Relief or Regret? Where Arsenal slipped up at Anfield

There will be mixed emotions across Arsenal fans as the Bank Holiday weekend draws to a close and another weekend of peak Barclays fades into the distance. We arrived at a stadium where our last win featured none other than Mikel Arteta in the middle of the park (with the same trim he has today). It’s a stadium that this season has seen Liverpool spank United 7-0, beat City 1-0, beat CL semi-finalists Napoli 2-0 and Newcastle 2-1 at the death. Despite some of their dire form this season, Anfield has provided a bit of respite from their ageing, injury saddled and poorly assembled squad.

However, upon seeing Liverpool’s midfield of Henderson, Jones and Fabinho, I like many fans (who probably are now pretending this was inevitable) felt sickeningly nervous but relatively calm about going toe to toe with Liverpool. It was disappointing to miss Saliba for this game but Holding had done well in the previous two fixtures (you didn’t notice he was there, which is more than can be said for his stint in the team last season) and there felt a genuine belief going into this game that we could take another scalp and pull us another step closer to potentially winning the league.

Within 7 minutes, Martinelli latched onto a miskick from VVD, picking up the ball and deftly poking the ball past Allison. This was Martinelli’s 14th non-penalty goal this season in the league and his performance in this game felt like another turning point (at least to the masses) as Liverpool shifted their whole back line to adjust to his threat but still couldn’t stop him. In our defeat to Liverpool at home last season, Martinelli bullied Trent for the first 60 minutes but couldn’t quite get the ball over the line in front of goal. Yesterday felt like a carbon copy, but with Trent moving to a somewhat clunky and more overt CM role and Martinelli walking away with a tidily finished goal and an inch-perfect assist for Jesus’ header within the first 30 minutes.

Klopp has never shone away from his admiration of the Brazilian and you could sense this from Liverpool happily isolating Saka with Robertson but moving Konate across to shield Trent from Martinelli’s blistering pace.  Martinelli has an incredible ability to drive with the ball, and whilst it doesn’t look as flashy or technical as the majority of wingers, I struggle to think of a player that is quicker with the ball at his feet or as efficient as Gabi. His unique dribbling ability and aggression on the ball make him unplayable at certain times and works as a great counter-balance high and wide on the left flank to Saka who likes to slow the ball down, come inside and combine as he did for our first goal.

Within 30 minutes we were 2-0 up and it felt that we’d be hearing a beautiful chorus of boos ring around the stadium at halftime. Jesus could’ve made it 3-0 and our players were continually dropping to the floor for treatment to stop any form of Liverpool momentum or atmosphere in the ground. It felt a little cagey, but we were controlling the temperature of the game and the atmosphere was damp.

Then the game flipped.

Sky were desperate to make something of the Xhaka tussle with Trent and the subsequent yellow card. Despite his fantastic season this year, even the most ardent Xhaka defender was probably wincing at the screen as he squared up to Trent. He is a man of principle, and will defend his team and staff when necessary and this is a huge reason why he has been a staple of Arsenal at both their soul-crushingly worse and their current heights no one thought imaginable. However, whilst I whole-heartedly disagree with the belief that this is what changed the game (it was their first goal and the smack in the face Robbo got from the linesmen), it felt like an easy way to wake the fans and team up in what was heading towards a routine victory for us. I’ve seen every single media outlet leading with the story that Granit Xhaka cost us the three points here and I think it is just more of the same lazy analysis to be expected, but it was a foreboding sign for what would happen to the team when the Kop grew louder and we couldn’t adjust.

Coming out at half time it looked like an Arsenal performance from yesteryear. Salah thankfully missed the first penalty Liverpool have had at home all season but from that moment onwards we could barely get the ball, and when we did, our rotations were slow and we were for one of the first times this season camped in our box for nearly 40 minutes.

However, whilst the end of the game made it feel like it was an absolute onslaught for the whole of the second half, Liverpool didn’t do anything with this possession. They didn’t have a shot on target between 58 and 80 minutes and whilst we lost control of the game, we had a one-goal cushion and it felt like the further that Liverpool back line crept forward, the more chance we could nick a goal through Martinelli and Saka on the break.

Enter galaxy brain Mikel Arteta.

