I described last night’s game as a ‘free hit’ beforehand and, as much as I was prepared to lose the game against I think kthe best team in the world right now, it still hurts when the truth like that becomes reality.
We can certainly take some solace in the performance and when you look at the stats you can see that this game had a very even feel about it. Similar levels of possession, similar number of shot attempts, similar number of passes between each team, both had passages of play when they were on top. Yet ultimately, now that the Sahara dust has settled (some weird weather situation going on in London this morning), we are looking at another defeat to False Positive FC and the end to that impressive winning run.
Arteta kept his line up unchanged, whereas Klopp dropped a not-quite-fit Salah to the bench and the game kicked off with Liverpool having the best of the opening 10 – 15 minutes. It felt like a long opening period to me; they had the possession, we didn’t get out of our half, our forays forward were scant and I felt like they were there to get one and shut up shop. And in previous years they probably would have. Liverpool have done that to us time and time again, going ahead early and then the game is done and dusted. But this Arsenal team is capable of weathering these types of storms and after that opening exchange I thought we grew in to the game quite well last night.
The only challenge we had was that two of our best players at the moment – Saka and Odegaard – just weren’t getting on the ball and in the right spaces. You could see what we wanted to do; there were a few times where we hit a longer pass or a switch to Saka to set him going down that right hand side, but it was always just a little under hit, or over hit, for him to capitalise. And you could see that Liverpool knew exactly how important Odegaard is to us, because they marshalled him well and kept him quiet all night. And by minimising his impact it did stifle us a little bit.
And in games like this the small details make the biggest impact. Had Odegaard put the chance away that Lacazette set up for him in the second half, we may be talking about a different result today. To be fair it was on target and Alisson made a great save, but the difference between them and us yesterday was in the box and that was summed up just a few minutes later.
I think Ramsdale will be frustrated at being beaten at his near post, but such is life, because he’s been great so far this season and so let’s not pillory him for that incident, because they scored the second shortly after and that was just good movement. Great movement in fact, showing once again where we are different to them and why they are fighting for the title and we are not, because whilst they have the movement in the box, we have Lacazette huffing and puffing his way around the pitch. I’m tired of constantly bagging on him though; we know he is limited, we know that he isn’t good enough to lead the line of a top team, we can’t do anything about it until the summer. But there are a couple of images doing the rounds of the Firmino position when he scored the second, then the position Lacazette took up when Martinelli ghosted past Alexander-Arnold and that is the difference between a single-figure a season centre forward and a proper one like Liverpool have in their ranks.
Let’s look at some positives though. Martinelli was brilliant. He had the beating of Trent on a number of occasions and that’s the second time this season I thought he’s got the joy out of a world class right back. I also thought Partey was excellent again and with more performances like that in the midfield we’ll be able to pick up more points because Liverpool are a cut above and he made their midfield look average. His presence is dominating in midfield and he is so calm and assured. I love it. And when he and Xhaka play in the same team we look better, so providing they stay fit we have a good chance in every game, including this weekend, which is how we need to respond now. We need to see that this team can turn up at an in-form Villa and put on a display that picks us up some points. No time to feel sorry for ourselves – the Premier League have made sure about that by giving us the tightest possible fixture schedule – and we have to see a response from the players.
A word on the home support too. It was fantastic from start to finish last night. The atmosphere was electric and even after the second goal when the life was sucked out of the stadium a little bit, there were still pockets of resistance to the quietness by fans singing up for The Arsenal. Then at final whistle there was a fair bit of cheering and clapping because the home fans realised that we have shown both Liverpool and City that the gap is closing. That may feel like little consolation when you lose at home, but I am feeling more positive than negative after a display that showed we can go toe-to-toe with the best team in the league.
This week was always going to be a tough week, but now that Villa game takes on more importance, because if we lose there we might have some genuine worries about the remaining games and we have a really hard run coming up. The team has to respond, they have to show their ability and they have to go to the Midlands and get a point. It will be tough, but the belief is there for everyone involved with The Arsenal at the moment.
Back tomorrow with more of my usual ramblings and I’m sure we’ll get a press conference or team update from the manager tomorrow, so there’ll be plenty to chew on.