Critics and fans need some perspective when analysing Arsenal’s progress
Arsenal appear to be one of those clubs the critics love to hate and the general assessment of Saturday’s match seems to be that it shows the Gunners are still a long way off being title contenders.
That may well be true, but analysing a 3-1 defeat at Anfield needs some perspective.
Perspective in terms of the quality of opposition because Liverpool are an outstanding team that has taken years to build, and perspective in terms of where Arsenal feature on their own development curve.
Jurgen Klopp arrived at Anfield in October 2015 and has spent four years of a five-year plan building a team to deliver the club’s first ever Premier League title; a target which now seems tantalisingly within grasp.
Unai Emery took charge of his first Arsenal game in August 2018 at a club which was still in turmoil after the departure of Arsene Wenger and with a squad built by someone else. No wonder the gap remains big.
Emery’s tactic at Anfield was to defend deep and use Pepe and Aubameyang in transition to stretch Liverpool on the break and there were signs at times that it could work — both those players had good first-half chances.
In the end, it wasn’t enough but Arsenal haven’t beaten a top six team away from home since winning at Manchester City in January 2015, have conceded 53 goals in those matches in the interim and lost 5-1 at Anfield last year. The bar was set low, but there’s an argument that Saturday’s performance included elements of encouragement.
Emery believed Torreira’s consolation goal was something to hang on to, saying: “It was the moment we needed to show something different, not frustration, not going down and keep our moment, working to progress. We showed character.”
No international hangover for Salah this season — and that’s good news for Liverpool
Mo Salah scored only three goals in his opening 11 games of last year and there was speculation, that he was going to struggle to recreate the heroics of 2017-18 when he scored 46 goals for club and country.
He spectacularly debunked later in the campaign,
This time, there appears to be no hangover for the Egyptian (even though he played in the African Nations Cup in the summer), having already scored three goals inside three Premier League starts. He was sharper than ever on Saturday, not just with an unsaveable penalty but also with a wonderful turn and sweeping shot for his second goal which was equally unstoppable.
The overall quality of Salah’s play was outstanding and if he can keep up this level of performance then he’s a strong bet to challenge Raheem Sterling for the Premier League’s golden boot (presuming Norwich’s surprise early leader Teemu Pukki (who has five goals already) slows down.
Liverpool look real title contenders — but where are the clean sheets?
There’s no doubt that Liverpool look like they are setting themselves up for another title challenge after winning their opening three games of the season but there’s one small nagging doubt: the goals conceded.
Three victories, nine goals scored and a European Super Cup victory over Chelsea make it an encouraging start to the campaign. But not a single clean sheet (and if you include the Community Shield that’s a run of five matches) is one to keep an eye on.
Compare that to the end of last season, when Liverpool kept eight clean sheets in the final 10 matches in all competitions, and it’s a statistic which cannot be ignored. For now, you can put it down to early season teething problems, perhaps, or the loss of Allison — but it cannot continue. Last season Liverpool kept 21 clean sheets in their Premier League campaign and they’ll need more this time if they want to knock Manchester City off their perch.
Luiz was the pantomime villain again — but he didn’t deserve to be the only one
David Luiz has been billed as the villain once more after his needless tugging of Mo Salah’s shirt led to a Liverpool penalty, despatched by Mo Salah, at a key point in the game when the score was only 1-0. But as so often he was an easy victim for the headlines.
The Brazilian didn’t have the best game but the penalty was soft and he was certainly not the only one to make mistakes (although you wouldn’t know it from the match reporting). Luiz later revealed that Salah didn’t even feel the contact — and Arsenal feel the decision was a soft one — they could have been awarded a penalty themselves in the first half when Virgil van Dijk pulled the shirt of Nicholas Pepe but got away with it.
For Liverpool, Jordan Henderson made a bad error to gift Pepe a first-half opportunity and was also at fault for Lucas Torreira’s consolation goal — but no character assassination for the Liverpool captain online (and rightly so, because he played an otherwise excellent game). Luiz, it seems, doesn’t get the same leeway.
Arsenal cannot afford to lose Nacho Monreal (but it looks like they will)
Arsenal defender Nacho Monreal is reportedly close to agreeing a move to Real Sociedad as the European transfer window enters its final week — and that cannot be good news. The veteran left-back, who has also been used at centre-half by Arsenal, has been one of their most reliable performers in a time of turmoil and was a steadying influence at Anfield, too. The signing of Kieran Tierney, of course, means Arsenal already have cover but Monreal’s versatility and experience are vital for a squad that lacks both those qualities.
Manager Unai Emery appear to recognise when he said: “He played a very big match and he is a very big professional for us. It is one issue, we need to speak in the next days because in Europe the transfer window has not closed.
“But we are going to speak about all these situations. It’s the reason I was saying it’s not normal we closed our window a few weeks ago, because the squad is not completely closed for us at the moment.”