As much as a fan may wish their team were at the level of talent and achievement that allow them to not get swept away in the emotions of a big game, or that they could carry the emotionless precision and preciseness of Manchester City, it’s probably not something this Arsenal team is ready to add to their repertoire.
And on a day in which Arsenal were going to face their biggest challenge of the season, and one couldn’t but feel blood was in the water surrounding this Liverpool team, it’s understandable that there were stretches of this match got away from the Gunners. But matches can be won on emotion. Emotional waves can be ridden and when you’re at home with an opportunity to make a statement win and beat a team you haven’t beat in the league since a weird win in 2020, riding that emotion serves a purpose.
All year Arsenal have been fighting against an external current of criticism. A belief from others that they were imposters and fakes. That they are unworthy of their position and results, while everyone sits waiting for them to fall apart. As if there is a bubble waiting to burst and then Arsenal will fall back to their “rightful place” outside of top spots.
It reminded me of how I felt about Leicester City during their magical year. Every week was waiting for them to fall apart, waiting for the setback that marked the end of their run. Now, on the other side of the coin, this energy has me wanting to win every game even more than before. To demonstrate they have no idea what they are talking about, and I know I am not alone in that sentiment. The Arsenal fans were riled from the get go. A nervous, optimistic, and excited energy was in the air, and everything escalated ten fold when Arsenal scored inside the first minute.
Before the match I wrote about three aspects I felt Arsenal would want to achieve if they were going to win this game:
- Slow the game down
- Dominate the Midfield
- Win the battle in the left channel
All in all, I would probably say Arsenal did about 1 1/2 of these things, although arguably it was the most important one, but I want to talk about each of these.
When you ride the emotions of a major game, and you are unable to supply quite that level of precision and preciseness associated with Manchester City, it can be hard not to get swept up in said emotions and let your game race. Additionally, it was clear that Arsenal had “counter attack and transition opportunities” on their tactics board this week. They constantly were looking to seize the opportunities made by turnovers and hit the outlet pass into Saka and Martinelli’s feet. While it’s hard to argue that didn’t pay off considering it lead to their first two goals, it may have also created some extra stress — at least for me.
Arsenal didn’t have nearly as much control over the game, and certainly lacked the dominant possession we have gotten used to for much of the match. They wanted to create the turnover in possession and they wanted to run with it. In fact, it wasn’t until about the 65th minute that Arsenal seemed to rededicate themselves to changing up the pace of the game and tried knocking the ball around. Ten minutes later they got their penalty and went up 3-2.
They created a lot of great chances on the break and it is nice to see that they can not only force the issue through their counter attack but that they were able to play a game that one could assume would favor a Liverpool side of recent years and walk away victorious from it. I would have preferred the comfort of their usual approach that has kept teams off the ball, but sometimes the result speaks for itself.
A major part of the being able to keep the ball, stand on it, move it around, and stretch teams comes from the midfield domination. In my eyes, a real weakness of this Liverpool is their midfield quality. It’s not that it’s necessarily poor, but it certainly is exploitable. They facilitate Liverpool’s game, but when teams have been able to prevent them from getting on the ball, they have been able to frustrate and subdue the Red’s attack.
This aspect was the 1/2 win I gave Arsenal. I don’t think I would say Arsenal DOMINATED Liverpool’s midfield to the full extent of the word, but they were the better of the two on the day — despite having less of the ball. Arsenal’s midfield were effective, and in lieu of being dominant, effective is probably the next best thing.
They were effective in how they denied easy balls into the Liverpool front, the whole team did a great job in preventing easy outlet balls, and Partey played a very good defensive match while being clean in his passing. With 7 clearances, 2 interceptions, 4 recoveries, and 3/5 duels won, he mad life difficult when he needed too. And while I was a little frustrated with how frequent he was looking to push the ball up the field to spring attacks, he was 6/6 in long balls, so it wasn’t as though he wasn’t delivering.
Ødegaard got his assist early, but then was quiet on the ball. Additionally, Xhaka wasn’t quite has good as the high standards he has set himself so far this season. But it worked. The trio came together, they made their plays, and they help facilitate those dangerous transition opportunities that lead to Arsenal’s 3+ xG. And when Arsenal end the game by winning on xG 3.09 to 1.13, it’s hard not to feel vindicated in saying Arsenal earned a tight win.
The major aspect that lead to Arsenal’s win? They dominated the left-sided channel (Liverpool’s right). Coming into today everyone knew that Liverpool’s danger could come from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah on the right. We also knew that Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive presence was a major weakness in Liverpool’s game.
