Monday, May 16, 2022

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Reinforcements required

Match reportPlayer ratingsManager reaction

Last night’s defeat to Liverpool was a classic example of how a game can start brightly, then just get progressively worse until the final whistle brings an end to proceedings.

On paper, it was a stronger looking Arsenal side that we might have expected, with Emile Smith Rowe and Takehiro Tomiyasu back. It meant Martin Odegaard could drop into midfield to plug that huge gap we have there, and there was even Thomas Partey on the bench. He came straight from the airport to the team hotel so he could be involved, and despite what happened later, I really like that commitment.

We started pretty well, Martinelli caused some problems down the left hand side, and there was a decent chance with an Alexandre Lacazette free kick which came off the bar thanks to the slightest touch from Caoimhin Kelleher. After that though, the game swung towards Liverpool and it became apparent that we had players out there who were just not quite ready. The absence of Smith Rowe and Tomi from the training pictures wasn’t subterfuge, it was literally because they haven’t had any training sessions.

On Tomiyasu, he said:

We didn’t want to play him, we had to push him because Cedric and Calum were out. The moment that he knew that, he said he would play and he didn’t have any training session with us and he was still willing to play and compete the way he’s done today.

Some of that rustiness was apparent in the goal when he slipped after Jota nutmegged him, but I’m not sure any of our defenders or the goalkeeper will look back on what happened next without thinking they could have done better. I think Ramsdale was setting himself for a curler to his left hand side, Jota’s miskick bamboozled them all and the ball trickled over the line for 1-0.

It was mostly Liverpool, but early in the second half Lokonga produced our most incisive pass of the game, providing a glorious chance for Lacazette, but he fired over. We brought Partey on, along with Eddie Nketiah in the 74th minute, and in the 77th it was 2-0. Martinelli slipped, Alexander-Arnold found Jota who stayed onside, took the ball on well and then dinked it over Ramsdale. He’s turning into a hell of a player.

That was always going to be that in terms of the result. There wasn’t really anything else on the bench, perhaps Tavares for Tierney but let’s not kid ourselves that would have made any real difference. The sting in the tail was the sending off. I think the first booking is absurd, it’s a nothing challenge, the referee had no business issuing a yellow card for that, but given his experience, to pick up the second yellow the way he did was a bit daft. It was borderline straight red to be honest, and having missed no Premier League games while away at AFCON, the Ghanaian now misses Burnley on Sunday.

When something like this happens it’s obvious to make the point that a player coming off a long flight and straight into a squad isn’t wise, but he wanted to help, he wanted to play, and on the night we had nobody else who could conceivably change the game. Clearly it was a gamble, but I don’t massively blame the manager for giving it a go in the circumstances. Also, while I think it was a a bit silly from an experienced player, the fact he was out there in those circumstances says more about him than the mistimed challenge. For me, at least.

Afterwards, Arteta said:

I’m extremely proud of the way our supporters have tried to help the team and the momentum we’ve created because I know what those players have done to play tonight. Five or six of them, they haven’t had any training sessions and they were still willing to compete. The way they competed against this team is remarkable. I will try to use that in a positive way.

That’s probably the only positive he can take from that performance, although I thought Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli were a cut above the rest last night. There are things they brought to the team that we need and will need going forward. As for the rest, what last night does is absolutely hammer home the need for reinforcements up front and in central midfield.

That Lacazette chance in the second half might have changed the complexion of the game, you need a striker who is going to finish that. That was a bad miss in my opinion, especially in a game where opportunities of that quality are likely to be scant. That moment showed how valuable it is to have a centre forward who actually gives you an option up front, because he spent most of the game too deep and away from the areas we need a striker to be in. That all we had on the bench to replace him was Eddie Nketiah tells its own story. This team lacks presence and firepower up front, and unless we do something about it this month, it’s easy to see how we might slip away from where we want to be in the Premier League.

The centre of midfield is another obvious area of need. You don’t need me to tell you why. You have eyes. You can see what we have and what we don’t have, even with everybody fit and available, this is an area of the pitch that requires an upgrade in terms of quality. There’s no depth, hence the Partey gamble last night. I don’t know who is out there this month, or who is available/willing to come, but Edu and his team need to sort this out.

I don’t think anything will happen before Burnley on Sunday, if Burnley on Sunday goes ahead. I hope it does, and we need to put out the best possible team we can and make sure we get three points. There’s then a big gap when hopefully we can get some transfer business done, but more importantly work on getting this squad back to a fitness level that will see us be competitive again.

Incoming deals should make the team stronger because ideally you’re adding quality, bringing in upgrades in key positions, but we also need to add some depth. The departures this month have left us very, very light, and taking some of the burden off players who have given a lot so far this season will play a part in ensuring better physical condition and thus the level of performance you can get from those guys.

I don’t think 2-0 over two legs to Liverpool is any kind of disgrace, but it’s obviously disappointing to go out in a semi-final, not least because I don’t think we were quite at the right level for a semi-final. Our predilection for a red card is another issue the manager needs to get on top of, and quickly, because that too is playing a part in some of the physical stress we’re under. Let’s see what we’ve got this weekend then, and go from there.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra fairly early this morning, so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out by mid-morning. Until then, take it easy.

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