Arsenal slipped to defeat at Anfield, despite putting up stubborn resistance in the face of an impressive Liverpool side.
Arteta made changes from the impressive Carabao Cup win over Leicester. Mohamed Elneny was drafted into the centre of midfield and Kieran Tierney returned into our three man defence. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was our wing-back on the left with Auba, Willian and Lacazette forming our three man attack.
It showed that we wanted to stay compact in the face of a fearsome Liverpool possession-based game and the home side began as we thought they would, with domination of the ball and Arsenal staying strong despite chasing shadows for the most part. We looked steady at the very least, but Liverpool were probing, and our backline were having to react very quickly at times to some dangerous positions.
We continued to play out from the back though and a couple of occasions it nearly backfired, with Liverpool’s press really hunting us down in packs. A few minutes later, Leno had to be on watch as balls were fired out wide and the German saved well at the front post and then punched clear.
We hadn’t registered a shot – but surprisingly, we took the lead. A lightning quick break, exactly Arteta’s plan, led to a ball from Ainsley Maitland-Niles from on the right. It hit Robertson at the back stick and his attempted clearance bobbled up off his leg and fell to Lacazette, who couldn’t believe his luck. He swung his boot at the first opportunity, scuffed it, but Allison had tried to predict Laca’s shot and was on the ground, meaning our looped effort slipped agonisingly over the fingertips of the Brazilian’s attempted save.
Just two minutes later though, Liverpool were level. A Salah drove into the box and Tierney could do nothing to stop him. Salah shot and Leno saved, but could only deflect it into the path of Mane, who tapped home.
Liverpool continued to push forward and we had no answer. We simply tried to stay in the game and we were fighting valiantly. The problem was that the Reds were playing so very well and their press continued to harass when we eventually did get the ball.
Then, they took the lead.
Robertson was the man who profited. The Scot was on hand to pick up a cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold and he took a touch before poking over Leno.
The rest of the half was a keep ball exercise from Liverpool, although there was a moment for us when Luiz sprang a long range pass from deep that Maitland-Niles almost got on the end of, if it weren’t for an awkward touch.
We went in at half time 2-1 down, but it could’ve been a lot worse and we were still in it. We weren’t playing badly but the Reds were on fire.
We came out for the second half a different animal, and we were snapping at the heels of Liverpool. We pushed up, and weren’t consigning ourselves to countering from deep. It led to frustration from Trent Alexander-Arnold, who left a foot in ans really should have seen red, only for him to see yellow.
It was much better from the Gunners however. We still had to be alert and Luiz came to the rescue with a great headed clearance. We continued with more possession though but there was no sign of breakthrough.
We were going for it far more and Liverpool had to work much harder to keep the ball, our press was kicking in and making them hit more long balls and lose possession. It needed to happen and it showed we had belief that we could get something from the game.
Arteta made a change early on, with Granit Xhaka taken off for the more transitional Ceballos to take his place. It meant we kept the shield that is Elneny, but we had a good out in the form of Ceballos.
Liverpool were beginning to get more of a foothold in the game again, with Virgil Van Dijk having a pop from 25 yards which Leno did well to parry. We needed to get back into the game and we had a fantastic chance, with Ceballos slipping through Laca. He was all on his own and he took a touch before shooting at Allison who spread himself.
It was a golden opportunity and could have really spun the game toward us, but we failed to take it. Would we lament it?
Mane nearly made us instantly, but his adapted finish spun just wide.
Arteta shuffled his pack again, with Pepe being brought on for the hard-working Willian. We needed some inspiration, but the ref wasn’t helping issues, with two identical blocks off the ball bringing a yellow for Bellerin but strangely not even giving a foul when Fabinho did the same to Aubameyang.
With less than twenty minutes to go, goalscorer Lacazette came off for Nketiah in a straight swap, could Eddie grab something late on?
We earned two corners but Pepe’s deliveries on both occasions failed to beat the first man. Wasted, and we should have done much better, but we continued to push in the hope of an equaliser.
Then, with minutes to go, substitute Diogo Jota clinched the points. We headed clear a cross but it fell to Jota, who took it on his knee and volleyed home into the corner. It was game over for Arsenal, but we had fought hard in the game. It was just a step too far for us.
Liverpool saw the game home – can we take anything from this?
With our midfield limited, Ceballos is so important. He was the only one to release Auba in the channel – the 93rd minute – and Ceballos can spring attacks from anywhere. Arteta perhaps should have had him in alongside Xhaka.
Liverpool foundations come from press
The first half showed that Liverpool base their game on winning possession high up. This worked well and we struggled to pass through it. Another reason for Ceballos.
We have an attack that works and is among the best there is. We can now defend effectively and have decent cover at the back. We now need players who can pass forward. Aouar could prove instrumental to our campaign if he was bought.
Maitland-Niles Should Stay in Team
AMN was full of running, covered decently and was effective at both ends. One of our better performers.
Next up for Arsenal is…. Liverpool in the EFL Cup. At Anfield. Strap yourselves in!