You could call it flawed perfection, at least on one side. Arsenal remain at the top of the league also on a winning streak at home, but only after one of those matches that were only enriched by mistake after mistake. Some may include the referee and Jurgen Klopp’s tactical decisions. What was beyond doubt was that, in the end, Mikel Arteta’s side made far fewer mistakes than Liverpool – and generally looked much better – to fully deserve a 3-2 win. It means Arsenal can continue to believe they will challenge for the title, with eight wins from nine and this – in theory at least – their biggest win to date.
There is now the question of whether a win over Liverpool means the same, because Klopp has to see if there is more wrong with this side than the formation or form. For Liverpool, it is far from a flawed perfection, but a perfect storm of problems. Something feels broken, disconnected, and the most annoying thing is the questions that will inevitably come over Klopp’s response – whether he even knows how to respond.
His approach has served to completely neutralize their most potent attack in Mohamed Salah, who was then taken off in a decision that seemed inevitable rather than in any way surprising. Behind him, Trent Alexander-Arnold had another poor defensive performance, albeit one accompanied by the explanation that he was indeed injured. He also left.
Arsenal stayed for the whole game. That was something else so striking about the victory. Arsenal had such a clearer idea of what they were doing to the point that it encouraged persistence, belief and conviction. It meant they really should have won more. Liverpool had the distinct doubt of not really knowing what they were in for. It included the very basics of their game, right down to pressing.
Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard was seemingly able to just stroll through Liverpool’s midfield unchallenged after the pace-setting opening goal, leaving the Norwegian with all the space he wanted to pick out a determined pass. It ensured his ball was inevitably accurate, allowing Martinelli to so easily run onto it – and around Alexander-Arnold – to finish crisply.
This is one of the most characteristic problems with Liverpool right now. So many different parts of the team seem disconnected, in a way that just hasn’t been the case for Klopp’s fully functioning unit for the past half-decade.
With Salah ineffectively pushed out to the flank in the style of a 1950s winger, still leaving Alexander-Arnold open but having the double effect of limiting him as a striker, it was perhaps no surprise that Liverpool just had to past the center to score. The midfield is like part of a different team. At least Alexander-Arnold made better use of his delivery with a dropped ball over the top, the relentless Luis Diaz ran onto it as Nunez went the other way. The striker then remained focused with a classic striker’s finish that bundled the ball past Aaron Ramsdale.
However, the game was still not really stable. Liverpool still couldn’t close the gaps. A massive one popped up from their own corner minutes later.
Jesus picked it up from the edge of the Arsenal box before combining that signature canter with those dizzying feet to allow Martinelli to go one better. He again got the better of Alexander-Arnold, this time checking back in a way that seemed far too easy for this level. That gave Saka an even easier finish when he tapped the ball in from a yard.
It was a shock but not a surprise that Alexander-Arnold was then taken off, although a few eyebrows were raised when word got through it was over his ankle rather than his performance. He didn’t look at his best, but the feeling wasn’t that it was because of an injury. It’s a further sign of how Klopp currently needs to rethink everything, which was underlined when Salah followed him to the bench.
At one point it would have been unthinkable, but here it was completely understandable. Amazingly, Salah doesn’t seem to have an obvious position in this set-up. He was on the pitch but still only watched as Liverpool leveled again and Diogo Jota this time repeated Odegaard with his own pass to Firmino. The Brazilian finished well.
It was another goal for Firmino against Arsenal, as well as another goal this season as he forms one of the few consistent elements of Liverpool’s season. It’s all the more striking since it wasn’t that long ago that he appeared to be the first of the famous trio to go. He is currently the only one keeping Liverpool going.
He couldn’t keep the rest of the team at his level here.
Arsenal gradually began to overwhelm Klopp’s team. There had been a series of moves, opportunities and scrambles before one of them finally resulted in a break. This was somewhat fortunate as Michael Oliver pinpointed the spot for a fairly innocuous touch from Thiago on Jesus.
Arsenal might say they had a decision. The problem is that Liverpool would say the same thing. The only thing that was relevant here was that Saka got the last word. For now, it’s going to provoke an awful lot of discussion about this Liverpool.
Next up is Manchester City. They and Arsenal could do poorly with a very different performance to this one – for very different reasons.