Misfiring Gunners Disgraced at Anfield
Unai Emery’s side were beaten 3-1 by Liverpool as they fell to their first defeat of the new Premier League season
The Gunners have now conceded 16 goals in their last four games at Anfield, losing 3-1, 4-0, 5-1 and now 3-1 once again.
In the first half in particular, this was a far more assured performance than in recent seasons here, but a mixture of poor finishing and bad defending ensured Arsenal returned to north London on the back of a hiding once again.
Before the game, Unai Emery admitted Liverpool were a step ahead of Arsenal, but the Spaniard was adamant his side had an “amazing opportunity” to do something special at Anfield.
Successive wins to open up the Premier League season certainly sent them to Merseyside in confident mood and for 40 minutes they were a match for the European champions.
Tactically, Emery changed things up – moving away from the 4-2-3-1 we have seen in the opening weeks of the season in favour of a midfield diamond and a front pairing of Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe.
The idea was clearly to try and shut down the space in the central areas which Liverpool exploited so clinically in the 5-1 last season, and to then spring forward with the pace of the front two.
And for the first 40 minutes it worked perfectly. Despite dominating possession, Liverpool created very little and the visitors were a constant threat on the counterattack.
Even the usually colossal Virgin van Dijk struggled to deal with Pepe, who was making his first start since his club record move from Lille.
The Ivory Coast international bent one effort just wide of the far corner after a fabulous break from Joe Willock and saw another effort from distance comfortably saved by Adrian.
Pepe then had a golden chance to open his Arsenal account, breaking with electric pace from inside his own half to get through on goal. The new boy did everything right, but his finish let him down – shooting tamely at the keeper from the edge of the box.
It was a costly miss, as Liverpool took the lead soon after, and from that point on there was only ever going to be one winner.
Arsenal, who had defended so well, allowed Joel Matip a free header from a corner and the big defender gave Bernd Leno no chance with a thumping finish.
All Arsenal’s good work had been undone – and worse was to come after the break.
If the first half had been encouraging, the second was an all too familiar story as Mohamed Salah hit a double to inflict yet more Anfield misery on the Gunners.
David Luiz inexplicably pulled backed the Egyptian to give away a penalty just four minutes after the interval, it was one that Salah took himself and buried into the top corner.
And the Liverpool frontman doubled his tally just before the hour mark, skipping away from Luiz before racing clear and beating Leno once again.
There was still half an hour remaining at this point, but the game was up. Arsenal did pull a goal back late on through substitute Lucas Torreira, but it was no more than a consolation.
This was always going to be a big challenge for Emery’s new look team, which is very much a work in progress.
There were some bright spots. Willock was outstanding once again in midfield, continuing the form he has shown throughout the summer, and Pepe certainly gives the attack a new dimension.
But the frustrating aspect of the defeat was the way they once again crumbled defensively after falling behind and it was Luiz – brought in for his experience – who was the chief culprit.
Arsenal will need far more from the Brazilian if they are to start bridging the gap that exists between them, Liverpool and Manchester City. On this evidence, there is still a long way to go.