Liverpool cruise through as Arsenal’s season threatens to derail

Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool: The Gunners were left to rue a third successive defeat in all competitions

Miguel Delaney
at the Emirates Stadium
Monday 08 January 2024 07:20 GMT
Luis Diaz celebrates scoring Liverpool’s second goal
Luis Diaz celebrates scoring Liverpool’s second goal (Getty Images)

At a time when Arsenal just can’t seem to score, it is of course one of their players that inadvertently sends Liverpool through to the fourth round of the FA Cup. Luis Diaz then showed them how to do it with a thumping finish and Liverpool did it all without Mohamed Salah.

When it’s going against you, it’s going against you. That might not bother Mikel Arteta too much with this 2-0 third-round defeat, given this is the one trophy he has already won at the club, but there are now growing concerns over whether their season might be derailing. This was a third successive defeat in all competitions.

Their attackers are certainly sending the ball anywhere but the back of the net, based on this game. There’s also the issue of whether this will further propel a burgeoning Liverpool side, who could well supersede Arsenal to again become Manchester City’s closest challengers.

That was maybe the greatest significance to this tie, in a round when there were few enough good FA Cup ties. It is almost as if the traditional date, that first weekend of January, now works against the third round since managers right down the pyramid are looking to rest players after intensive Christmas schedules.

There were long stretches when the driving factor in this game seemed to be the will to avoid a replay. It fostered an entertaining if erratic game, both summed up and settled by Jakub Kiwior’s own goal.

Luis Diaz’s late goal put the game beyond Arsenal
Luis Diaz’s late goal put the game beyond Arsenal (Reuters)

What made it all the worse was Arsenal had seemed so close to scoring at that same end of the pitch. They were close, it must be said, but never quite clinical enough. It will bring those big recent questions about whether Arsenal need a forward back with force. This wasn’t quite the same as recent games, since they were creating a range of different types of chances. There was that fizz about their attacking again… until they got into the box.

Some of the Liverpool challenges and blocks were admittedly incredible. Some of the Arsenal misses even more so. Kai Havertz could have had a hat-trick. There were times when he and the even more erratic Darwin Nunez almost seemed to compete as to who could skew the ball away from the goal in the most unexpected way. For one header, just three yards out, Havertz somehow sent it well wide of the post with no challenge. A run to get free minutes later afforded him the space to size up a shot and pick his spot, only to hit it straight at Alisson Becker in a fairly meek manner. Nunez had his go at an inexplicable direction of header before sort of floating the ball over the bar from just yards out. Again, it seemed improbable.

Long before that, it was Reiss Nelson squandering opportunities. He should have scored shortly after kick-off but then went for the most difficult option in trying to slide it beyond Alisson just inside the post. The forward could even have squared.

Havertz did exactly that minutes later and seemed to set up the tap-in that Arsenal so needed. Then, in what was probably the most impressive moment of the match, Ibrahima Konate somehow got right in front of Nelson to block the shot from point-blank range. It shouldn’t have been possible from where he was, and Martin Odegaard hit the bar.

Luis Diaz’s late goal secured the win for the visitors
Luis Diaz’s late goal secured the win for the visitors (AFP via Getty Images)

It was like Arsenal were trying to recalibrate their range. They just couldn’t find it. That in turn was feeding into what might have been a fairly classic smash-and-grab, except Liverpool had smashed the bar twice. Arsenal had been warned. Trent Alexander-Arnold did that in a first half where his range was almost spot on. Diogo Jota then smacked it in the build-up to Liverpool’s eventual strike.

Alexander-Arnold had got it perfect by then, swinging in a cross that was so dangerous that Kiwior felt he had no choice but to go for it. That only served to divert the ball past Aaron Ramsdale. Arsenal did rally after that, but looked even less like scoring. The game was always going to stretch out, Liverpool were almost certainly going to get one more.

Luis Diaz got it with some style. That might be Liverpool showing Arsenal how it’s done for the rest of this season, too. They’re going to need more if they are to match Jurgen Klopp’s side as City’s closest challengers in the long-term.

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