Arsenal’s winless run at Anfield continued today as the Gunners lost to Liverpool 3-1. It wasn’t a surprising scoreline, but somehow this match got more and more disappointing as the clock ticked down.
Within minutes of the opening whistle, the match had turned into Liverpool versus Nicolas Pepe. Arsenal had nothing for Liverpool until minute seven, when Pepe took it up the right side of the pitch past Virgil van Dijk (Pepe outran the ball, and Liverpool got it back). Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came close, chipping it just wide off an awkward volley after keeper Adrian inexplicably left the net, and Pepe got himself into shooting range again before an inadvertent handball ended the play. At twenty minutes in, Pepe had led three of Arsenal’s four forays into enemy territory.
Bernd Leno, already on high alert, ate a hard shot from Sadio Mane and immediately popped back up to absorb more Liverpool pressure. Mane had acres of space after collecting the ball from Dani Ceballos, who had badly misplaced a pass. Liverpool had spent almost the entire game up to that point in Arsenal’s half, but they didn’t quite look like themselves—until that Mane shot, they hadn’t had a clean chance.
Everyone got a breather while the VAR officials checked for a potential red card—no cards were given—and when play restarted, it was Pepe again, flying up the pitch with just a single Liverpool defender ahead of him. But he couldn’t finish, sending the ball low and straight at Adrian, and soon after, Liverpool’s constant pressure paid off. Joel Matip scored on a perfectly executed corner, giving Leno no chance and Liverpool a 1-0 lead at the half.
Liverpool started the second half as they had ended the first one, drawing a save from Leno twenty seconds in. And two minutes later, the Arsenal keeper was hung out to dry when David Luiz gave up a penalty tugging on Mohamed Salah’s shirt. In an instant, Arsenal’s road back to the points had doubled in length.
To the Gunners’ credit, they kept trying to free Pepe and Aubameyang at the other end of the pitch. But Pepe was swarmed by defenders, Auba took too long to shoot and was offside anyway, and soon enough they found themselves in an even deeper hole.
Salah missed an open header to extend Liverpool’s lead, sending it looping into the stands, but he made up for it with half an hour to go. After dropping Luiz and Nacho Monreal, he shot past Leno at the far post for Liverpool’s third goal. That seemed to take the wind out of Arsenal’s sails—they started giving Liverpool more open looks at goal, and they couldn’t turn Pepe or Auba loose like they had in the first half.
I’m not sure what Arsenal’s strongest lineup is anymore, but this definitely wasn’t its strongest attack—that would have included Alexandre Lacazette. Laca can score while falling down, surrounded by defenders, through gaps not much wider than the ball, and while it’s impossible to say for certain, one gets the sense that he might have converted one or two of the chances that Pepe and Auba missed. For reasons only Unai Emery understands, Lacazette didn’t see the pitch until the 80th minute. Games against Liverpool turn into shootouts, and the Gunners could have given themselves a better chance with all three of their starting forwards out there—at the very least from 2-0 onward.
With six minutes to go, Liverpool got a bit sloppy. Lucas Torreira, first off the bench for Arsenal, got a second chance after a poor clearance and skipped one past Adrian to get the Gunners on the board. But that was the only time Arsenal would find the back of the net, and the final whistle came at 3-1.
Are there any positives we can take from this match? Sure—Nicolas Pepe, once he adjusts to Premier League defenders who’ll straight up knock him over, is capable of carving up opposing sides. He gave Liverpool plenty of problems today without too much assistance from anyone else—against most other teams, he’ll have even more time and space to link up with players like Lacazette or to go for goal himself. And Arsenal didn’t play too badly in the first half; with better adjustments, this game might have ended very differently.
Arsenal head back home for the first North London Derby of the year on Sunday, September 1. In the meantime, come rate players with us, and cross your fingers for a few more goals next time.