Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1: A twist in the Premier League title race? – The Briefing


The wry smiles from Jurgen Klopp perhaps summed it up best.

Arsenal pounced on two defensive errors to beat Liverpool and move to within two points of the Premier League leaders.

Arsenal went ahead through Bukayo Saka and dominated the first 45 minutes. Yet a mix-up between William Saliba — under pressure from Luis Diaz — and David Raya meant Liverpool were level by half-time without having had a shot on target after Gabriel had the final touch on the visitors’ equaliser.

Kai Havertz had a penalty appeal turned down but then it was Liverpool’s turn to suffer a defensive mishap. Virgil van Dijk failed to manage a long ball forward as his goalkeeper Alisson rushed out and kicked only air, leaving Gabriel Martinelli to stroke the ball into an empty net.

As The Athletic’s James Pearce put it, we saw two goals you would “expect to see scored in a local park rather than in a game between two elite teams”.

Liverpool’s disappointing afternoon was compounded when Ibrahima Konate was sent off for a second yellow-card offence, and Leandro Trossard added a third after more poor defending from the visitors.

Here are the key talking points…


How did Arsenal manage to go in level at half time?

Arsenal were in total control and there were no signs of a swing in momentum as half time approached, but Liverpool did not even have to register a first shot on target to get level.

In the third minute of first-half stoppage time, Saliba attempted to shepherd home Ryan Gravenberch’s dinked pass back to his goalkeeper.

The centre-back did block Diaz’s path to the ball for a few yards, but Raya did not make a movement towards the ball. By the time he did, Diaz had got around Saliba and poked the ball away from him.

Arsenal


(Charlotte Wilson/Oaffside/Offside via Getty Images)

It was calamitous defending and the type of self-inflicted damage that undermined other dominant performances last season.

The error completely shifted the momentum of the game as Liverpool had three shots in the opening three minutes of the second half.

Jordan Campbell


What were Alisson and Van Dijk doing?

So often Alisson and Van Dijk been Liverpool’s saviours. The two experienced campaigners who have seen it all and done it all.

But they won’t want to see this again.

In the biggest game of the season for Liverpool so far, the two combined for an error that is so uncharacteristic of two players who are in the conversation for the best goalkeeper and central defender in the world.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Virgil van Dijk – Liverpool’s leader

All seemed rather calm as a long ball over the top of Liverpool’s defence appeared to lack threat. As it travelled towards Liverpool’s box, Alisson advanced from his goal and looked set to clear it — as he does so often and so well.

Van Dijk was marshalling Martinelli as he attempted to win the race himself.

Arsenal, Liverpool


(Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

It should have been routine. It turned into a nightmare. Van Dijk left it for Alisson, but a slight nudge from Martinelli directed the Dutchman towards the ball and close to the goalkeeper. Alisson missed his attempted clearance and Martinelli had the simple task of putting it into an empty net.

It may prove to be a defining moment in the title race.

The defensive disaster continued for the third goal. Liverpool had taken off their right-backs (Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold), their right centre-back Konate had been sent off and they were exposed down that side.

Trossard’s attempted strike took a deflection off Van Dijk which sent the ball through Alisson’s legs. They’ve both had better days.

Andy Jones


But Martinelli deserved his goal…

A fifth Premier League goal this season, and Martinelli could not have asked for an easier finish if he tried.

You could see that Gabriel Martinelli was up for Sunday’s clash in the first few minutes, with the Brazilian international looking sharp with some neat touches and typical probing runs from out to in.

A counter-attacking run in the first half saw Martinelli race past Ibrahima Konate to cross for Saka coming in from the opposite flank — he was simply Arsenal’s biggest threat every time they went forward.

As a testament to how much Arsenal were targeting Martinelli before he departed after 73 minutes, Mikel Arteta’s men had 37 per cent of their attacking touches (in the opposition half) down the left third of the pitch.

Martinelli

It was a run through the middle of the pitch where Martinelli found his goal — with a long ball causing confusion between Alisson and Van Dijk to leave a simple tap-in for Arsenal’s No 26.

Sure, it was gift wrapped, but Martinelli’s electric performance was deserving of a goal — no matter how unconventional it was.

Mark Carey


How did Arsenal control the midfield so well?

With Gabriel Jesus missing due to his knee flaring up, Arsenal were without their first-choice striker again.

Jesus has only been able to start 37 of Arsenal’s 60 Premier League games since joining last summer and it has meant that Mikel Arteta has had to find a way of attacking without his plan A option.

Against Liverpool, Arsenal used Kai Havertz as an alternative profile but they also tweaked their usual set-up when building up.

Jorginho and Declan Rice were instrumental in playing through the press but it was Havertz dropping deep alongside Martin Odegaard to form a box midfield which created so many overloads in midfield during the first half.

They managed to get down the outside and the German’s starting position was the key to the opening goal as he broke from deep.

In the second half Havertz had to be more of a physical presence but he gave them a good focal point and ensured that Arsenal retained a threat. It was his smart hold-up work that twice saw Konate booked for bringing him down.

Jordan Campbell


Why didn’t Liverpool learn their lessons against Arsenal?

Last month, Liverpool were overpowered by Arsenal’s intensity and high pressing but managed to weather the storm and not concede in the opening half an hour.

While there may have been hope they had learnt their lessons, it was not the case as they were once again second best to a sharp Arteta side. This time they were punished.

It did not come from one of Arsenal’s high pressures, but Liverpool were opened up seamlessly by a flowing move that left them out of shape and played around and then through.

Arsenal were consistently quicker to the ball, dominated the midfield and forced Klopp’s side into mistakes in their own half. It may have been billed as a significant game in the season’s title race but while it did look like it for Arsenal, Liverpool appeared to have missed the memo.

Trossard, Arsenal


Trossard makes it 3-1 (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It could have been much worse, but once again they were fortunate that Arsenal were wasteful with their final pass of finishing as they registered an expected goals total of 1.94 at half time.

It left them with an uphill climb and this time it proved insurmountable. Klopp has received plenty of deserved praise for his use of substitutes and tactical tweaks in the second halves of games but this time it did not work. The introduction of attackers Harvey Elliott and Darwin Nunez made no difference as Liverpool continued to create half chances at best.

Andy Jones


What did Arteta and Klopp say?

We will bring you this after they have spoken at the post-match press conference.


What next for Arsenal?

Sunday, February 11: West Ham (A), Premier League, 2pm GMT, 9am ET

What next for Liverpool?

Saturday, February 10: Burnley (H), Premier League, 3pm GMT, 10am ET


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(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)





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