For about 60 minutes today, Arsenal went toe-to-toe with Liverpool. The Gunners might even have been slightly the better team. But they didn’t convert their chances at 0-0. Liverpool did. That was the difference in the match. Two mistakes harshly punished and that was that. The loss snaps Arsenal’s Premier League winning streak but shouldn’t make much of a difference in the table overall — the Gunners still control their own fate to finish fourth.
Arsenal got fantastic performances on the evening from Thomas Partey and Gabriel Martinelli. Partey did what he’s made a habit of doing since early December when he called himself out for not playing well — win the ball, move it up the pitch, and generally control the tempo. Martinelli tormented Trent Alexander-Arnold down the flank all evening, regularly making his 1-v-1 “defending” look foolish. He also nearly had a goal himself late-on but curled his effort just wide of the far post.
Martinelli would have had at least one assist (and possibly more) if Arsenal had a more dynamic striker leading the line. Alexandre Lacazette’s physical limitations were on full display today. He was too slow with the ball at his feet, didn’t make himself available in the box, and couldn’t get across the face of his marker. The one chance he did create by intercepting an errant back pass, Martin Ødegaard wasn’t able to convert. Arsenal need more from the #9 spot.
Contrast Lacazette’s performance with the Liverpool central attackers. Diogo Jota made a great run down the middle and beat Arsenal’s CBs for pace for the first goal. Roberto Firmino got across his marker on a cutback for the second. Alexandre Lacazette doesn’t do those things anymore, and Arsenal are in dire need of an upgrade this summer.
That’s not to say that Alexandre Lacazette was the reason Arsenal lost today, far from it. Aaron Ramsdale got beat at the near post on the first goal. I’m not sure if he was leaning, if his positioning was off, or if he just missed the ball, but that can’t happen. Even the best keepers make mistakes. Ramsdale just picked an unfortunate time to make one of his.
Cedric was partially to blame for both goals. On the first, he stayed way too far wide, marking empty space. He could have tucked in to track Jota’s run. On the second, he took off up the field, trying to get into a counter that hadn’t developed yet. When Bukayo Saka’s clearance was blocked (and bounced fortunately right into the path of Robertson instead of into touch or literally anywhere else), Cedric was way out of position.
On that second goal, Saka needs to do better with the clearance. Any of the two or three Arsenal defenders who had a chance to clear earlier in the move needed to do better, too. That goal should not have happened. The ball should have been cleared well before.
You can’t make those kind of mistakes against Liverpool, Manchester City, or any of the other top teams. They will get punished, as we saw today. It’s one thing to get beaten by top class players making great plays. It’s another to concede cheap goals on mistakes and lapses in concentration.
Similarly, you have to convert your chances. Liverpool had three shots on target and scored two goals. Arsenal had two shots on target and didn’t score. You can’t have Gabriel Martinelli twice putting the ball across the face, perfectly set up for somebody to bang home, not score on either, and hope to get a result.
The good news for Arsenal is that those things will come with time. The team is young. They will up their level and eliminate the lapses in concentration. The attackers will become more clinical in front of goal. Limited players like Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka (who was fine, limited in what he contributed, but not a negative) will be replaced next season with younger, more dynamic players (hopefully). With Takehiro Tomiyasu back healthy, Cedric doesn’t play. And Aaron Ramsdale won’t give up many cheap goals like the first.
Today’s loss is a blip. I expect the team to get right back to winning against Aston Villa this weekend.