Liverpool are going to win the Premier League title this season. Unless...
After all, the Gunners were heading into the match in good form, having won their first three games in all competitions this season. And, under Mikel Arteta’s guidance, Arsenal seemed like they had found the formula to winning against the so-called ‘big’ teams, by keeping compact at the back and hitting the opposition on the break with speed and precision.
Arsenal had also tasted victory in their last two competitive meetings with Liverpool. Fine, I fully admit that I’m using the term ‘competitive’ a little loosely here when talking about the Community Shield.
WATCH: Klopp hails Liverpool display and Jota debut in Arsenal win
Of course, I knew that Liverpool were the odds-on favourite. I knew they would dominate the game, and would subject Arsenal to pressure right from the get-go. I knew that we’d need for us to give our best, and then some, in order to even come close to getting a result at Anfield. A bit of luck and black magic – the kind that would cause Liverpool to hit the woodwork five times – would have also come in handy.
But those were just the silly daydreams of this deludedly optimistic Arsenal fan. The reality is, no matter how much Arsenal have improved since Arteta took, Liverpool are still miles ahead of us. To paraphrase one of Arsene Wenger’s famous quotes, Liverpool fans are currently supping on caviar at fancy restaurants, while us Arsenal supporters have to contend ourselves with eating sausages at cai fan (mixed veg rice) stalls.
WATCH: Arteta pleased with Arsenal display despite loss
And the difference in quality between the two teams showed even before the match began, when the line-ups were revealed.
Line-ups: Liverpool could afford to not play their shiny new signing Thiago Alcantara and still field a midfield trio of Naby Keita, Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum. Arsenal, on the other hand, could only cobble together a midfield pairing of Granit Xhaka and Mo Elneny. See the difference?
3rd minute: Sadio Mane elbows Tierney, gets only a yellow
Sadio Mane is a fine footballer. He’s arguably the best attacker that Liverpool have at the moment, even better than Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah. But there’s no excusing his snide and deliberate elbow at Tierney – it was dangerous, it was reckless, and it’s…only a YELLOW?! And they say there’s no bias towards Liverpool. If Granit Xhaka or David Luiz had done it, they’d have been booted out the pitch faster than you can say “VAR sucks”. The fact that this happened just minutes after a late tackle on Bellerin that went unpunished rankles even more.
15th minute: Leno stands strong to deny Mane
Bernd Leno, so often the hero for Arsenal last season until Emi Martinez came along, proves his worth again with a strong stop from Mane’s first-time shot from Trent Alexander-Arnold’s (henceforth known as TAA) low cross. It’s a warning sign for Arsenal, who have thus far defended relatively well otherwise.
21st minute: Liverpool go close again as TAA hits the crossbar
The Reds go close to opening the scoring once again. Arsenal clear their lines from a Robertson corner, but the ball falls to TAA 30 yards out, who unleashes a fierce shot that takes a deflection and hits the crossbar. It’s been all Liverpool so far. Arsenal need to buck up, and quick, or this could turn ugly.
25th minute: GOAL! Lacazette gives Arsenal the lead against the run of play
That was unexpected. Arsenal score from their first real attack of note, and it’s yet another well-executed counter-attack that yields dividends. A flowing move sets Ainsley Maitland-Niles free down the left, his wild cross to no one in particular should be bread and butter for the Liverpool defence, but Robertson somehow messes up his clearance. Lacazette nips in and tries his best to spare Robertson’s blushes by scuffing his shot, but the ball loops over Alisson to give us the lead. I begin dreaming about a famous victory at Anfield…
28th minute: GOAL! Mane restores parity for Liverpool
Well, that dream lasted all of three minutes. David Luiz does a David Luiz and leaves his spot in the centre of defence to challenge for a ball he had no business challenging for. He naturally fails to win it. The ball breaks to Firmino, who plays Salah in on the right. The Egyptian goes past Tierney and fires a shot that Leno does well to save, but Mane – of all players – is there to tap in the rebound. It’s 1-1, and I begin thinking nasty thoughts about the match officials.
34th minute: GOAL! Robertson makes amends and gives Liverpool the lead
Liverpool, sensing weakness and uncertainty in the Arsenal team following Mane’s goal, step up a gear and begin playing with much more purpose. It’s disconcerting to know that they’ve actually just been toying with Arsenal this whole time, like a cat playing with a cockroach before killing it and presenting it to their master Jurgen Klopp. The increase in intensity pays off – TAA floats a cross into the box that Arsenal’s defence fails to clear, and it falls to Robertson at the far post who takes a touch before poking it past Leno. Terrible defending by Arsenal, not least by new signing Willian, who failed to track the run of Robertson. Does anyone know if Chelsea accept refunds?
45 - 60th minute: Arsenal improve, but all it does is make Liverpool yawn
After an insipid first-half, Arsenal emerge for the second 45 minutes with renewed vigour. One can only imagine what Arteta’s team talk at half-time must have been like, although I’m certain the words “non-negotiables”, “hard work”, and “**** ******* *****” must have been uttered, because we put in a much more respectable showing. We’re still only one goal down, so we’re still in the game. Might we be able to pull off at least a draw?
63rd minute: Lacazette spurns a glorious chance to draw Arsenal level!
God bloody damn it. Lacazette is put through on goal by substitute Dani Ceballos, but the Frenchman, with only Alisson to beat, fires his shot straight at the Brazilian keeper. Such golden opportunities don’t come often, and especially not against a team like Liverpool, so we have to take them when they come. Lacazette’s miss feels like a sliding doors moment, but I’m consoled by the fact that we're at least threatening their goal.
64th minute: Mane nearly gets his second goal of the game
Probably alarmed at how close they came to conceding an equaliser, Mane drives forward, plays a one-two with Firmino and charges into the box. The ball falls to Mane’s feet via a lucky deflection, and he spins and shoots, but it goes just wide.
83rd minute: Jota almost scores on his debut
New signing Diogo Jota makes his first appearance in a Liverpool jersey, and he almost makes an instant impact. After waltzing past the Arsenal defence, Salah plays a delightful through ball for Jota on the left, who takes a touch and fires at goal. The net ripples, and so does my bowels. Thankfully, it’s because the ball hit the side-netting, rather than the inside of the goal.
88th minute: Jota gets his debut goal in the end
If there’s one thing I’ve come to terms with as an Arsenal fan over the years, it’s that we as a club are incredibly thoughtful and generous to others. Suffering from a scoring drought? You’ll get your goal at Arsenal! Haven’t won a game in forever? Come to Arsenal, we’ll give you all three points. Need a clean sheet after conceding eight the previous game? Don’t worry, we’ll make sure to give your defence a much-needed confidence boost by not scoring! And so, it was no surprise that we eventually gave Jota his debut goal, with the Portuguese picking up a terrible clearance from Luiz at the edge of the box and volleying the ball into the bottom corner of the net. 3-1 to Liverpool, and that’s that for Arsenal.
Nonetheless, I’m not too dispirited with the loss, because I recognise that playing Liverpool at Anfield is a challenge that not many teams in the world, let alone England, can overcome. And the outcome could have been so different if Lacazette had scored the equaliser, or if the referee had the courage to send Mane off in the opening stages for that blatant elbow.
Still, games are not won on ifs and buts. There is still a clear gulf in quality between the two sides, and the only way for Arsenal to bridge that massive gap is via the transfer market.
As for Liverpool, they’ve shown clearly that they are still the team to beat this season. That’s three wins out of three for the Reds now, in what was supposed to be a tough start to the season. Only a foolish man would bet against them retaining the title.