Arsenal “saved” their Premier League title challenge with a resounding 3-1 win over Liverpool at the Emirates. The Gunners were head and shoulders the better team on the afternoon. The win takes Arsenal (49) to within two points of Liverpool (51) at the top of the table, although Manchester City (46) currently have two games in hand.
Arsenal’s resilience after gifting Liverpool a cheap, lucky goal right before halftime was magnificent. It was the type of goal that completely changes games, but Arsenal didn’t let that happen. The visitors came out on the front foot to start the second half, but the Gunners weathered the storm, limiting them to just one shot on target. They retook the lead with a fortunate goal of their own (finally) and never looked back.
Liverpool did not have an effort on target after Arsenal went up 2-1, for more than 30 minutes if you included the added time. In fact, Liverpool did not have a touch in the Arsenal penalty area for a critical 20-minute stretch of the half until a well-defended Darwin Nunez was forced into lashing a wild shot well off frame. The horrendous mistakes on the first goal aside, the Arsenal defense was superb. Jakub Kiwior, who came on at halftime for Oleksandr Zinchenko (unclear why, injury problem perhaps?) was quite good, even if he should have scored on a completely free header.
Arsenal shut down arguably the best attack in the Premier League. In the previous meetings this season, Liverpool had been able to push the pace and play the game they wanted to play, creating chaos that turns into chances and goals. Today, the Gunners controlled the match, dictated the tempo, and were the more dangerous side on the break.
A great deal of credit for that belongs to Jorginho, who was outstanding. His presence in the center of the pitch was instrumental to Arsenal’s success. It seems as if whenever Liverpool tried to ramp up the pressure, he was there to provide an extra outlet to relieve it or calmly making the correct passing decision to break the press. Jorginho’s sound, positional play also frees up Declan Rice to do what he does best — maraud around the park, wreck opposing attacks, and protect his defense.
Kai Havertz’s presence, ability to find space to receive the ball from the midfield, and hold up play on longer balls was also key to Arsenal’s control. The big German was particularly good in the second half, putting himself about, mixing it up physically with Liverpool’s defenders, and gumming up the middle of the park.
The effort from Arsenal’s central players freed up the stars on the wings. Both Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli caused problems with the time and space they had in wide areas. It seemed as if the long diagonal to Martinelli was always on, and it indirectly led to the first goal. Minutes before Bukayo Saka tucked away the rebound from Kai Havertz’s shot, Martinelli had gotten behind Trent Alexander-Arnold, who continues to be a defender in name only, and beaten Ibrahima Konate for pace. On the next attack, Martinelli’s presence wide had Konate looking over his shoulder and dropping deeper. That break in the Liverpool defensive line created the space and kept Havertz onside for Martin Ødegaard to pick out with a through ball.
Martinelli’s pace and willingness to run created the second goal, too. He chased a long ball over the top, creating chaos that contributed to a miscommunication between Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson. Both Liverpool men missed the ball and Martinelli deposited it into the empty net.
That goal might have been karma evening out. Liverpool’s goal right before the half was a similar miscommunication between keeper and centerback coupled with a lucky bounce. William Saliba tried to shield Luis Diaz off the ball so that David Raya could collect it. Raya didn’t come for it, likely expecting Saliba to clear it, which it looked as if he could have done without much trouble. Instead, the ball bounced around in the area, and Diaz’s hopeful stab at it took it off Gabriel’s arm (not a handball) and into the back of the net.
Liverpool are a very good side. They’ve also been incredibly lucky this season in terms of bounces and deflections. If you want to win the Premier League, you need that kind of luck. It was a relief to see that aspect come out even today. It feels as if Arsenal have gotten precious few good bounces this year.
Leandro Trossard, whose substitution for Gabriel Martinelli I didn’t particularly like at the time, salted the game away for the Gunners. He found himself matched up with Harvey Elliot and Luis Diaz on the right flank (no clue where Andy Robertson had gotten to) and skinned them both, nutmegging Elliot. He carried it into the box, looked up for a teammate, but nobody was there. So Trossard took it himself and a slight deflection off VVD’s foot took it through Alisson’s legs, game over. It was the Brazilian keepers second major error on the evening. Even with the small change in direction, he should be stopping that. What a time for one of the best keepers in the Premier League to put up a stinker, right?
Coming into today, Liverpool had won every match in the Premier League since Mo Salah joined the club in 2017 in which the star winger wasn’t available. No longer.
Today was as close to a must-win game as you’re ever going to have in a match that couldn’t actually mathematically eliminate your club from contention. And Arsenal stepped up and showed out. They put in one of their best performances of the season, blowing the title race wide open. Any one of Arsenal, Liverpool, or Manchester City could go on to win the Premier League now. Being right in the thick of it is a really good feeling.