Before we try and process the circus that was last night’s game, I’d just like to clarify that 3 > 0. Every year, there’s a bit of a ruckus when a team goes on an unbeaten run and until it comes to an end, Arsenal fans collectively bate their breath. Coming undone against Watford of all teams was bad enough, but getting pasted by your closest competitors and then losing to a team like present-day Arsenal very much takes the shine from Liverpool’s dominance this season and I’m happy about that. I don’t like to cling to by-gone achievements too much because it’s often just a distraction but it’s nice to remind people just how special ’03/04 was. Rose tinting not applicable.
I genuinely don’t know where to start here. This weird year keeps getting weirder and after having 61% of possession and losing at the weekend, we won with 31% and scored with both our shots on target.
I don’t really know what to take away from the game either. Large parts of the match were a struggle because of that gnawing doubt, what with our ability to hold onto a lead being an alien concept and the fact we were playing Liverpool. I’m especially struggling to come to terms with what that game actually meant, because I can’t remember a game like it. Bizarre, unexpected, inspiring.. and genuinely funny. It’s unfamiliar territory as an Arsenal fan because we’ve so often been on the receiving end of such results and I’m not sure if we should just be feeling lucky.
The trick is, you often make your own luck in football. Instead of ruing VAR (who, for the record, should have indicated red card offences for both Mané and Trent Alexander-Arnold) or lambasting David Luiz or Mustafi for another defensive disasterclass, we’re all smiles. We took our chances and crucially, we fucked up less than the opposition for a change.
I really hope that last point is an eye-opener for some of the players. I know you can’t teach players to have Jedi-like concentration for 90 minutes, nor do some players deliberately sabotage the team on a seemingly weekly basis and even though some players aren’t at the level we need, last night was a pertinent example of what a collective can do.
Aubameyang, watching from the stands would point to Arteta’s priorities looking ahead to the weekend clash with Man City. It’s also safe to assume the game’s a write-off when your star player starts from the bench for the first time in over a year, which just adds to the hilarity of what actually happened.
The first 25 minutes of the game had a feeling of pointlessness, a formality that had to be honoured by both teams – like the guard of honour, even. It felt like one of those conditioning camps you have before a World Cup where you jet off to some humid or high-altitude environment, a way to acclimatise to the standards you need when playing against a team like Man City. Liverpool were dominant, fluid and made everything look easy – the goal was no different. I don’t think anyone was particularly switched on in defense but Liverpool have done that to a lot of teams this season.
Alan Smith said “there’s a muscle memory to this Liverpool side” and that summed it all up. There’s an autonomy to their play and it’s not possible to achieve in a single transfer window. When put to Arteta, he said he “didn’t know” if he’d have the finances he needed, and that it was a “big concern”. I’m sure KSE will be abundantly aware of his prickliness in post-match interviews because this isn’t the first time he’s used that kind of rhetoric. Performances like last night’s will no doubt help in ensuring Arteta gets what he needs, but as the weeks go by, there’s always new things to be excited by.
There were two who stood out last night above the rest and they were Emi Martinez and Alex Lacazette. I don’t think anyone, bar Reading fans, expected the kind of performances we’ve seen from Martinez. I can’t remember another player like him, to be lurking behind the scenes for so long with such limited experience and just seamlessly stepping into the team and rising to the challenge. Rising to the challenge is hard enough, but he’s actually making people question whether or not we should sell Bernd Leno. From where I’m standing, even as a big fan of Leno’s, I’m inclined to think we should. The save in the dying seconds was absolutely top draw and it’s not even the first time he’s pulled off a save of that calibre.
He seems to have everything Leno has and more. Better distribution, very good shot stopper, quick off the line, commanding in the box and he shouted “where the fuck are you going?” to Davíd Luiz when he attempted to go up for a corner late in the game. It’s things like that you love to see. The same goes for Rob Holding and his look of disgust after Mané got flattened. It’s the same kind of prickliness that Arteta has and we need we much of it as we can get.
Lacazette seems to have finally got his sharpness back. He was ready after Reiss Nelson outmuscled the mighty Dutch Cygan and he was instrumental in sensing the danger and finding a Nelson for the second. Credit should also go to Nelson for having the composure to not only take the chance himself but to tuck it away so well. It was another “complete” performance from Lacazette, with exemplary work rate and efficacy off the ball and decisive contributions on the ball.
After going ahead, no one would’ve predicted we’d hold onto that lead for more than 45 minutes. That’s not to say we didn’t ride our luck, but this might just be a turning point after the players reap the rewards of commitment and unity. Liverpool can also count themselves lucky that Joe Willock didn’t add to the hilarity with his squandered volley but I don’t think we can lay too much blame there. While he should’ve hit the target, I don’t think there’s an expectation for him to score there.
Looking to the weekend in what is now our most important game of the season, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory because we now know what it’s like to beat a top team. The post-restart defeat to City will still be fresh in the memory and the formula against Liverpool is unlikely to work again. That being said, the team will hopefully have a renewed sense of belief and appreciation for the importance of unforced errors.
While I still don’t fancy our chances, the F.A. Cup has been our savior in recent years and you just never know what might happen on the day.
Featured image courtesy of Poorly Drawn Arsenal (@cantdrawarsenal)