You might call it flawed perfection, at least one side. Arsenal stay top of the league as well on a winning streak at home, but only after one of those games that was only enriched by error after error. Some might include the referee and Jurgen Klopp’s tactical decisions. What was beyond doubt was that Mikel Arteta’s side ultimately made far fewer mistakes than Liverpool – and generally looked a much better side – to fully deserve a rollocking 3-2 win. It means that Arsenal can continue to believe they will challenge for a title, with eight wins from nine and this – at least notionally – the biggest victory yet.
There’s just now the question over whether a win over Liverpool means the same, because Klopp has to face up to whether there is more wrong with this side than the formation or form. For Liverpool, far from flawed perfection, it’s a perfect storm of problems. Something feels broken, disconnected, and the most galling thing is the questions that will inevitably come over Klopp’s responses – whether he even knows how to respond.
His approach has served to completely neutralise their most potent attack in Mohamed Salah, who was then taken off in a decision that seemed inevitable rather than any way surprising. Behind him, Trent Alexander-Arnold had another poor defensive performance, albeit one accompanied by the explanation that he was actually injured. He also went off.
Arsenal stayed on it all game. This was something else so striking about the victory. Arsenal had such a clearer idea over what they were doing, to the point it encouraged perseverance, belief and conviction. It meant they really should have won by more. Liverpool had the doubt apparent in not really knowing what they were supposed to be at. That included the very basics of their game, right down to pressing.
Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard were seemingly able to just amble through the Liverpool midfield unchallenged for the pace-setting opening goal, leaving the Norwegian with all the space he wanted to pick a specific pass. That ensured his ball was inevitably pinpoint, allowing Martinelli to so easily run onto it – and around Alexander-Arnold – to finish crisply.
This is one of the most distinguishable issues with Liverpool right now. So many different parts of the team seem disconnected, in a way that just hasn’t been the case for Klopp’s fully-functioning unit over the last half decade.
With Salah ineffectively pushed out to flank in the style of a 1950s winger, and that still leaving Alexander-Arnold open but having the double effect of limiting him as an attacker, it was perhaps no surprise that Liverpool just had to bypass the centre to score. The midfield is like a part of another team. Alexander-Arnold at least made better use of his delivery with a dropped ball over the top, the relentless Luis Diaz running onto it as Nunez went the other direction. The forward then stayed focused with a classic striker’s finish, bundling the ball past Aaron Ramsdale.
The game still wasn’t really steadying, though. Liverpool still weren’t plugging the gaps. A massive one appeared from their own corner minutes later.
Jesus picked it up from the edge of the Arsenal box before combining that distinctive gallop with those dizzying feet, for Martinelli to go one better. He again got the better of Alexander-Arnold, this time checking back in a manner that seemed far too easy for this level. It gave Saka an even easier finish, tapping the ball in from a yard.
It was a shock but not a surprise that Alexander-Arnold was then taken off, even if a few eyebrows were raised when word came through it was over his ankle rather than his performance. He didn’t look at his best level, but the feeling wasn’t that it was because of injury. It is a further sign of how Klopp is currently having to rethink everything, as emphasised when Salah followed him to the bench.
That at one point would have been inconceivable but it was here entirely understandable. Salah, incredibly, doesn’t seem to have an obvious position in this set-up. He was on the pitch but still only looking on when Liverpool equalised again, Diogo Jota this time echoing Odegaard with his own pass to Firmino. The Brazilian finished well.
It was another goal for Firmino against Arsenal, as well as another goal this season, as he forms one of the few consistent elements in Liverpool’s season. That is all the more conspicuous since it wasn’t too long ago that he looked set to be the first of the famous trio to go. He is currently the only one keeping Liverpool going.
He couldn’t keep the rest of the team to his level here.
Arsenal began to gradually overwhelm Klopp’s side. There had been a series of moves, opportunities and scrambles before one of them finally resulted in a break. This was slightly fortunate as Michael Oliver pointed to the spot for a fairly innocuous touch from Thiago on Jesus.
Arsenal might say they had been due a decision. The problem is Liverpool would say the same. All that was relevant here was that Saka was given the final say. For now, it is going to provoke an awful lot of discussion about this Liverpool.
Next up is Manchester City. They, and Arsenal, could badly do with a performance very different to this – for very different reasons.
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