In season 5 of Friday Night Lights, Coach Taylor drops his star player, his quarterback Vince Howard, who had turned from a team player into playing solely for himself. The controversial decision worked out, because Taylor had players who were able to fulfill his instruction and plays, and they found a way to win even while playing extremely poorly.
At Anfield, Arsène Wenger dropped his star player, Alexis, who has turned from a team player into playing solely for himself. The controversial decision didn’t work, because Wenger doesn’t have players who are able to fulfill his tactics. Liverpool scored twice in the first half; Arsenal, playing long to Olivier Giroud, did nothing. Both goals were mistakes. For the first, with no midfield player challenging, Laurent Koscielny pushed up to contest a header with Roberto Firmino, which he, a 6’1 centre back, and the “captain” of the side, lost to 5’11 Firmino. Arsenal’s back four never recovered their shape, and the two defensive midfielders, Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka, didn’t track the midfield runners; subsequently, Liverpool worked the ball back across, and Firmino scored.
The second goal was worse; Liverpool were able to create an overlap in Arsenal’s penalty box, with Sadio Mané in acres of space. With the back four dragged to the right, the responsibility for Mané should’ve been the left-sided central midfielder. Coquelin, that player, was loitering on the edge of the box.
Alexis came on at halftime for Francis Coquelin, and had an immediate impact, assisting Danny Welbeck’s fine finish that gave Arsenal fans false hope, hope that was dashed on the 90th minute by Wjnaldum’s goal, seconds after Arsenal had a chance to level. Again, the defence was too easily beaten, with Shkodran Mustafi the guilty party.
Much will be made of dropping Alexis, but dropping Alexis wasn’t necessarily a bad decision that consigned Arsenal to defeat. Arsenal set up to counter play long to Giroud, playing around Liverpool’s press. The problem is that the tactical changes they made were mitigated by predictable mistakes made by players who have let their side down for far too long, allowed to do so by a manager who will bench his star player to make a point, but won’t remove the jobber who has no business playing. And that is why Coach Taylor wins a ring that season and Arsene Wenger will not.