hand into a fist and push it deliberately into the face of an opponent, that doesn’t warrant a straight red card. It was a clear red but that is what Liverpool get when at home even without the fans on their side. They’ve had three in the last three years in the Premier League and that tells a story in itself. I seem to recall Alexander-Arnold doing exactly what Nketiah did against Leicester City on the same weekend, but getting away with it, and the same happened last night.
It would be excuse making to blame it on that incident but certainly had justice been administered properly then we’d have seen a different match. You can’t press with the same intensity if you are down to ten men.
But it didn’t happen and we still had to step up. We were certainly better than last season, than in recent seasons, so perhaps Arteta will choose to look at that in the cold light of day, but I hope he focuses more on us getting in some more midfielders because we look very short right now. Not long to go until the transfer window ends though so we’ll find out soon enough.
Catch you all tomorrow.