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Arsenal 2 - Liverpool 2 match report: bummer

A point at Anfield is good, but the way it came is disappointing.

Liverpool FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Talk about a draw that feels like a loss. Arsenal hadn’t managed a point at Anfield since 2012, but the Gunners come away feeling like they should have taken all three points. They’ll also probably come away feeling like they escaped with a point.

At 2-0 up, Arsenal were in full control. Liverpool looked as if they couldn’t be bothered and Anfield was dead. A few uncalled fouls later, Granit Xhaka lost his cool and left something on Trent Alexander-Arnold (and I’m now seeing that TAA popped Xhaka first, which may have led to him retaliating). The ensuing fracas woke Liverpool and the crowd up, and the Gunners never reasserted themselves in the match.

Xhaka can’t respond like that, but at the same time, can you really blame him? Arsenal were being clattered all over the pitch and getting no protection whilst Liverpool were going down at the slightest touch and getting the calls. At some point, you’re going to take matters into your own hands. It’s human nature.

Arsenal were on the back foot from that moment on. Liverpool’s physical play fouling anything that moved worked. It got the Gunners off their game, woke themselves up, and brought the crowd into it. It says a lot about the polar shift between the two clubs that Liverpool had to resort to the Dark Arts to get anything from the match. They’re a far cry from the defensively stout, high-flying attacking side that they used to be. And that change is reflected in the 50-point difference between how far Liverpool were ahead of Arsenal last season to how far Arsenal are ahead of Liverpool this year.

Liverpool couldn’t play football with Arsenal today. That was patently clear from the opening whistle. They had no answer for the devastating speed of the Arsenal attack. The Arsenal midfield was carving them up and the wingers were torching them around the outside. Their only chance was to turn it into an emotional slugfest, and they succeeded in doing that.

Arsenal were not allowed to match Liverpool’s physicality without being called for fouls. Ibrahima Konate being able to make multiple carbon-copy challenges to one that got Ben White an early yellow card (which significantly reduced the right back’s influence on the match), without being whistled for so much as a foul. Liverpool defenders regularly came through the back of Arsenal attackers without incident, but when Diogo Jota created contact with Rob Holding and went to ground, Liverpool got a penalty. Fortunately, ball don’t lie and Mo Salah put his attempt wide. And have some shame, Mo Salah. That dive in added time was pathetic.

Overall, Arsenal did well to hold onto their point in the second half. Aaron Ramsdale was magnificent. He made several world-class saves to keep Arsenal in it. His angles were perfect. His keeping against breakaways were perfect. And he used every inch of his 6’2 frame to keep the ball out. Gabriel Magalhaes and Rob Holding were strong, too. Big Gabby had a great game against Mo Salah.

That Arsenal couldn’t muster more consistent attacking pressure in the second half was disappointing. Three of Liverpool’s four defenders were on bookings, but the Gunners didn’t do enough to make that an issue. You’d like to see Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, and Gabriel Martinelli really go at their markers. Drive at them, dribble into the box and make them commit. Force them to get the tackle right or risk getting sent off.

Speaking of sending offs, it’s a wonder that Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t get a second yellow late in the second half / added time when Gabriel Martinelli went around him at midfield on an Arsenal break. TAA grabbed the Arsenal attacker who fought through the challenge and advantage was played. The referee should have come back after the play to give the Liverpool defender his walking papers. It probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but man was I going to be furious if TAA created the game-winning chance. And he nearly did.

Despite Liverpool having the better of the action in the second half, the Gunners had their chances to win it, too. Gabriel Martinelli’s cross for Bukayo Saka was barely cut out by a sliding Andy Robertson. Kieran Tierney chose to lash a shot wide when a simple pass into space for Gabriel Martinelli would have almost surely been a goal. Martinelli couldn’t pick out a wide open Saka in added time that would have been a breakaway for the winner. It’s a bummer that missed pass takes some of the shine off Martinelli’s performance. He was excellent, by far the best attacker for #Arsenal on the afternoon.

You have to question Mikel Arteta’s substitution choices in the second half. Liverpool didn’t have a single shot in the 22 minutes leading up to the changes. Taking off Martin Ødegaard, who, to be fair, was disappointingly anonymous and not influential in the match, and not replacing him with Jorginho meant that Arsenal had even less control in the center of the pitch. Even with Jorginho’s defensive shortcomings, the Gunners desperately needed someone in the middle of the park to clog things up and control the ball. Thomas Partey can usually manage that himself, but today, against a Liverpool midfield you’d expect him to dominate, he was more of a passenger than a driver.

Bringing on Jakub Kiwior (and changing the shape) is also a head-scratcher. Defending a one-goal lead is a heck of a time to give a guy his Premier League debut. That change also pushed Alex Zinchenko further wide, and he got badly beat for the equalizer. If you’re going to play three CBs and with traditional fullbacks, Kieran Tierney makes much more sense. I don’t think he gets beat like that. I also think he waited too long to bring Leandro Trossard on, for what it’s worth. The Belgian didn’t have enough time to make an impact, and with his recent form, you’d count on him to create a chance or two.

Before the match, you’d have taken a point. It was really hard to predict how the match would play out. A blowout either way or a high-scoring draw felt like possible outcomes. Drawing after leading 2-0 doesn’t feel great, but Arsenal still control their own destiny. If they win out, they win the league. If they draw Manchester City, they probably win it, too. The Gunners are six points clear (should be 8 but they forgot to draw the lines) at the top with eight matches to play. Up the Arsenal.