A roller coaster performance it was, filled with roller coaster emotions as Arsenal and Liverpool kicked off the busy Premier League winter football. This was a match both teams needed something out of, as they try to tighten up with the other teams above them.
Wenger made changes in his starting XI against Liverpool, resting everyone who played in the carabao cup quarterfinals against West Ham United. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette, were Wenger’s preferred XI to face the Kops.
Liverpool were the team in the first half and could’ve easily won the match in just the first half, spurning away chance after chance after chance as the Gunners played catch-up – flocking around the pitch like sheep with shepherd as Arsenal lacked coordination of tactics.
In the 21st minute, Firmino called Cech into action when he had to make a near post from the Brazilian. A cross was swept in, with the Brazilian connecting well with the ball but was kept out by Cech. Soon after the Brazilian came close to inflicting terror on the Arsenal defence when he and fellow Brazilian linked up well but failed to find his target. Coutinho saw the run of his fellow countryman and pinged a cross to Firmino who failed to find the corner of Cech’s post.
Two minutes after, Coutinho broke the deadlock when the Arsenal defence went into total disorganisation, allowing Coutinho run straight more that 30 yards with no one picking out his run as he reacted quickest to head home a deflected effort from Salah. This goal proves why we need a natural defensive midfielder, as Xhaka doesn’t do the magic in my opinion.
In the 32nd minute Firmino almost extended the Kops lead when he curled his effort, aiming for the top corner of Cech’s post, which slightly skimmed over the post. Even I thought he scored until I watched him hold his head in disgust.
Cech produced an excellent save to keep out Salah’s effort just before the break, saving the Egyptian’s one-on-one effort and Mane following up with an acrobatic kick, which just went over the post.
At the start of the second half, Wenger introduced Mustafi for Monreal and I just knew we weren’t going to lose the match. At times Mustafi lets his head down but one thing he brings to our defence is stability, and I was sure he’d replicate that to the defence.
That didn’t stop Liverpool from extending their lead in the 52nd minute as Salah found his scoring boot and did well to place the ball in the corner of the post. The defence again wasn’t organised and you get to ask yourself as a Gooner what role Steve Bould plays as the assistant manager if he can’t organise the defence.
A minute after, madness reigned at the Emirates, which lasted for 5 minutes but was good adrenaline to pump the home side and the supporters on the ground. Alexis clawed one for the Gunners when he headed in from close range from Bellerin’s cross. Before the goal, Bellerin, Xhaka and Alexis had poor performances.
BoomXhaka came next in the 55th minute when he thumped in a thunderbolt that left Mignolet feeling hapless. The Kops keeper was well beaten by the sheer speed of Xhaka’s shot, which brought the score to two goals apiece.
The man who has been Arsenal’s string of magic over the last two months got himself into the scoresheet and did it with style. I’m talking about Ozil who gave us the lead for the first time of the match and completed the craziness of three goals for the Arsenal in the space of 5 minutes.
Ozil and Lacazette combined well to play a superb one-two in Liverpool’s box, which freed up the German against Mignolet but instead of placing the ball like most players would, instead, opted for the chip given the tension of the match – finding the corner of the opposition’s post.
Liverpool would eventually get their equaliser in the 71st minute through Firmino that has threatened all through match. The Brazilian took his well which was parried away by Cech but somehow found a way into the Arsenal net as the ball crept in all the way.
All in all, it was an entertaining game for the neutrals but one Liverpool would rue, as they could’ve easily been 5 goals up in the first half. For Arsenal, it shows the players can play; it’s all about the cohesion and how the team interacts as a unit.