Don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.
This lacklustre performance against Liverpool should anger Arsenal fans. It shows how far Arsenal have to progress for a sustained challenge for the top four. If Arsenal had won, they would have been only one point behind the champions. Ninth was playing seventh.
So, a watershed – Liverpool on the up to Europe. Arsenal down to mid-table mediocrity – which is stark considering the investment at the beginning of the season was to get them into the top four.
Arteta’s Premiership win ratio is 43% after 50 games – lower than Emery’s and Wenger’s last 50. His first 25 yielded 1.7 points per game; his next 25 1.3 per game. Regression not progression. But stats don’t tell the whole story and the perception is he is guiding the club in the right direction, and there will be blips along the way.
Saka, Smith Rowe and Xhaka, yes Xhaka, were missed. The Swiss’s chemistry in midfield looked better that the Ceballos-Partey duo. But the chemistry of the team was wrong and did not gel all game. There was a lack of support for the player in or trying to get possession.
This showed up the lack of quality in the squad – with poor play out of possession with none of the forward players willing to work hard off the ball and it stressed the importance of the youngsters in Arsenal’s mid-season revival.
The one excuse, besides injuries to the youngsters, was players returning from international duty – notoriously unpredictable – but not much of an excuse.
Holding was in for Luiz, Chambers got the nod ahead of Bellerin. Ceballos was in for Xhaka. Smith Rowe and Saka unfortunately were out.
Liverpool’s three South Americans, Alisson, Firmino and Fabinho had a couple of weeks out. Liverpool mathematically lost their title today. They had suffered six defeats in the last eight games. They have a good record in London and have a better record away – so they were looking at a refresh.
On 4, Mane beat Holding with worrying ease, rolling him. Ceballos sent a loose pass and then in an aerial duel set up Milner for a swing at goal – wide. Aubameyang cleared straight to Fabhino who had a shot wide of the post.
Arsenal formed a low, compact defensive block, relying on counter-attacks. But what appeared deliberate tactics mutated into a game where Liverpool retained over two thirds of possession and were totally dominant. Arsenal were missing the craft of Saka and the intelligent off the ball running of Smith Rowe.
A neat move saw Milner cross for Mane – who headed straight at Leno.
Pepe lost the ball for the third time in thirty minutes, presenting a chance for Fiminho.
First attack saw Tierney find Aubameyang, who crossed for Pepe who headed a tame effort at Allison. But it was offside anyway.
Ceballos gave the ball away, Alexander Arnold put it on a plate – in space – but Milner hit it wide.
Liverpool continued to be totally dominant. Arsenal were hoofing it away to no-one. There was no out ball.
To make matters worse, Tierney jarred his left leg in a tackle with Milner – and went off just before half-time for Cedric – a right back playing on the left against Salah.
Arsenal came out for the second with more energy. But Ceballos came off for Elneny after 12 minutes. Ominously, Jota came on for Robertson and Liverpool switched to a 4-2-4.
Cedric and Aubameyang combined leading to Cedric’s swerving shot which Allison saved.
Chambers gave the ball away with a header. It was worked out to Alexander Arnold who whipped it in. Holding was underneath it and Jota (who I thought would score) powered it goalward. Leno perhaps could have done better with the parry, but it came at him very fast.
Salah got free on the left with an early pass, and he wriggled through Gabriel’s challenge and popped it through Leno’s legs.
Gabriel passed out straight to Alexander Arnold, who sent it to Salah who found Jota in the area to fire home.
After the match, Jota said: “we controlled the game with possession.”
Jurgen Klopp said: “We finished situations off. Arsenal were not in the game for 95 minutes – due to our performance.”
Mikel Arteta said: “They were better in every department; they won every duel. With the ball we were disappointing. It is my responsibility. I am shocked. It showed the difference between the two teams at that level.
“Today we hit a low level – it is not acceptable.”
The Spaniard has said that several times already this season, and each time marks a debit on his account.
Arsenal: 1Leno, 21Chambers, 16Holding, 6Gabriel (Booked at 90mins), 3Tierney (Substituted for Cédric Soares at 45+1’minutes), 18Partey, 8Ceballos (Substituted for Elneny at 58’minutes), 19Pépé, 11Ødegaard, 14Aubameyang (Substituted for Martinelli at 77’minutes), 9Lacazette
Liverpool: 1Alisson, 66Alexander-Arnold, 47Phillips, 19Kabak (Substituted for R Williams at 84’minutes), 26Robertson (Substituted for Jota at 61’minutes, Booked at 73mins), 6Thiago Alcántara, 3Fabinho, 7Milner, 11Salah, 9Firmino (Substituted for Wijnaldum at 78’minutes), 10Mané