Statement win from imperious Liverpool throws down title gauntlet

Liverpool have weathered the challenging circumstances of a truncated pre-season and are, slowly but surely, getting back into their stride
Statement win from imperious Liverpool throws down title gauntlet

DEBUT DELIGHT: Liverpool’s Diogo Jota scores his side’s third goal at Anfield last night.l 

Liverpool 3

Arsenal 1

If the world has changed beyond recognition in recent months, one great truth remains after the opening three games of the Premier League season and Liverpool’s thoroughly professional victory over Arsenal last night — this is Jurgen Klopp’s title to lose.

A resurgent Arsenal discovered that last night after having the audacity to take the lead through Alexandre Lacazette, against the run of play, after 25 minutes.

It took Liverpool all of 147 seconds to equalise, snuffing out any hope Mikel Arteta might have had of reaching the half-time interval with an advantage.

And when Andrew Robertson, badly at fault for the opening goal, responded with Liverpool’s second after 34 minutes, Arsenal’s prospects of following the example of Burnley — the only team to take points from Anfield last season in a 1-1 draw they collected long after the title had been decided in July — looked forlorn.

It was a tight game, make no mistake, and a title-winning defence that leaked three against Leeds in the opening day win earlier this month is still far from its peak powers.

But while their closest rivals from last year, Manchester City, look like imploding, Liverpool have weathered the challenging circumstances of a truncated pre-season and are, slowly but surely, getting back into their stride.

Last night, Klopp was quick to defend his side’s performance after Sky pundit Roy Keane said there were sloppy moments.

“Did I hear right? Mr Keane said we had a sloppy performance tonight? Did he say that?” asked Klopp.

Keane replied: “I think they gave up one or two opportunities that they will be disappointed with.” 

Klopp retorted: “This was a sloppy performance tonight? I’m not sure if i heard it right — maybe it was about another game it can’t be about this game. Sorry. That’s an incredible description of this game. Nothing was sloppy about this game. Nothing.

“This was absolutely exceptional, there was nothing sloppy from the first second. We dominated against a team that is 100% in form. The football we played was absolutely exceptional tonight. It doesn’t help us for Thursday or any other game but from this game tonight, there was nothing bad to say.

“Could we have scored more goals? Yes. Could they have scored more goals? Yes because of the quality they have but ‘sloppy?’ No.”” 

For long spells, Liverpool stamped their ruthless authority on the game, full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson flinging accurate crosses into the box, their midfield strangling the life out of their out-classed Arsenal rivals, and their front three causing concern with every action in or around the Gunners’ area.

This Arteta vintage side is a vast upgrade on what has come in recent seasons, if only from the point of view of their durability and ability to withstand pressure without capitulating.

Those qualities are so evident that Arsenal even managed to take the lead with a devastating counter-attack.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles floated in a cross which Robertson should have cut out but his horrendous mis-kick fell directly to Lacazette, six yards out, but played onside, and the Arsenal man mis-hit a shot which wrong-footed Alisson on its way in.

It was a stunning opening goal but Liverpool were record breaking champions for a reason last season and no amount of lockdowns or unfamiliar scheduling can change that.

Within minutes, Granit Xhaka’s foul on Naby Keita was ignored by referee Craig Pawson, freeing Mo Salah to drift past Kieran Tienrey, into the area before delivering a shot which Bernd Leno kept out, but only by serving up a rebound which Sadio Mane converted from close range.

Alexander-Arnold had already seen a deflected shot hit the Arsenal crossbar and the home side was about to further stamp its authority on the game as Robertson made amends for his earlier error. Salah laid the ball back to Alexander-Arnold whose superb, hanging cross reached Robertson at the far post. A decent touch and an alert response from the full-back allowed him to finish well past Leno.

Before the break, Maitland-Niles was almost played clean through but could not quite control a very difficult pass.

But, closest of all, in the 63rd minute Lacazette found himself clean through and bearing down on goal only for an alert Alisson to block as the Frenchman tried to flick it over him.

Before that, Mane had shot just over from the edge of the area and Virgil van Dijk’s long shot been parried by Leno. After it, Roberto Firmino threaded a pass through the massed Arsenal ranks for Mane who swivelled and shot wide.

New signing Diogo Jota should have eased Klopp’s nerves seven minutes from time after being played in by an astonishing pass from Salah, only to shoot carelessly wide from the corner of the six-yard area.

A few moments later, Salah added insult to injury when he greedily dispossessed Jota just as his new team mate was about to strike.

Third time was a charm for the Portuguese forward, however. On 88 minutes, Alexander-Arnold’s cross was headed by David Luiz, Jota controlled it on his knee and rifled an 18-yard volley into the corner of the goal. It was a goal that finally ended Arsenal’s rearguard action.

And that was the biggest compliment that could be paid to the Arteta era Arsenal. Under Unai Emery, or even in the later days of Arsene Wenger, the Gunners would have folded here, swept away by waves of Red attacks and clever possession and passing.

Now, there is a new resilience, belief and discipline about them that bodes well for the future.

For Liverpool, the future is already here — and bearing familiar results.

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Alisson 7; Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 6, Van Dijk 7, Robertson 6; Keita 5 (Milner 79, 5), Fabinho 6, Wijnaldum 6; Salah 7, Firmino 8 (Minamino 90), Mane 7 (Jota 79, 7).

Subs not used: Adrian, Jones, Origi, Williams.

ARSENAL (3-4-3): Leno 6; Holding 6, Luiz 6,Tierney 7; Bellerin 6, Elneny 6, Xhaka 6 (Ceballos 60, 7) , Maitland-Niles 6; Willian 6 (Pepe 68, 6), Lacazette 6 (Nketiah 73, 5), Abumeyang 5.

Subs not used: Runarsson, Gabriel, Kolsanic, Saka.

Referee: Craig Pawson.

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