Alexis Sanchez sums up everything lifeless and uninterested about Arsenal in Liverpool defeat

The Chilean was impressive when he was brought on and almost rescued a point for the Gunners

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High, high, high up in the Kop grandstand Granit Xhaka’s volley landed, bouncing depressingly into one of the central gangways before it was retrieved.

Arsenal had been behind for 20 minutes by then and the game was half an hour old. Xhaka twitched with his shorts, fixed his socks – as if he’d prefer people to believe the shot had been someone else’s responsibility, but Anfield was already whistling. It was Arsenal’s first effort on Simon Mignolet’s goal and their only one of the first half.

A couple of moments later, Francis Coquelin, one of Arsenal’s more competitive players usually, deemed it necessary to pull on Adam Lallana’s shirt and for that he was booked. It was about as aggressive as Arsenal got in that opening period: a midfielder whose pocket had been picked not for the first time by Lallana – who was excellent for Liverpool – reacting not by chopping him down in frustration but by grabbing him instead. Either way it was going to earn him a booking.

Soon enough when a header was to be won, Liverpool’s players decided to leave it because Xhaka and Coquelin had gone to meet it together like two idiots. In the messy aftermath, Anfield cheered at the sight. Arsenal were sleep walking towards defeat. Liverpool’s lead at the break was by two because for a second time, a full-back had disappeared from the position he was supposed to be in.

Liverpool were pretty good here – as they have been against the Premier League’s other top six clubs this season. They are now unbeaten in 10 games against the top seven teams but that impressive statistic is counter-balanced by the fact they have lost five of thirteen fixtures against the bottom nine.

Arsenal’s record is the reverse. Since defeating Chelsea so convincingly in September, they have drawn with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, losing to Manchester City, Chelsea and now Liverpool for a second time this season and this explains why they are now two points behind Liverpool with a game in hand.

The respective patterns suggest that Liverpool have decent players, capable of raising performance levels against top class opponents, though they do not fall into the elite category themselves because elite category players produce consistency against all opponents, no matter their standing.

Arsenal’s cycle is almost a tradition now and there is an assumption their players simply aren’t mentally tough enough to get across the line when it matters most. It does not help Mesut Ozil’s reputation as a flake when he misses important games such as this one because of flu.

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Wenger opted for a more direct approach and dropped Sanchez for Giroud (Getty)

Arsène Wenger had said that he wanted Arsenal to be “proactive” and until the introduction at half time of Alexis Sánchez for Coquelin, it was as though his players had not been listening to the message. Sánchez transformed Arsenal’s play, even though he was stationed to the left of their attack when he’s spent the whole season scoring goals from the middle. He was a strutting, brooding presence and the sight of him giving Nathaniel Clyne so many problems is a reminder not only of where Clyne is at but where Sánchez, Arsenal and Liverpool are really at.

Sánchez was the only real world class player on the pitch. Wenger dropped him here for Olivier Giroud because he wanted to use a more direct style and the Chilean nearly managed to get his manager out of a hole even from two goals down because Arsenal’s halves of football were unrecognisable from one another. By the end of the season Sánchez’s involvement, indeed, might prove to be the determining factor in which of these sides finishes above the other. Whether that means either of them qualifies for next season's Champions League, though, is another more serious matter altogether.

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