Makes you wonder what would have happened if Arsenal went for Klopp, instead of carrying on with the Gazidis-Wenger inertia and decline. After all he was linked as an alternative to Wenger for a long time.
This was a game providing plenty of evidence for both glass half full and glass half empty camps.
Chief argument for the latter was the performance of David Luiz, echoing those voices in the transfer window saying he was a mistake waiting to happen. They were wrong. He made two mistakes, leading to goals – reminiscent of Pascal Cygan in his prime.
A big difference in this game was the centre backs – in particular van Dyke compared to Luiz. Couldn’t see the Dutchman making the Brazilian’s instinctive mistake at the beginning of the second half blatantly grabbing a shirt in the area – which was a turning point; and for the second, for someone on a yellow card, the £75m defender would have backed off, rather than running out of position on the left wing, getting too close to Salah and turned.
Those seeing the defeat in a dark light would argue that Emery got his tactics wrong – utilising a narrow diamond in midfield, leaving acres of space on the flanks for the two of best backs in European football and persisting with playing out from the back in the face of one of the best high pressing teams.
And despite spending £155m in the transfer window, Arsenal still can’t get anything from a top six opposition away from home, with no wins in 23 games since 2015, conceding 69 and scoring 8. Those arguing the bulk of the funds should have gone on a high class centre back have evidence here. The leading light of last week, Ceballos was also anonymous.
But there were plenty of positives in this defeat. Pepe and Aubameyang caused the best defence in the Premier League problems and threatened towards the end of the game.
Emery showed courage in gambling with a diamond which played to Arsenal’s strengths – the speed of Aubameyang and Pepe on the break with the Liverpool backs high up the field.
The goal deficit of two was lower than previous recent seasons at Anfield. There was better one on one defending – with plenty of blocks. Most argue that Luiz is better than both Koscielny and Mustafi. And there was more spirit, fight and determination than previous years.
Had Arsenal taken their chances – things may have been different.
A taste of what was to come was evidenced by Robertson running down the left in the first five minutes and firing a dangerous low cross, which just evaded Firmino.
A Pepe run gave a hint of what was to come from the visitors after six minutes with a run and shot. A through ball from Aubameyang saw Adrian scramble away, straight to the Gabonese, but his lob, with the Spaniard out of his goal dropped just wide.
Arsenal were holding out against crosses from the right and left, somewhat reminiscent of last week, and at times sent long forward passes for Pepe and Aubameyang to chase against Van Dyke and Matip.
A Willock run and pass to Pepe saw the Ivorian curl a shot just wide. And on 30, after a break from a Liverpool corner, Henderson miskicked and Pepe ran clear – but trying to move the ball from his right to left, meant the ball got stuck under his foot and he shot close to Adrian who saved.
Arsenal had been holding out well from crosses, but on 42, an Alexander Arnold corner arriving on the six-yard box, saw a melee involving Papa and van Dyke, with Guendouzi sandwiched and Matip stretching with eyes closed to head home.
Liverpool started the second half with a pace and fire which Arsenal couldn’t match. Henderson ran into the area, before Alexander Arnold fired a low pass into Firmino who cushioned the ball into Salah’s run which induced the shirt tug. Post-match, Luiz argued it was a minor tug – and VAR couldn’t determine the force of the pull. Nevertheless, Salah fired the penalty into the top corner.
Arsenal had a chance when Pepe broke at speed down the right and fed Aubameyang’s run – but with just Adrian to beat he was too slow and Matip cleared.
And soon after a pass out to the right wing from Fabinho to the Egyptian saw Luiz dive in too close where angels fear to tread, allowing Salah to turn and run on goal. Monreal struggled to keep pace. Maybe the younger legs of Tierney would have halted the run, but the ice cool finisher slotted it low to Leno’s right.
Arsenal of the recent past would have folded. But this is an improved team – both in quality and fighting spirit, and on 85, a scramble in the Liverpool box saw substitute Torreira finish a loose ball after an Aubameyang pass.
After the match Jurgen Klopp said: “We were surprised by their system but adapted. In the first half the movement in the box was not too good, and the crosses not so good.”
Shifting his glasses and showing his teeth: “We needed more runs in behind. We should have controlled it better.
“I liked the energy and passion. The work-rate was exceptional Our identity is intensity.
“We were more precise today – the pressing and counter-pressing was better. Arsenal never give up. They are a quality side. We won this game and it was completely deserved.”
David Luiz said: “We created a lot of chances – it is never easy to play here. If we scored first it could have been different. We will take the spirit to play until the end.”
He added that the foul leading to the penalty was reflex and playing from the back is the style of our team.
Unai Emery said that firstly the concentration was on defence but then making space for transition.
“The reaction after the goals was good. We are looking how we can carry on our work. That is the spirit I want.”
Liverpool: Adrián, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson, Fabinho (booked 90), Wijnaldum (substituted for Milner 69), Salah, Firmino (substituted for Lallana 86), Mané (substituted for Oxlade-Chamberlain 77).
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles, Papastathopoulos, David Luiz (booked 48) Monreal, Guendouzi (substituted for Mkhitaryan 86), Xhaka, Ceballos (substituted for Torreira 61), Willock (substituted for Lacazette 81), Pépé, Aubameyang.