Here we are again, on the back of another big game horror show. I could probably copy and paste a match report for another big game and it’d apply here. Every game has its own moments, though, and Arsenal’s ability to come up with new ways to lose cannot be underestimated.
The big news before the game even kicked off was Wenger’s decision to leave Alexis on the bench and play Giroud up front. The justification was that Wenger wanted Arsenal to play more direct as a way of bypassing Liverpool’s press. Most would agree, though, that leaving your best player on the bench for a big, important game is a headscratcher.
If Arsenal’s plan was to play direct up to Giroud, they didn’t go through with it. Nothing about our play seemed overtly different than usual. Giroud struggled to get involved as he was starved of service from wide positions and the midfield failed to retain the ball in the face of Liverpool’s press. Coquelin was a liability on the ball, while Chamberlain and Welbeck struggled to make any impact down the flanks. As an attacking force, we were blunt.
The real shocker was our defending. We may have played five across midfield – as we did against Chelsea not too long ago – but we might as well have played one, such was the effort on display. Liverpool took the lead when Mignolet’s goalkick was missed by Koscielny and suddenly it was 3v3 at the back. The midfield was unable to funnel back in time to cover the defence. Stretched and outnumbered, they were unable to deal with Mane’s ball across to Firmino, who stuck it in the roof of the net.
The second goal demonstrated Arsenal’s inability to pick up runners. Alex Iwobi switched off and allowed Wijnaldum to run off him into the channel. Mustafi ended up going across to cover the run. Koscielny and Monreal followed. This resulted in an overload on our left hand side. Mane, with as much time as he wanted, drilled the ball into the corner. 2-0 and it was looking bad for Arsenal.
We continued to be tepid and inept in the first half. Going behind didn’t gee up our attackers, while the defence continued to struggle with the pace and movement of Liverpool. Lallana was able to escape our sorry excuse for marking with ease, and our back four was exposed to their frontline far too many times. Arsenal had two weeks to prepare for this game and this was the result. That’s not at all encouraging.
There was marginal improvement in the second half. The introduction of Alexis made a difference, in as much as it gave Liverpool something different to deal with. It was him who thread the ball through to Welbeck to dink over Mignolet and give us an undeserved lifeline.
At this point, the game became stretched. The removal of Coquelin for Alexis made our passing more fluid in midfield, but it also made us top heavy and vulnerable to counters. Lallana, Coutinho and Mane continued to menace our backline. Walcott and Lucas were thrown on to renew our attack, but we lacked any sort of momentum and were unable to put Liverpool under consistent pressure.
In the final stages, we worked the ball well to create half a chance for Alexis, but it was blocked. Liverpool broke up the other end with a classic counter attack and sealed the three points. 3-1 the final score, and a thoroughly deserved win for Liverpool.
It’s not getting better, is it? We had ample time to prepare for this one but failed to execute any sort of plan and seemed ill equipped to deal with Liverpool’s threat. We were passive and weak yet again against big opposition. We looked like a team cobbled together last week and hadn’t done any work on the training pitch. I don’t know when the penny will drop but something tells me it won’t be this season.
And what about this season? Well, we have big games to come, and that’s worrying. Bayern on Tuesday is an opportunity to salvage some pride but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of another mauling. Lincoln in the cup should be straightforward but you never know how motivated Arsenal will be. Spurs, Manchester City and Manchester United still to come and our grip on the top four weakening by the game. What’s not to look forward to?
I hope Arsenal get it together, if only to make my job more pleasant.