In the 80th minute Arteta brought off Jesus for Trossard and Odegaard for Kiwior with the latter prompting a lot of bemusement from fans. Jesus for Trossard at #9 made perfect sense as a like-for-like substitution and the fact that Jesus is still coming back from 4 months out of action. Kiwior signalled a resignation to the fact that we were happy to camp in our box and let Liverpool push us further back. Whilst the Odegaard sub made sense as he was very passive and ineffectual, losing that link up with Saka as our RHS was disrupted by White covering Holding, bringing on Kiwior instead of another #8 like Viera or ESR was a huge gamble and one that unfortunately didn’t pay off. Kiwior looked edgy and bringing on another CB not only stifled our attack but also our defence. Gabriel and Holding seemed complacent with another body in there and this, with the lack of outlets, led to Liverpool’s ineffective possession turning into something much more dominant and powerful.

It was a strange decision to bring on a player who had barely played 30 minutes in the PL into such a cauldron with our backs against the wall. This isn’t even to say I would’ve been opposed to say, bringing on Tierney for Odegaard. He offers a much more direct route to attack, wouldn’t have completely altered our back line and would’ve also aided Zinchenko who was getting pammed by Trent and Salah increasingly regularly which ultimately led to Firmino’s winner. Many wanted ESR on out wide but I’m convinced Martinelli could’ve probably played for another 180 minutes without flagging (his overhit pass is not the disaster everyone is making it out to be – and if it had gone in, PGMOL would’ve almost definitely brought it back for a penalty against Salah in our box).

I guess you could argue that this was a point gained, we could’ve conceded 5/6 without Ramsdale’s best game in an Arsenal shirt and some shoddy Liverpool finishing. However, with City breathing down our necks and arguably a much easier run-in than us, it feels like two points lost, especially considering the position we were in and the fact that City have collected the most points (145) in the final 10 matches of the season in the last 6 years. Poor in-game management and questionable substitutions cost us this game, but a late loss here could’ve been catastrophic psychologically and with regard to points in a title race which is going to run to the wire.

It is also interesting that it was arguably the older heads that lost their cool in the match. Xhaka with a rush of blood to the head, Zinchenko’s carelessness with and without the ball in his last 10 minutes and Odegaard’s almost disappearing act (OK, he’s not old, but he’s been playing at the highest level for at least 5/6 years more than the rest of the team). These youngsters that supposedly would crumble in the run-in aren’t. Look at Martinelli’s fearlessness, Ramsdale’s acrobatics and Gabriel’s steely defending. We were on the back foot but we were worlds away from a typical Arsenal performance at Anfield of the last 10 years. None of these players have been in a title race in or outside of the UK.

This game is normally a litmus test for where you are as a club, and whilst it wasn’t the result we wanted, in the long run, it will hopefully do us more favours than bad. Arteta won’t make those substitutions at City, Zinchenko was visibly upset after the goal and will be defiant to make sure it won’t happen again and Xhaka will… OK, I won’t take it too far.

We have been taught a harsh lesson without having lost the game and learnt a lot about the team. Jesus is back scoring and playing like he never left, Holding was about as immense as Holding can be which gives us a bit of security whilst Saliba is on the sidelines whilst Martinelli and Ramsdale are in the form of their lives.

With West Ham and Southampton next before we play City we have an opportunity to put this game to bed and go again. If you’d said we’d take 22 points out of a possible 24 following on from the defeat at home to City I’d have called you a madman. Every setback we’ve had this season we’ve managed to find a solution or bounce back from and there is no reason to believe we won’t again.

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One Response to Relief or Regret? Where Arsenal slipped up at Anfield

  1. Francis Redheart April 11, 2023 at 8:45 am #


    I was enjoying your brutally honest review of the match until you failed to highlight how poor Martinelli was to mishit that pass to Saka when a simple ball to Trossard was on!

    Martinelli loves to hug the ball and he’s very guilty of overplaying at times. Twice in the match, he over-ran the ball and lost possession thereby retaining Liverpool pressure on our team.

    I felt you were unbiased and it’s a pity you are not. What about playing to the whistle and all that? How sure are you that the goal would have been called back?

    Learn to more objective in your blogs and you would go far.

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