Arsenal needed a strong showing at Liverpool to kick start their season. While the hosts were in a great mood having seen out the Champions League Qualifying round tie and getting a very favorable draw.

Pre-Match & Lineup

Heading into the day the biggest stories continued to be about the trio of star players who had not yet re-signed with Arsenal, nor been sold, - Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin. Overnight those concerns grew when rumors began to surface that Mustafi was potentially exiting to Inter Milan. This right after selling Gabriel the week before.

Wenger stayed with the 3-back system. A system which I called to be put away, at least for this match, in my preview last week. Players out of position and one that requires Arsenal to control possession and press the game. Given Liverpool’s style of play, a back three was always going to be a flawed system.

Surprisingly, Sanchez would get his first start, which helped lift the hopes of Gunner fans. Koscielny returned to the center of defense and Holding returned after sitting out of the Stoke City match. 100+ goal scorer Lacazette – on the bench. 99 goal’s for Arsenal Giroud – on the bench. Strong defender who has already scored, Kolasinac – on the bench. It didn’t look well before kickoff, but truly it was already over.

1st Half Analysis

Sanchez was paired up against the young Joe Gomez, but the Chilean would never end up showing the speed, fitness or quality fans have come to know. Liverpool started the match well, creating chances and pressing the game, as expected both from their style and being at home. It took only 17 minutes for that pressure to pay off, as Firmino put the hosts ahead.

Quickly and throughout the first half numerous players appeared out of position, unsure of their assignments, and lacking the intensity needed for a match of such stature. Before Arsenal could get into the locker room for halftime Sadio Mane put Liverpool up 2-nil, from a quick box to box transition. The formation was incorrect and the selections failed to deliver. Surely, major changes would occur at the start of the second half – right?

2nd Half Analysis

Liverpool was without Coutinho, Sterling or Lallana and still dominating in the attack. Wenger brought in Coquelin in place of Ramsey, even with Xhaka already on a yellow card, and moved the back line into a back four. The attack still showed no signs of improvement and had logged zero shots on goal by the 55th minute. Any chance to fix thing before it was too late was gone by the 57th minute. Off of an Arsenal corner, the ball was played back to Bellerin who was the only defender back and in the Liverpool half, failed to execute a simple clearance and sent Salah one on one with Petr Cech – Liverpool 3-0.

Lacazette and Giroud are subbed in, albeit too late. Sanchez goes to the bench having made little contribution and appeared less than interested in being an Arsenal player at the moment. The sides continued on, with Liverpool looking lively, eventually going up 4-0, and having an embarrassment of attacking riches. Arsenal failed to get a single shot on target – scoreless now in two straight.

The Positives

This is a tough one.

- The international break. It’s not fun to have to sit on this loss, but the club has a chance to overhaul the formation and player selection.
- Sanchez returned. He didn’t look great, nor was his images on the sidelines inspiring towards staying at the Emirates. But he was in the game and will be needed as the Gunners look to rebuild things back up in September.
- It’s early. There are still 35 Premier League matches to go. Arsenal has plenty of time and talent to turn this around. Sunday was giving any confidence towards that, but history shows us that it is possible.

The Negatives

- Who is the captain? Arsenal is missing a leader who embodies and displays the heart needed to push the team on, yell at players out of position, and be the rallying point. No one appears to be ready to take up that responsibility, nor is that an easy thing to buy. Jordan Henderson has done well to be Liverpool’s engine while keeping the attack pressing forward. Arsenal needs that desperately. It’s not Ramsey, Xhaka, Ozil, etc.
- Forcing in a system out of context. The back three was never going to work against this Liverpool team. Unless Wenger thought Arsenal would dominate possession and be in the Liverpool half the majority of the time, he needed to adjust. Giroud’s height and hold up play were needed, Lacazette was bought for matches like this, and the defense needed strength – why sit Kolasinac?
- Inability to adjust to the game timely. Even if Wenger was caught completely by surprise as the game developed. A switch in the defensive system was needed early and was possible by moving Bellerin over to RB, Monreal at LB and the Ox up to right midfield. Sanchez, Welbeck, and Ozil looked flat, yet no attacking change was made coming out of half time. There was a chance to get something from this game, but the decisiveness killed it for Arsenal.

Next Time

The Premier League pauses for an international break. Arsenal now sits in 16th place on three points. On September 9th, they return home to take on Bournemouth, who have failed to take a point thus far. Let’s hope for no injuries during the break. Will Alexis still be a Gunner? Will a last minute signing be finalized?

If Wenger rolls out a new formation and multiple player changes the fans should start the day with positive support. It’ll be tense, loud chanting, belief and an early goal can help lift Arsenal to a victory and a chance to get back into their groove.