Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4
There’s not a lot between Arsenal and Liverpool on the pitch, as this crazy seven-goal opening-day fixture underlined in a match which saw both teams put all their faults as well as their assets on show in a thrilling opener; but there’s a vast difference in the atmosphere off it.
Jurgen Klopp celebrated a special victory with supporters at the final whistle — and as fans sung his name, the unity, ambition and belief in the Liverpool camp could not have been clearer, even taking into account some poor defending which made it a nervy finale from 4-1 up, and left questions about their title credentials still unanswered.
Contrast that with boos from the home end, chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, the stony faces of Arsenal fans as they trooped out of the Emirates and the lonely look on the face of the team’s players, struggling under the heavy weight of frustration in north London which has been brewing for years.
So although this result will probably not have a major impact on the title race in the long term, it still means more than Arsenal legend Thierry Henry suggested when he concluded: “What I saw was two vulnerable teams and Arsenal were a bit more vulnerable than Liverpool.”
What Liverpool had to look back on, in a positive way, was a stunning free-kick from Philippe Coutinho who equalised Theo Walcott’s 31st-minute opener and then a mesmerising 20-minute spell in the second half which saw Adam Lallana, Coutinho (from a quite wonderful team move) and new signing Sadio Mane (with a spectacular finish) take them into a three-goal lead which they just about held onto, to record only their second away win at Arsenal in 22 attempts.
Their defending as Arsenal came back to 4-3 with goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers, was pretty woeful however — and their first-half display in general was poor.
But the feelgood factor generated by such a thrilling victory away from home is significant — and Klopp’s relationship with players and supporters was put on show as Mane jumped on his back to celebrate scoring and Liverpool fans sung his name to the rafters.
Nobody, of course, was singing Wenger’s name and he had to face further questions about his transfer policy, Arsenal’s dismal injury record and the squad’s lack of defensive cover in a typically tense post-match press conference.
Having finished second in the Premier League last season and with champions Leicester City widely expected to struggle to reach the same heights again, by all accounts Arsenal should be starting the 2016-17 campaign as favourites.
That they are not is partly down to the money spent by rivals but more significantly due to a perception that Wenger has failed to address any of the problems which have prevented his team from winning the title for so long.
All the old issues were here. Having seen Per Mertesacker and Gabriel injured in pre-season, he was forced to play youngsters Rob Holding and Calum Chambers at centre-half. Arsenal also had to play without a centre-forward because Olivier Giroud is not match-fit — Wenger has not yet signed a striker since Jamie Vardy chose to stay at Leicester.
Even so, Arsenal had the better of the opening half, showing greater energy and attacking verve than their subdued rivals, with Walcott relishing a return to the wing having finally given up hope of a centre-forward role.
It was Walcott who won a penalty thanks to Alberto Moreno’s reckless challenge, Walcott who fired his spot-kick at a comfortable height for Simon Mignolet to save — and Walcott who eventually put Arsenal head with a terrific finish across the keeper following a pass from Alex Iwobi just a minute later.
The Gunners should have gone into the break ahead but instead, on the stroke of half-time, Liverpool won a free-kick on the edge of the area which Coutinho curled home, quite superbly, to burst their bubble and set a different tone for the restart.
Klopp’s half-time words certainly made an impact because his side were transformed, producing a dazzling 20 minutes of football which saw them race into a 4-1 lead.
First Lallana chested down a cross from Georginio Wijnaldum and finished superbly past Petr Cech after a flowing move; then Nathaniel Clyne’s low cross was cleverly finished inside the six-yard box by Coutinho — and finally Mane produced a dazzling run down the right and a stunning, rising, left-foot shot which finished high in the opposite corner of Cech’s net.
The Emirates was stunned, there were boos from those sections of the ground not rendered speechless by shell-shock and you sensed the atmosphere was about to turn ugly; but then Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain arrived.
The winger single-handedly raised the noises levels with an individual goal before Chambers headed home from a Santi Cazorla free-kick and set up a frantic finale, which Liverpool just about survived.
“Scoring four is wonderful, conceding three is the opposite of emotions,” admitted Klopp. “It’s a spectacular result but not a result you want to have a lot of times in the season.” Even so, at least the Liverpool manager went home happy and knowing his fans are with him.
For Wenger once again, it’s rather more complicated.
ARSENAL: Cech 6; Bellerin 6, Chambers 6, Holding 6, Monreal 6; Elneny 6 (Xhaka 67; 6), Coquelin 6, Ramsey 6 (Cazorla 61; 7); Iwobi 6 (Chamberlain 59; 7) Walcott 7; Sanchez 6.
LIVERPOOL: Mignolet 7; Clyne 7, Lovren 6, Klaven 6, Moreno 5; Coutinho 8 (Can 70; 6), Henderson 6, Lallana 7 (Origi 76; 6), Wijnaldum 7 (Stewart 88; 6), Mane 7; Firminho 6
Referee: Michael Oliver
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