Enthralling game at Anfield
This was a fixture of intriguing values as Arsenal have not beaten Liverpool at Anfield for 12 years. Arsenal are on the best run they’ve had since they last won the Premier League back in 2003. Top of the table with points in hand. But showing no signs of their relentless chase ending in despair. In fact this Arsenal side have been a revelation since going top of the premier league sometime before Christmas. Enter Liverpool.
The Merseysiders have been a cross between disgraceful and brilliant in recent months. Their high point was a 7-0 drubbing of Manchester United immediately followed by an embarrassing loss to bottom of the table Bournemouth within a week. You simply cannot predict what they will produce on the field anymore and this game was no different.
If Arsenal were to write a script for how they wanted this game to go for the first 30 mins this was basically it. They were imperious for the first period of the game. Liverpool were expected to start fast and furious but the Gunners simply man handled the Reds. To a man the visitors puffed out their chests and suffocated the home side with every pass and press. You could be forgiven for mistaking that this was in fact the Liverpool team that were in their pomp back in 2019.
Martinelli caused havoc with a run in behind and before Virgil Van Dijk somehow managed to play a 1-2 with him the panic was already too much for the home side and the Brazilian toed past Alison in the net. It was all too familiar for the home supporters. Poor from Robertson, poor form the Dutchman and ultimately poor from a Jurgen Klopp side. Is that why we are all still shaking our heads week in week out? Nobody can fathom what we are seeing from this Klopp team.
Another direct ball in behind the hapless Trent Alexander Arnold on the flank seen again Marinelli gather possession. Two touches later the ball is delivered with pinpoint accuracy and Gabriel Jesus headed a second past Alison. He was the only attacker inside the box but still seemed to have the freedom of Liverpool for this moment in time. Arsenal supporters were beginning to believe. This could be 4 or 5 by fulltime.
The Anfield Madness
For anyone that watched on Sky Sports the narrative was that Granit Xhaka for some reason opened Pandora’s box. He riled the stunned Anfield crowd and acted in a manner that was unnecessary if not unprofessional. So simple when you hear it like this. Keep the crowd quiet for 90 mins and don’t try to use your own personality in the game.
Yes there was a coming together with himself and Arnold. Yes the crowd got going. But this is Anfield. If you want to go there and do battle. You need to empty the tank. There has to be a belief. You need to dig deep, especially in high profile games and you need to man up. Did Real Madrid crumble when 2-0 down a few weeks ago there? No, they flexed their muscles and reacted as professionals.
This was not some sort of tragic circumstance that suddenly gave Liverpool the attitude to rise up. It was pride of the players mixed with the shame of how far they’ve fallen this season – released from the bottle. A great move down the left flank seen Mo Salah rescue some pride and an unlikely lifeline. This was about to be the old cliché of a game of two halves.
Over to you Lino!
If there wasn’t enough drama on show, if there wasn’t enough to talk about during the interval we then had another moment of madness. Assistant Referee Constantine Hatzidakis summoned his inner Xhaka and decided to almost elbow Andy Robertson in the jaw. It was a reactionary reflex to the Scotsman approaching him while walking across the pitch.
At first glance it seemed like nothing, but with 1000 cameras on a game of this profile this was never to be missed. Incredible scenes. As if Liverpool needed another dagger in them to get a reaction this was the icing on the cake. Considering the handing of the Mitrovic scenario where he layed a glove on the assistant. This surely can be no different when PGMOL views the footage? Not wanting to throw him under the bus here but surely this will be a 10 week vacation for him.
The Liverpool Reaction
Back to reality and back to football. Liverpool still had a mountain to climb here. The Premier League is still hanging in the balance for Arsenal and the prize was huge for whichever team could find the courage to take it. Liverpool had a desperation to show the world that this rut they are in is temporary. Arsenal have possible the greatest club team in the world chasing them.
Liverpool came out for this half as if they were dipped in Holy Water. The stench of the previous 45mins was washed away and this was a new beginning. They got the perfect start as Diogo Jota was fouled at a corner and they were awarded a penalty. Mo Salah was once again called upon but bottled the kick with the on watching Kop aghast with what they were seeing.
This did not slow down the relentless of their challenge however. If anything it brought some resolve. Liverpool pushed onto their opponents and pinned them into their own half for the remainder of the game. This was now a game of chess for Arsenal. Clever and deliberate in their time wasting. But equally shrewd in their method. This Liverpool team gives up chances and Arsenal were ready to pounce on the break.
Liverpool began to find space down the wings. With Robertson on the left and Alexander Arnold on the right. The idea was to stretch this Arsenal defence which was standing resolutely. Liverpool subs Firmino and Thiago were brought into the fray and both would have an effect on this battle.
Attack vs Counter Attack
The beauty of these games is that Liverpool are playing shot to nothing football as they all but lost out on their top four ambitions. Arsenal have to be brave and this makes for an enthralling game. Salah was found on the back stick and with a single touch inside let fly for the top left corner. Ramsdale was having none of it and parried away.
Immediately after Alexander Arnold found himself 1v1 with Zinchenko and with a clever nuts breezed past the Ukranian. A chip to the back post seen Firmino meet with his head and into the net. Arsenal countered and broke down the right side this time it was Martinelli who crossed to the back post where Robertson managed to get a small contact that could have ended up anywhere.
Liverpool now had their highest XG in the league so far this season and chance after chance was created. Arsenal had never suffered so much in one half since Opta began stats! There was only one way this was going to go surely.
Liverpool have been deeply indebted to their own number1 Alison Becker this season who has kept them in game but the accolades were not to be his on this day. Instead a 25million purchase that may have shocked many found his time to shine. Ramsdale was immense in the closing minutes when all else seemed doomed.
Firstly it was from Salah who was trying to redeem himself for the missed penalty. He cut in from the wing and opened his frame up to find the top left corner. The shot took a deflection from Gabriel and seemed destined to nestle in the net. Ramsdale was already airborne though and used the tip of his fingers to defy gravity with a save for the ages.
It wasn’t the end to his heroics however and Nunez header across the Arsenal goal was met by the onrushing Konate. The giant Frenchman scooped and decided to try chest the ball into the net only to see Ramsdale appear from nowhere and parry away. Salah almost twisted a penalty claim before going to ground when Arsenal cleared forward. In the pandemonium that followed Arsenal broke away for a three v one counter that was intercepted by Allison.
A point lost or a point gained? Morale boost or deflated egos? This game produced a roller coaster of emotions for both sides. First and foremost it was a wonderful game of football that is only produced when two sides commit fully to their cause.
From an Arsenal perspective i would understand them being gutted at being 2-0 up and coasting only to see their lead evaporate away. But the battering they took in the second half and the missed penalty to boot – means i think they’ll be happier when they wake for training today. This game shows they are up for the fight and will be there to the last kick of the ball fighting for this title.
For Liverpool this is different. It will feel like a missed opportunity. Missing the spot kick adds salt to the wounds. The words “confidence” is being said a lot with Klopp himself saying it more than anyone lately. They needed that comeback win, that 3 points, the morale boost that would come with it.
When the dust settles this game with just be a good point gained by Arsenal in what could be an amazing season. Unfortunately it is also a reminder for Liverpool that they have fallen from their perch again. Sitting in midtable and looking like a side that cannot give a 90 minute performance like they used to. There needs to be a changing of the old guard. 12 months ago they were fighting for a quadruple. Now they are fighting for their careers next season under Klopp.