Well, Martinelli absolutely annihilated Alexander-Arnold and Arteta’s stroke of genius to play Tomiyasu at left back came off perfectly.
Martinelli supplied a goal and an assist on his way to absolutely terrorizing Liverpool’s backline. It got so bad that we actually saw Salah defending on top of his own box to try and support Trent. I mean, wow. Tomiyasu held Salah to 27 touches, 1 created chance, and 1 shot, and BOTH players were hooked before the 70th minute with Trent coming off at halftime. Granted Trent, came off for an injury officially, but it could have been for either reason considering he was having an absolute nightmare of a performance.
From the very first minute when Martinelli scored, there was a feeling of opportunity from that wing that never ceased. It was a complete and utter domination of Liverpool’s most dangerous side and it’s something to be very proud of. It will be very interesting to see if Mikel turns to this tactic more often or only when he fears the attacking prowess of an opposition right winger. Tomiyasu was brilliant, but it would be unrealistic to believe he could replace the attacking abilities of Zinchenko, or even Tierney, to the fullest extent. At the very least, we now have another excellent option at our disposal.
Last week I wrote about the confidence these young Gunners are returning to Arsenal when it comes to big games. I talked about how they are finding ways to put on comprehensive performances in the big matches that have escaped Arsenal for the last decade. Yesterday, the team added a very different type of big game performance. They created the big chances, they road the emotions of the fans and themselves, they won the battles in the dangerous ares of the pitch, and while they didn’t quite control with the comprehensive possession we have seen, they looked at their opponent and said, “you’re not going to get the better of me”. And THAT is the mark of a winning team, in the eyes King Thierry Henry himself when they talks about The Invincibles.
It wouldn’t be right not to mention some of the ‘controversial’ moments, but it also didn’t feel right to conflict the blog above with them, so I wanted to separate them out and just give a few thoughts on some of them.
Obviously, this is where the rule change for this year comes into play when they talk about proximity. The ball is fired at him from so close that there is nothing he can do about. However, I think if the call had been a handball, as harsh on Gabriel as it would be, there would be more than enough precedent to support it. His hand is wide like that because of his movement, it’s ‘natural’ in a lot of ways, but it is away from his body. In the end, I think Arsenal have a slight fortune that the ref didn’t point to the spot, because I don’t think VAR overturns whatever the field ref calls. To me, this is why refs on the field need to stop making “no calls” with the knowledge that the VAR official will review, they need to make their call. Now, maybe he did, they had the conversation and that was the conclusion, but I think this was more a case of letting VAR make the decision, who went with “no clear and obvious error” because, well, there wasn’t one. Call stays on the field.
I think it’s a penalty. If you want to say its soft because it’s a 50/50 ball being challenged for fairly and one player nips in before the other and then draws contact, thats fine, but it’s not that different than penalties where a player takes a larger touch and then beats a defender to the ball, touches it away, and then gets fouled. Soft? Maybe. But you don’t need to get clattered for it to be a penalty. It was a foul, it was called one, and Saka did great to tuck it away.
This is laughable. I mean it’s pathetic that this is actually going around the internet and needs commenting on. No, you can’t just grab a screenshot of Martinelli delivering a cross and then having contact with Alexander-Arnold in his ankle and try to apply the situational aspects of a “high challenge” (below). Of course its not a red card, of course it’s not a foul, and you’re embarrassing yourself for suggesting anything else.
Boy, that is some shot that Jesus takes across the face. He goes down in a slump and it is still hard for me to tell if he is knocked unconscious or not. At the time of the contact, I didn’t see it as a red card. Yes, that was his second ‘inadvertent’ high elbow of the match, but Jesus was stooping and he cuts across him. However, after watching it back, it looks far more deliberate than I had initially thought. Looks like there is a look at Jesus and an acknowledgment of where he’s at before putting one into him. Felt a LOT like Mane’s elbow across Tierney’s face, and I’m not sure what the refs talk about when they see it, but it’s a weird little precedent and grey area they seem to have found there. Is it a red, is it not? I’m not sure, but its nasty.
Hard to comment on. Obviously none of us know. But things don’t look right in the reactions. Not only Gabriel M’s double take during the exchange, but Xhaka’s incredulous look at Henderson and defense of Gabriel, as well as, Firmino’s look at Henderson that looks like something is off as well. Hope there is a swift investigation and the right resolution.
One thing is for sure after yesterday, Klopp will be quadrupling his annoying little compliments of Gabriel Martinelli. He’s our man, our Brazilian, and you can just fuck right off!