Friday, May 24, 2024

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal: Gunners control the Anfield chaos

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Arsenal are top of the table for Christmas after a 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Anfield yesterday evening.

Mikel Arteta picked an unchanged side from the one that beat Brighton 2-0, and we came flying out of the blocks. Gabriel Jesus had an early effort deflect over the bar, there was another header on target which Alisson saved easily, before Kai Havertz was fouled in the Liverpool half.

Martin Odegaard delivered, Gabriel timed his step backwards to stay onside perfectly, and his header was very well executed as the ball was just dropping marginally behind him at the point of contact. 1-0 to the Arsenal. Jesus blasted over the bar after another good move, and up the other end Mo Salah fired a shot into the side-netting after getting away from Oleksandr Zinchenko a bit easily. A portent of what was to come.

There was a big penalty appeal when Odegaard handled the ball in our box and had that happened up the other end, I’d have been fuming if it wasn’t given. I think we got lucky there, and while you might say that a decision going our way is somewhat overdue, to me that’s absolutely a penalty. I know he slipped a little, but if there is continued debate as to what is and isn’t handball these days, that one is obvious to me.

Just before the half-hour mark, Liverpool were level. I think we have to acknowledge the quality of the pass from Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the finish from Salah, but Zinchenko’s defending was awful, and I do think Gabriel could have got out quicker to close him down. He had already pointed to Saliba to take care of the man in the middle, and if he had the chance to do it again, I’m sure he’d do it differently.

Liverpool were forced into a change when Kostas Tsimikas collided with Jurgen Klopp after a 50/50 with Saka, and ended up breaking his collar bone. Unfortunate and unlucky, and hopefully he recovers as quickly as possible. I do think Saka should probably have done better when sent in behind by Jesus, but a combination of his touch not being quite right and good defending forced him wide. From there though, Gabriel Martinelli pulling his shot wide with the keeper half-stranded felt like a big moment that we let slip. You don’t get too many chances that good at Anfield.

I thought it was quite interesting how happy Mikel Arteta was after the game, and I suspect the start to the second half is a big part of why. Arsenal were really sloppy, our pass completion dropped from 81% in the first half to just 70% in the opening 10 minutes of the second period. We gave it away in dangerous areas, we did stupid things on the ball which allowed Liverpool to win it in our half, and on the live blog I made the comment that ‘The game is tilting too far Liverpool’s way.’

It felt like the momentum was shifting, we’ve experienced that at Anfield before, and it’s so difficult to bring it back the other way. But that’s exactly what we did. ‘Control’ is an Arsenal buzzword this season, and we saw how it can be applied in a different way last night. It’s not just about dominating possession and territory against so-called ‘smaller’ teams, it allows you to stem the tide of rising pressure against the best sides too, and that’s what we did.

The yin and yang of Zinchenko was on full display last night. Defensively poor at times, careless during that 10 minute period at least twice (perhaps three times), but then when we got back into the game, he was fairly fundamental to that element of our performance too. Most teams won’t be able to exploit the defensive weakness as well as Liverpool, but I’m sure it’s something Mikel Arteta is well aware of. I think Tomiyasu would have started this one if fit, so it’s not as if we ignore it – we just had no alternative last night.

I have to mention the defensive triumvirate of Declan Rice, Gabriel and William Saliba. Although it was Odegaard who made more tackles than any other Arsenal player, those three were so commanding. Saliba in particular was imperious, unflustered, unflappable. He defends like he’s got some kind of ability to slow down time, like a shooting mechanic in a video game which lets you put the real world into half-speed and take aim. His absence at the end of last season must be the biggest ‘What If’ in recent Arsenal history. A word too for Ben White whose form has been a discussion point, but neither Luis Diaz or Darwin Nunez did a thing all night, and his aggressive defending was perfect from start to finish.

An Arsenal corner turned into a brilliant chance for Liverpool when Zinchenko took out Odegaard and they had a 4 on 1 break. Salah found Alexander-Arnold, and I’m not having the excuses about the ball taking a bobble before he hit it, he absolutely should score there and it’s a bad miss. He said the same on Sky afterwards. If the penalty decision was a let-off, so too was this. Sometimes though, you need a break or two to get a result, and I think a draw at Anfield is a very decent outcome for Arsenal.

I was bit surprised at the chat on the TV coverage about this was a good weekend for Man City at our expense. This was a very different game to last season when we just about hung on for a draw after the momentum shifted in Liverpool’s favour completely. Those Ramsdale saves, oof. I just think there’s more to take from this one than going 2-0 up last time out, and while there are obviously things we could have done better, this is a positive result.

Afterwards, Arteta said:

It was an unbelievable game of football, one of the most intense and hectic games that I have witnessed in 20 years in this league. The quality, the intentions of both teams… It was superb to watch it and we as a team with the boys willing to play at that level, to have the courage to play at that level, the determination and belief to do what we’ve done here, I think my players deserve big, big credit.

I thought the contrast between his comments and those of a frustrated Bukayo Saka was quite interesting, but I think that speaks more to the player’s desire to have made more of a couple of moments than unhappiness with the result itself. So, it wasn’t quite the win we wanted, but a draw there is not to be sniffed at, and that ability to cope with that shaky second half period is a very promising thing.

And we’re top at Christmas, ho ho ho.

We will be recording a festive Arsecast Extra for you this morning, but because of the day that’s in it, it might be a bit shorter than usual. We’ll have that for you in all the usual places around midday.

Until then.

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