What a start to the new season!
With the sun shining down on the Emirates stadium, things started to heat up on the pitch. Arsenal went into their opening match with several factors impacting on how they would perform. No big signings made other than Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding, a 20 year old centre back in defence, no fit striker to play, no fit centre backs from last season available, all these things which fed into Liverpool being slight favourites to win the match. Arsenal fans have been left frustrated once again during the transfer window as they watch all the other big sides splash the cash, whilst Wenger sits reluctantly, even though it is evident reinforcements are needed. Wenger knew he had a shortage of defenders going into the new season, but didn’t manage to buy anyone in time for this match (with the exception of Rob Holding- who isn’t exactly world class after arriving from League One Bolton Wanderers). It was reported that a deal had been agreed for Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi, however talks are still ongoing. It is clear that Arsenal have the money to buy, they just choose not to. With revenues of over £300 million last season, you wonder what the issue is that is preventing deals happening?
The game started relatively quietly, with both teams passing the ball around precisely, playing the possession game; something Arsenal have mastered over the years. Jürgen Klopp described his style of football as “Heavy Metal Football”, stating Arsenal’s style as “Orchestral”. This is very true, Liverpool charge at opponents throwing everyone forward with high intensity, whilst The Gunners, play delicate, intricate passes , for the conductors in midfield Mesut Özil, and Aaron Ramsey to spark opportunities. The home side were looking the most likely to score in the early stages of the match, and the first major chance fell their way; a penalty. Theo Walcott found himself in an inviting position inside the box, and who else but Alberto Moreno to come in and hack his legs down… Liverpool’s main issue which has stopped them finishing higher in the league in recent times are their frailties at the back; with Moreno being the main problem. His rash challenges, awful positioning, and ill judgement have landed The Reds into trouble countless times, more notably, the Europa League final against Sevilla, where he was at fault for all three goals.
Walcott stepped up to take the penalty, could he deliver? No! Mignolet pulled off a brilliant save to keep the game level, but also placed him in the record books. Mignolet has now saved 5 out of the 11 penalties he has faced in the Premier League, a 45% save ratio which puts him joint top of the list for the best record of penalty saves, alongside former Chelsea keeper, Dmitri Kharine.
Liverpool’s joy from the penalty save turned to despair just one minute later. Walcott, who missed the penalty just one minute beforehand, was on guard to slot the ball home sumptuously into the bottom left hand corner, leaving Simon Mignolet helpless. Alberto Moreno, who gave away the penalty just moments before this, was out of position; enabling Walcott to find himself in acres of space. As the first half drew to a close, it was the Gunners who were heading in at 1-0. This all changed very swiftly however, with a moment of magic. 30 yards from goal, difficult angle, 5 men in the wall, step up Philippe Coutinho! The little magician’s free kick went spiralling into the top right corner, unstoppable; Petr Cech left grasping onto thin air. This marked his 30th goal for Liverpool, 13 of which have been goals from outside the area.
Half Time: Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool.
The Second half was a very different affair to the relaxed and passive first half. Liverpool took control.
4 minutes into the second half, Adam Lallana put the Reds into the lead. Fantastic build up play saw Liverpool carve open the Gunners backline. New man, Georginio Wijnaldum found himself in the box on the left hand side, thanks to a lovely through ball from Coutinho, Wijnaldum then set up Lallana who made a run into the box. The former Southampton man controlled the ball onto his chest and then slotted it under Cech in goal. This was just the beginning of more things to come Arsenal’s way!
7 minutes on from the second goal for Liverpool, Coutinho made it 3-1. The Reds had found their rhythm and weren’t holding back. More than 20 passes were strung together before Nathaniel Clyne picked the ball up on the right hand flank, where he then proceeded to drill a low ball into the area. Coutinho was on hand to guide the ball in, off his shin. The Brazilian maestro at the heart of things again; it was a jaw-dropping performance from Liverpool’s talisman.
The away side were still not finished on their rampage. New signing, Sadio Mane picked the ball up on the right hand wing for the away side, trying to utilise his blistering pace. He had already shown glimpses of his talent in the first half with a few mazy runs. Mane dashed down the line, where he was greeted by Arsenal duo, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal. The winger was sandwiched between the two on the edge of the box, however he cut threw them, like a knife through butter. A heel chop left the defensive pairing dazzled and bewildered, unable to tame the animal who sent Arsenal’s chances of survival into extinction. 4-1 down in the 62nd minute; flashbacks of 5-1 at Anfield in February 2014 flooded back.
Boos from the home crowd echoed around the stadium, Wenger was left with his head in his hands. However, by the time he glanced up; there was another goal. 1 minute after Sadio Mane’s solo effort, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain responded with a solo goal of his own. He picked the ball up from the kick off, and ran. Weaving in and out of players, he arrived into the penalty area, his rather tame shot bounced off Dejan Lovren, leaving Mignolet unable to react in time, 4-2.
Just as the game looked completely over, the English youngster added a much needed spark of optimism for the home supporters, who were anything but optimistic after watching the Reds run riot. Shortly after this, 10 minutes later, the Gunners clawed another goal back to make it 4-3! A Santi Cazorla free kick from range looped into the penalty area, it was met by Calum Chambers who got the faintest touch to guide it into the corner. From sheer desolation, to sheer ecstasy! With 15 minutes to play, a game which looked only destined for the 3 points to travel to Merseyside, now stood wide open.
What a spectacle!
As the game drew to its endpoint, Arsene Wenger’s men pressed on in search of an equaliser; it wasn’t to be. The Liverpool defence stood strong and blocked any further opportunities for Arsenal to score.
Full Time : Arsenal 3 -4 Liverpool
As Michael Oliver sounded the fulltime whistle, jeers from around the stadium suffocated Arsene Wenger in his seat, nowhere for him to hide. The players booed off on the opening day shows signs that there is a serious issue at Arsenal currently. They are frustrated with the lack of spending, which translated onto the pitch in terms of the team selection. An inexperienced backline which Klopp’s side exploited. Would it have been a different story if Mustafi was in defence? Or would an equaliser have been scored by Riyad Mahrez, Alexandre Lacazette, or Gonzalo Higuian?
Arsenal have established a trait of missing out on all the big names, this time it looks as if Wenger has been made to pay. It is unclear if he will listen to the fans and dig deep, it is clear though, that it needs to be done. Liverpool on the other hand, will be delighted with the outcome! A splendid team performance, but also individual brilliance. Philippe Coutinho, there’s no introduction needed! Once he comes alive in the match, the other side may as well exit the playing field. His mesmerising long distance shots have become habitual for the former Inter Milan player. Sadio Mane was also outstanding, his premier league debut marked by a piece of sheer class. This season already looks bright for Jürgen Klopp’s men, as mentioned in my previous blog; I see them heading only one way!
By Tom Cavilla, 18 Years Old.