Alisson highlights the value of the elite as Liverpool win at Arsenal

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: Jota and Firmino hit quickfire goals after the Reds failed to spark before the break

Karl Matchett
Wednesday 16 March 2022 22:40
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Two minutes. That’s how long it took for a glaring difference at either end of the pitch to be highlighted in the most definitive of ways.

First, Arsenal, still on top in the game without ever actually creating anything of note themselves, were gifted a chance. They were thwarted.

Then, Liverpool, struggling for any kind of rhythm in the match, fashioned an opening hardly worthy of the name. They took it, and went on to win 2-0.

Alisson Becker has been at or around the very top of world football in his position for a number of seasons, but this year again he has had another jump in consistency and reliability when the Reds have needed him most.

They needed him with 52 minutes on the clock, as Thiago inexplicably sent a pass beyond his entire defence and straight to Alexandre Lacazette.

Brazil’s No1 raced out, closed the angle, stayed big and then raced to his right - saving from Martin Odegaard with the goal otherwise gaping.

It was a let-off for Thiago and the visitors in general, and they both gave an instant response: Thiago’s through ball, Diogo Jota’s angled finish.

Where Alisson stood up and was counted, his opposite number was found wanting - Aaron Ramsdale beaten all-too-easily at his near post and, considering Arsenal hadn’t scored once in three previous games against Liverpool this season, that was already probably that.

It doesn’t help that Jurgen Klopp’s side simply don’t give up chances of enormous quality at all in open play.

It was the case yet again here: even with Odegaard’s chance, even with more possession in certain stretches and even with the same amount of shots as Liverpool, the Gunners did not fashion any clear openings, other than the one presented directly to them.

For all the cut-backs, dangerous-looking dribbles and in-stadium optimism, they finished the game with an xG of 0.55.

So when Arsenal missed their big moment - or more accurately, when Alisson denied them - it came down to whether they could do the same to Liverpool at the other end.

Ramsdale, a shot-stopper of supreme athleticism and well-honed reflexes, has a lot to learn about the more mundane, but far more important, aspects of goalkeeping: positional play, decision-making, concentration, consistency.

He should never have been beaten from the angle of Jota’s strike, but was - just as he was culpable for another one or two of the eight the Reds have now put past the Gunners this season.

There’s no real reason why he should be expected to be on the same level as Alisson right now of course: he’s a much younger goalkeeper and has come into the north London club off the back of successive relegations. Arsenal didn’t sign him to win the league, and they didn’t sign him to be the difference this year alone. It’s a long-term bet on him and Mikel Arteta and his cohorts will have taken the perspective that they see enough in him to benefit the team now, but to improve him considerably in future.

They’ll need that to be the case if they aspire to the levels of consistency their opponents have reached.

It wasn’t only the goalkeepers who had a difference between them, either, but the strength in depth, the clinical touch from the forwards when it mattered most and the levels of resilience shown by the respective back fours.

Virgil van Dijk certainly marshalled matters throughout, though it was again Joel Matip who was the standout - partly by way of Arsenal constantly attacking that channel.

He was, over and over again, in place to clear, to tackle, to head away. The line was near-perfect throughout.

Then there’s Arsenal’s: beaten by a straight pass before and after the break, Sadio Mane sending one shot over and another into the net - ruled out for offside - before another red Brazilian killed the match and sealed the points.

Roberto Firmino won possession outside the Arsenal area, drove into the box and tried to tee up a chance. When it didn’t quite result in a shot he drifted across the six-yard box, positioned himself between the centre-backs and eventually sent a deft touch past the ‘keeper and in.

The No9 was utterly unmarked and ignored by Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhaes for up to eight seconds across that period of build-up play, and punished them ruthlessly.

So can be the fine margins between victory and defeat, between a title fight and merely hoping to stay in the top four.

Liverpool reminded Arsenal of the requirements of the highest level, and how much further the much-improved Gunners still have to go.

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