Round Table: Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4

Posted by Yorkykopite on August 15, 2016, 07:32:36 PM


It's not often you hear 'Show them the Way to Go Home' at the Emirates. It's not often you hear it at any match as early as the 63rd minute. As it turned out Arsenal weren't quite tired enough to go to bed, let alone have a wank. Two quick goals meant that we were left with an unnecessary endurance test in the last twenty minutes of the game. But we passed it handsomely. Almost as satisfying as that purple spell on either side of half time was the clever way we controlled the game in the last quarter. Liverpool were pretty sensational on the opening day of the league season - and that is one of the happiest sentences I've written for a long time.

Three important lessons were learnt on Sunday. 1. Mane is frighteningly good. 2. Klavan is the steal of the summer 3. Jurgen Klopp is going to need spectacles made of titanium this season.

It was a pretty scrappy start in truth. Both teams struggled to find space, both looked a bit sluggish on the ball. The most exciting thing to happen in the first ten minutes was Mignolet treating us to a Cruyff turn which, for those who've ever wondered how it's done, he helpfully broke down into at least 5 component parts. Please don't do that again Simon. Other than that we gave the ball to them, and they gave the ball to us. The only player who looked capable of imposing any rhythm on the match was Aaron Ramsey who constantly got on the wrong side of Henderson and looked set to bring his Euro 2016 exuberance in to the Premier League.  Alberto Moreno obviously thought he should be given a chance to shine and so headed the ball right into Ramsey's path, before thinking better of it, moving smartly across the box and timing a sliding tackle to perfection. The best and worst of Moreno in 5 seconds. 

A few moments later Mignolet produced the best punch of his Liverpool career - a sign, surely, that there's been some major corrective surgery undertaken at Melwood over the summer on this diabolical weakness. If this problem has indeed been fixed - and the evidence is as yet slim - then Mignolet will have taken a big stride towards preserving his Liverpool career. A goalie who can punch through a crowd not only clears his lines; he makes opposing forwards think twice before attacking aerial balls with abandon. Here's hoping.

There still wasn't much coherence to our outfield play though. Winjaldum looked indecisive, Henderson showed his traditional reluctance to turn on the ball and surrendered possession too easily while Coutinho remained peripheral. But then a couple of really encouraging things happened. Hendo started spreading play intelligently, bringing in our full backs, and on 20 minutes Mane produced a breathtaking turn of acceleration as he moved in a diagonal towards the Arsenal box. When you get players carrying the ball at that speed things will open up. And they did. Lallana hit a cunning ball to put Firmino in, his miscued shot cannoning off the legs of Ramsey, and Coutinho jinked in from the left setting off a chain reaction of bewildering movement from the men in black. Nothing came of that particular move but a storm signal had been sounded. Here's a pretty safe prediction: there is so much creativity around little Phil these days that it's inconceivable we won't be among the top scorers in the league this year.

Then Arsenal got their pen. And it was messy from our point of view. Hendo's wild penalty-box clearance, modelled somewhat on the one Momo Sissoko trademarked several seasons ago, came down to Earth on the left-hand side of the box, Coutinho unaccountably backed off Walcott and Moreno lunged in. Yes he scraped the top of the ball, but these days that ain't enough. His follow through took the winger out. A soft pen, but a pen nonetheless. Fortunately it was the opening day of the season and therefore Mignolet saved from the spot.

Then the Arse scored a couple of minutes later. Moreno will probably get the rap, but it wasn't his fault. As soon as Coutinho turned so beautifully on the ball and opened up the entire pitch he did what his manager surely wants him to do. He saw the chance for a goal and he attacked. Unfortunately two bad things happened. Mane chose, mystifyingly, to head for the centre of the pitch rather than the wings, so leaving Lallana with no one to pass to, and then Lallana failed to protect the ball from Coquelin's (admittedly excellent) challenge. Some player Coquelin by the way. The ball was quickly shuttled into the vacant left back spot and Walcott redeemed himself with a well angled shot into the corner.

For a couple of minutes after the goal Arsenal were like the Arsenal of old and attacks came from all directions. But nothing materialised, not least because Klavan read the plays so well. The Estonian looks good. And how fantastic it is to have a two-footed centre back. A player who can actually pass crisply with both feet and do it quickly. He calmed us down, Wijnaldum shook the lethargy out of his play, Mane came in search of the ball, and Liverpool began to find the sweet spot. From here on in we were the better team. The build up to Coutinho's free kick was nice, Mane featuring heavily again with only Coquelin, evidently, willing to test his strength against him. I don't blame the Arsenal players for keeping their distance. The lad is a bloody handful.

Others will describe Phil's free kick. I don't know how you produce that much top spin on a dead ball. And of course it was needlessly, almost boastfully, accurate. Two Petr Cechs on stepladders would not have stopped it. Not even Ray Clemence would have stopped it.

The second half, we were exhilarating. Mane kept his width better, Henderson stopped retreating when we had possession, Lallana made more incursions and Firmino profited from the increased amount of space. In short we started playing between Arsenal's lines. Klopp style. What followed was the best 15 minutes that Jurgen has seen since he left Dortmund. It was mind blowing, not least because was against Arsenal. On their patch.

Lallana scored a peach, the purity of the strike giving the goal an air of simplicity that belied its technical excellence.  The build-up to the 3rd, performed to 'Poetry in Motion, was simply....poetry in motion. And then Mane scored goal of the season. In between 3 and 4 Phil had another effort wonderfully saved by Cech - an act which provoked the usual avalanche of booing from the ungrateful Emirates crowd. They pay good money to watch good football and we were giving them good football. What was the problem?

In fact it was a crying shame that we didn't go on and score a 5th. The stadium was an inch away from mutiny by that stage. I would have liked to have seen a full-scale rebellion from the most moany crowd in England and the flipping of 40,000 seats.

As it was the home side did salvage some pride. Lallana got too close to Clyne and allowed Oxlade-Chamberlain the easy task of squeezing between them. Chambers's header was all about the quality of the cross. But after that we got our act together, stiffened by Can (who was very good) and Origi (also very good). The sight of Coutinho chasing down a 60 yard pass by Klavan and winning a corner was greeted by the travelling Kop like a goal. And rightly so. There are still some misguided souls who think of Coutinho a a 'luxury player'. I don't think he ever was that, but there's no doubt that under Klopp he's become among the hardest-working men in show business since James Brown. Same swagger as James Brown too.

For the last 5 minutes we had Kevin Stewart (price: nothing) coming from the bench to add some sinew. They had Granit Xhaka (price: 35 million) who found time to commit three fouls in as many minutes.

So a hugely satisfying victory on the opening day. There was power and grace there, as well as grit and, hopefully, it will have produced a major injection of self-belief into the squad. I'm pretty sure the last time we defeated Arsenal on their own patch on the opening day of the season, we went on to produce an excellent run of unbeaten games. Mind you, we didn't get to play at Anfield for a while that season - stadium reconstruction and all that.


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