Arsenal and Liverpool played out a ludicrous game and no one knows how to feel

A match that will live long in the memory was won and then almost lost by Arsenal before they took away a point towards their title push

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Monday 10 April 2023 08:18 BST
<p>Aaron Ramsdale saves from Ibrahima Konate in the dying minutes</p>

Aaron Ramsdale saves from Ibrahima Konate in the dying minutes

It should have been so much better for Arsenal, but then could have been so, so much worse. Likewise Liverpool. If it’s difficult for anyone involved to know how to feel after that, it at least reflects the true reality of a title race. This is where it gets serious. This is a warning of what is to come, not an end in itself, despite those remarkable last few minutes.

The big question from a game that was so full of drama and yet so inconclusive is what effect this will have for what next. This 2-2 at Anfield could be the sort of match that was emotionally exhausting for Arsenal without the important and immense psychological lift of victory or any catharsis… but then there was Aaron Ramsdale’s three saves of escalating significance and sensational quality.

They could end up crucial to the title, let alone this game. And still Arsenal could have won it after that. Still Liverpool could have won it for that.

Jurgen Klopp’s side could have had a relaunch. But this wasn’t what it could have been for them either. They could have been beaten embarrassingly but then could have won resoundingly.

If the overriding feeling is to criticise a young Arsenal team for letting a handsome win become a harrowing draw - a point that might well end up much more damaging than so many humiliating defeats here - it shouldn’t be.

They would not be the first challengers to slip at Anfield in a title race. They would be far from the first champions to do so, or even to allow Liverpool to come back. A better Manchester United also lost a 2-0 lead here to draw 2-2, and that against a worse Liverpool… but still went on to win the treble.

There’s something about this ground, that goes to the very depth of teams.

There will be an inevitably tendency from that to see this this as definitive, but it can help make a difference itself. It has exposed some weaknesses to be fixed, amid a display of strengths.

You only have to consider the frenetic course of the game, and how it constantly changed.

The first half had for the most part been a show of why Arsenal are so impressively top of the league, and why Liverpool are so adrift in mid-table. This was basically the game played as if everything proceeds as normal, an entire season evolving into one defining event. With Jurgen Klopp seemingly not knowing what his best Liverpool team is right now, and attempting a new tactical formation that just left a lot of holes, Arsenal just exploited them by performing with the extreme focus that has characterised their campaign. Everyone knew exactly where to go, which meant so many Liverpool players didn’t know where the ball was. So it was that Martin Odegaard worked the ball up towards Bukayo Saka, whose surging run caused chaos in Alisson’s box, forcing Virgil van Dijk into a rushed clearance and leaving Gabriel Martinelli to get in ahead of a wayward Andy Robertson.

It was even more pronounced for the second goal, Martinelli enjoying the space to swerve over a perfect cross, Gabriel Jesus enjoying even more space between Robertson and Van Dijk again.

Gabriel Jesus celebrates scoring Arsenal’s second goal

The flowing nature of the goal reflected how everything was going Arsenal’s way.

It was almost too good to be true, as they were that much better than Liverpool.

The game of course couldn’t stay like that.

Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had been enduring a poor game in a slightly different role, saw himself get involved in an altercation in that area. The wing-back probably needed it, as it visibly fired him up.

Granit Xhaka really didn’t need to get involved, though, and it was the last thing his side required. Even if it is unfair to pin a relatively fortuitous Liverpool goal on the Swiss midfielder, it was impossible to disconnect it from the distinct transformation in the game. This was the key. It was an emotional juncture, changing the tone of it all.

It went from a pure football match, where Arsenal were clearly so much better, to one that tested different qualities; qualities that go much deeper than football.

That was arguably the only way Liverpool could really compete here, as they made it a fight. Even Mohamed Salah’s goal was borne of pure resolve, almost forcing it over the line.

All of the holes and gaps in the team were now covered by conviction, as Liverpool looked a little but more like what they are supposed to be. There was that period immediately after half-time where it looked like Jurgen Klopp’s side were just going to overrun Arsenal. The ball seemed to spend an undue amount of time pinging across Aaron Ramsdale’s six-yard box, constantly inviting someone to just get that touch.

Mohamed Salah reacts after missing from the penalty spot

As it was, Rob Holding went in too heavily on Diogo Jota. Something like that had been coming. The only surprise was that it didn’t bring the inevitable equaliser. Salah somehow missed.

This was another emotional juncture moment, making it yet another type of game. It was no longer going one way with all emotional flow, but was more tense.

This was where there might be some criticism for Arteta. Even beyond the dispute of whether they could have really gone for it in the first half when 2-0 up, there were questions about how withdrawn they went with three at the back. It was all the worse given that Martin Odegaard had been so crucial to offering the release of all of those counters. That could perhaps be seen in that final major moment of the match, when Martinelli just delayed that through ball when the break was on.

Before that, though, there was almost a season’s worth of moments and emotion that could go a long way to deciding the title. It’s just impossible to know which way.

Firmino’s goal might have been the moment that Arsenal ceded initiative to City, or Ramsdale’s save - especially that last one from Ibrahima Konate - might end up the intervention that seals the title.

The goalkeeper summed it up himself afterwards - “a bit of both”. If it’s still impossible to know how to feel, it’s to know this is a real title race, and ready yourself for more. Except, for the moment, to breathe. It was that good a match, that sets up so much more.

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