A different week, but the same old story at Arsenal. "We've had a shot, we've had a shot," Arsenal fans sang sarcastically when Granit Xhaka managed to drill a shot over the crossbar. Nothing is more disappointing than your own fans turning up on you. But for Arsenal, it has become a trend lately.
It was yet another bad day at the office for Arsenal as Liverpool came out as deserved winners with an extremely solid performance at home. And it all goes down to the havoc caused by their deadly front trio — Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino. With this win, it is now fair to say that Liverpool mean business whenever they lock horns against the top teams in the Premier League. They are unbeaten in their nine Premier League games this season against the current top six.
The biggest talking point of the match was Arsene Wenger's decision to omit Alexis Sanchez from the starting eleven due to tactical reasons. Looking at his form in recent games, it surely looked like an absurd decision to drop the league's joint top scorer but Wenger said he had other plans to test Liverpool's defence. The Frenchman deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right, Danny Welbeck on the left and Alex Iwobi behind target man Olivier Giroud.
Even though it was a debatable decision, it was not the reason why Arsenal were humiliated. Within the five minutes of the game, the London club had to make six clearances, indicating how deep they sat from the time the referee blew his whistle. It was like Arsenal were digging their own grave when they let Liverpool have possession during the start. In the middle of the park, Emre Can provided balance to Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum, breaking the opposition's play and setting it up for teammates. However, the midfield duo of Xhaka and Francis Coquelin were kept on their toes. As a holding midfielder, Xhaka just managed to win just one out of his three tackles and was dispossessed twice. For Coquelin, it was yet another miserable game as he hardly had any impact on the game.
Amidst the recklessness in the midfield, Lallana, Coutinho and Mane wasted no time to set up Firmino who lashed the ball into Petr Cech's goal in the ninth minute to give Reds the lead. Wenger's plan to go all-out and attack did not pan out as he would have thought. Liverpool appeared to be much more balanced whereas Arsenal seemed perplexed without the ill Mesut Ozil and Sanchez.
"For us, this kind of game like Liverpool is, of course, an opportunity that we want to take. We have to go and take it and not wait for the result," said Wenger to SkySports ahead of the game on Saturday.
Unfortunately, all his hopes were crashed in the 39th-minute when Firmino played a lovely square pass across the box to find Mane who rammed the ball hard and low to double Liverpool's advantage. Arsenal invited danger in most parts of the game. Even Reds' defender Joel Matip had created more chances than Arsenal as a team before the end of the first half whereas Mane was busy terrorising Nacho Monreal.
4 - Sadio Mane has scored and assisted in four Premier League games this season, more than any other player. Talisman.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 4, 2017
The stage was set for Sanchez to take the game by the scruff of its neck in the second half. As soon as Wenger brought on the Chilean, he straightaway got into the act. His inclusion caused a headache for Nathaniel Clyne's tired legs but once the Reds regrouped, it would take something special to break the door. Both teams charged forward in the second half with a barrage of chances only to goof it up in the final third. Arsenal then managed to pull one back, thanks to Sanchez and Welbeck. It just took 11 minutes for Sanchez to change the course of the game. Monreal shouldered him, allowing Sanchez to further cut inside to create chances.
"Without Sanchez, Arsenal just have good players. None of them are world class," said Steve Gerrard to BT Sport.
Divock Origi came close to sealing the deal for Klopp's men but was denied by the woodwork. Finally, Arsenal became much more direct, forcing Simon Mignolet to flex his muscles on several occasions. In the dying minutes, Matip threw himself in front of his goal to deny Sanchez. Lallana picked up the rebound and beautifully found Origi on the right, who teed up a simple tap-in finish for Wijnaldum to add to Arsenal's misery. Throughout the game, Wijnaldum was disciplined and deft with his passes, making movements to make room for Firmino. Before the game, Liverpool had just won one out of their nine Premier League meetings at Anfield.
Points won by the top-6 against the top-6 so far in 2016/17: Liverpool (19) Chelsea (13) Tottenham (9) Man City (7) Man Utd (6) Arsenal (5) pic.twitter.com/4tWLndrF6t — Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 4, 2017
Both Wenger and Klopp admitted that Sanchez adds much more to the game. "We expected a response from Arsenal when Alexis Sanchez was on the pitch because he is a world-class player. It took five minutes to adapt to the situation because they had two big chances at the start of the second half," said Klopp. "Yes (it did backfire) but I felt that in the first half the strikers suffered because we didn't dominate in the midfield and in the second half you could see that it was easier because Welbeck and Giroud were much better, so it's always debatable. The thinking was that we had to go more direct and I wanted to play two players who were strong in the air and after that to bring on Alexis in the second half," explained Wenger. From the pundits to fans, all expected Arsenal to be the second best in the absence of Sanchez in the first half against an attack-minded Liverpool. It certainly looks like change is inevitable but only if it promises a new brand of football. Until then, Arsenal have to work on the issue if they are to finish in top four.
Published Date: Mar 05, 2017 12:53 PM | Updated Date: Mar 05, 2017 20:57 PM