I was unable to watch the Arsenal – Liverpool game, as the family was attending a delightful lunch at the same time. Turns out that was a good decision. I texted one of my Arsenal friends after the game (having seen the final result) and asked “Was Arsenal fantastic or was Liverpool that bad?”. His response “Yes.” That pretty much summed up the early Saturday game in a nutshell.
My wife doesn’t understand why I would want to watch an entire football game when I already know the result. Part of the reason is that I like to understand what happened in the buildup to a goal, which you wouldn’t get a real sense of with the highlights package (I guess there is a reason they call them ‘highlights’). Part of the reason is that I’m probably a bit masochistic, particularly after a thorough thumping like this one.
Eight minutes of Arsenal snapping and pressing and passing and excellent movement. Eight minutes of a team playing with great confidence, hunger, desire and the will to win. Eight minutes when Arsenal could easily have been two goals to the good.
Eight minutes of Liverpool giving the ball away and Kolo-ing and giving a great impression of a group of players with no confidence and no motivation. Eight minutes of Jordan Henderson playing at right-wing back (why?) and eight minutes of Dejan “£20 million in the summer” Lovren on the bench. Eight minutes of Alberto Moreno playing like Glen Johnson. Eight minutes of capitulation.
After those eight minutes I stopped watching.
Let’s get the plaudits out of the way first.
Arsenal were fantastic. As delightful to watch as diabolical as Liverpool were.
Arsenal would have been a real handful even if the Reds had brought their A-game. The Gunners have now won nine consecutive Premier League games at the Emirates. The team has conceded two goals in their previous six home games, and have won 11 of their last 12 league games home and away. Arsenal pressed Liverpool high up the pitch with the irrepressible Sanchez, Giroud, Ozil and Ramsey all putting pressure on their opponents and not allowing them time to settle on the ball. The tactic worked, and Ramsey should have given Arsenal the lead after Kolo Toure was caught in possession just outside the Liverpool penalty area.
Arsenal were let off the hook, though, as Lazar Markovic was put through on goal with Ospina and the Serbian opted to pass the ball to Raheem Sterling instead of shooting but overhit the ball and Liverpool missed an early chance to take the lead. The missed opportunity pretty much summed up the lack of belief in the Liverpool team.
Just before half time, the Gunners scored three quick goals that effectively ended the game. All three goals were well executed and finished with aplomb as Bellerin, Ozil and Sanchez ensured Arsenal went into the break well in control of the match.
As for Liverpool, there are quite a few talking points.
Many will focus on the team selection (Lovren on the bench?, no Balotelli in the match day squad? Kolo in the centre of defence?). Many may also focus on the ill-advised tactical formation (Henderson in the wingback position?, Lucas and the “Welsh Xavi” in the centre of the park?). Still others may also discuss the ongoing “will he-won’t he” contract saga between Raheem Sterling and Liverpool football club and its effect on the team.
All valid points, but the key reason for the abject performance by the red half of Anfield (in my opinion) was an utter lack of motivation and confidence. The body language of all the Liverpool players indicated that Arsenal had already won the game without a ball being kicked. There was a lack of fire/guts/courage/will to win/desire from all eleven starting players. Where Arsenal were full of energy and running, Liverpool dithered and dallied on the ball – uncertain in possession and guilty of moving the ball at a snail-like pace.
In the past, Liverpool have been guilty of turning up for games against so-called lower-ranked opposition with the wrong mindset and rightfully losing certain games. However, my experience is that the team typically tends to play well against the top four teams in the league and usually raises its standard of play in these games. Even when Liverpool has lost those games, it certainly has not been from a lack of effort and motivation. The last two games against Manchester United and Arsenal have displayed a Liverpool team that doesn’t seem too bothered whether they win or lose in matches against erstwhile rivals. The only player who seemed fired up for the last two games was club captain Steven Gerrard, and he was perhaps at the opposite extreme in terms of passion displayed.
Liverpool are trying to convince Raheem Sterling to sign a contract extension with the club, but the young forward is well within his rights to delay that signature until there is clarity around Liverpool’s final position in the league table. Liverpool is a club steeped in history, but the harsh reality of modern-day football is that teams are now measured on current results and achievements. Attracting and retaining world-class players is dependent on competing at the highest level and winning silverware, and unfortunately Liverpool may not be able to offer either for the foreseeable future.