Arsenal have transformed the title race with win over jaded Liverpool

Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool: Goals by Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Leandro Trossard gave the Gunners a vital three points and victory over their title rivals

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Sunday 04 February 2024 18:50 GMT
<p>Leandro Trossard celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s third goal</p>

Leandro Trossard celebrates after scoring Arsenal’s third goal

Jurgen Klopp had warned before this match that people would say it would be good for Manchester City no matter what happened, but it is obviously great for Arsenal. This was a third huge home win against one of England’s giants this season, but maybe the most stirring of all. There was something much more convincing about it than either the victories over Manchester United and Manchester City, more value to it than the cheap errors that allowed some of the goals.

It was a proper show of substance. The only downside to this 3-1 win was opening goalscorer Bukayo Saka going off injured but Arsenal won’t want to consider that right now. Mikel Arteta certainly wasn’t thinking about it as he careered around the touchline high-fiving anyone in sight in the seconds after Leandro Trossard had put the ball through Alisson’s legs. It was the second successive goal that Liverpool had almost offered up to Arsenal, with that all the more frustrating since they had been undeservedly let back into the game through the type of calamity that might have been expected to bring an Arsenal collapse.

Not this team right now. They have clearly felt the full benefit from that January break. Liverpool instead looked like a team that could do with a rest themselves, and it gave Klopp’s words from Wednesday night a bit more edge. The German had said after the 4-1 win over Chelsea that his players looked jaded and that could be seen here.

That maybe isn’t any greater concern for the season or even their title challenge, given the run of form. There was always going to be some drop-off. They could maybe have done without it coming in this game, with this kind of significance. City can go back on top if they win their two games in hand. Arsenal, however, will maybe feel for the first time in some time they can do something about that.

Bukayo Saka slides in celebration after scoring Arsenal’s opening goal

The first half was almost a vision of what Arteta would want from his team, a restoration of last season’s intensity… until the finishing. You could make a fair case that, in terms of the general pattern of play, it was a 2-0 game up to the break. Arsenal had both been cutting through Liverpool and bluntly hammering them back, the pressing combined with the counters ensuring that most of the proper attacks came around Alisson’s goal.

Liverpool often had more of the ball but were doing much less with it. There was a lethargy to their play, which recalled Klopp’s pointed comments after the Chelsea match. They were delivered with humour at the time but now look like there was a bit more substance to them. Klopp said his players were jaded and that could be seen here, as there were long periods where they couldn’t match Arsenal’s intensity.

There was one moment when Martinelli just seemed to walk around Trent Alexander-Arnold. He had already spent much of the wing-back’s time on the pitch sprinting past him. A pattern had been set when Martinelli raced past Alexander-Arnold in the opening minutes, before crossing for Saka. The English forward might have done better.

They were to make it worse for Liverpool, though. Martinelli was the source of so many problems, and it was little surprise when a particularly fatigued-looking Alexander-Arnold had to go off at half-time.

Luis Diaz moments flicks the ball onto Gabriel’s hand and into the goal

With Martinelli stretching the pitch, though, holes appeared elsewhere and Martin Odegaard looked back to dangerous form. He clipped a ball through to Kai Havertz, Alisson saved, but there was Saka to get his goal.

It was so different to the Arsenal of a month ago. It was also different to the Liverpool of four days ago and Virgil van Dijk was having one of his poorest games for some time. However, Arsenal undid a superb first half in a way that used to be common around here for a few years, with William Saliba looking so sluggish against Luis Diaz’s energy. The Liverpool forward was by far the most alert among Saliba, David Raya and Gabriel, with the ball eventually being forced in off the Brazilian’s arm.

It was mere seconds before half-time and could have been both a classic case of the worst time to concede a goal and classic old Arsenal. There was the danger they had expended too much energy in the first half. Except, in a more even second half, Liverpool then just offered up something even more calamitous.

Leandro Trossard’s deflected shot fires through the legs of Alisson

With a high ball played up, Alisson came out rather early but it still should have been simple enough to deal with. Martinelli was chasing it down, though, which led to Van Dijk trying to shepherd him out. The Brazilian went right up against him, though, and unexpectedly won the physical battle. That caused Van Dijk to career into Alisson, leaving Martinelli with the simplest of finishes.

Arteta did then show some impressive foresight. With Saka injured, the Basque made the surprising decision to take off Martinelli for Trossard. It more than paid off. With the game stretched, Ibrahima Konate got a second yellow for another foul on Havertz. Trossard exploited the space, not least that between Alisson’s legs.

There is now that bit less between Liverpool and Arsenal. Arteta's side, very suddenly, look like they have so much more to give. That was the greatest significance of this win, whatever happens with City.

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