Arsenal 3 (Walcott 31, Chamberlain 64, Chambers 75) – Liverpool 4 (Coutinho 45, Lallana 49, Coutinho 56, Mane 63)
Man of the Match – Phillipe Coutinho (Liverpool)
In the end, it was all too predictable. Another season opener, and more moans and groans from the Arsenal faithful, urging the club to splash some much needed cash. If last season reminded us what we lacked in our team, last evening was a reminder of how unprepared the squad looks ahead of what looks like the toughest Premier League season in recent history.
With Petr Cech our only signing last season, we ended up losing to a West Ham side on opening day last season. A West Ham side that had a 16 year old midfielder, Reece Oxford, debutant Dimitri Payet and Birmingham reject Mauro Zarate in their starting lineup. Even a late Alexis cameo wasn’t enough to salvage anything from a 2-0 loss. 3 years back, we lost at home to Aston Villa, after going down to 10 men.
The age old argument that our first day performances are affected by the activity in the summer, in this case the Euro’s, Copa America etc. But, that is true for all teams, and not only Arsenal. Add to that, our injury concerns. With Danny Welbeck out for a good part of the year, Olivier Giroud still recuperating from the Euro’s, Theo Walcott being a bit poo, and our only strikers being rookies Yaya Sanogo and Chuba Akpom, it cries in desperation for the signing of a striker. And our pursuits of Messrs Vardy, Lacazette and Higuain indicated that we were going to patch up that hole. But, instead we play Alexis Sanchez out of position as a striker on the opening weekend. A player who loves hogging the ball, in a position where he is now expected to latch on to anything from midfield and win headers against a tall centre back partnership of Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan.
Per Mertesacker injured himself in a pre-season game against Lens, and Gabriel recently in a pre-season win against Manchester City at Gothenburg. Yet, we only had two Under-21 England defenders in Callum Chambers and Rob Holding, playing in central defence against a skilful attack that boasted names such as Coutinho, Firmino and £34 million acquisition from Southampton, Sadio Mane. Quite baffling was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey and Alex Iwobi in the squad. You would have though the manager would have started instead with Santi Cazorla, who has had a full pre-season, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has been our best player in pre-season.
What is sad is that the deficiencies are there for everyone to see, yet no one seems to be take retrospective action in order to fix those issues, which are plaguing the team. Yes, we have a deep squad. But, quite clearly, we were short on Day 1, a day when you need to put a marker on your ambitions for the season.
To the game, then. Arsene Wenger opted to start with Rob Holding and Callum Chambers in defence. Ideally, a partnership of Holding/Chambers and Monreal, with Kieran Gibbs at left back would have made more sense. In midfield, Francis Coquelin started alongside Mohamed Elneny. Arsenal made the brighter start, on a sunny evening at the Emirates, zipping the ball around in confidence, against a Liverpool side that were happy to allow the Gunners to play in front of them.
Aaron Ramsey had the first attempt on goal, after combining with Alexis Sanchez, but his effort went straight at Belgian keeper Simon Mignolet. Nathaniel Clyne, then dragged an effort straight into the safe palms of Petr Cech. Ramsey had another go from way out, when he spotted Mignolet off the line, but it was wayward in the least; when instead he could have played in Walcott who would have been in an one-on-one situation.
Roberto Firmino, sporting a ponytail, had a shot from distance, before Adam Lallana was booked for a challenge on Ramsey. Minutes later, Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Spanish left back Alberto Moreno bought down Theo Walcott in the box. The England striker/right winger stepped up to take the penalty, but it was easily palmed away by Mignolet, much to the groan of Gooners all around the globe, including me. With abuses being hurled in from all over, Walcott made up for his earlier miss, as he was played in by Alex Iwobi, after Francis Coquelin robbed Lallana of the ball. He created a bit of space, evaded his marker Moreno and finished past Mignolet at the far post. It was 1-0 on 31 minutes, and Arsenal were in the ascendancy.
Liverpool saw a bit more of the ball after Walcott’s goal, and after a string of passes, Firmino could only pull an effort wide. A mistake from Chambers could have proven costly, but Georgio Wijnaldum’s effort was tame. Lovren then picked up a yellow for a foul on Alexis, and the Chilean’s effort was wide from the resulting free kick. Callum Chambers then saw his header from a corner go wide as well.
When it seemed like the Gunners would go in to the dressing rooms at half-time, with a 1-0 lead, a free-kick was awarded to Liverpool just outside the box, after Holding was harshly adjudged to have fouled some Liverpool bloke. Coutinho stepped up and found the top corner with aplomb. It was a thing of beauty, and things were back on level terms. By the passage of play, Arsenal deserved the lead at the break.
The second half began badly for Arsenal, as Wijnaldum was released into Arsenal’s penalty area, and he spotted the run of Lallana, who calmly chested the ball and put the ball into the back of the net. It was 2-1 to Liverpool. The visiting side then took complete control of the game, and put in a string of passes, which culminated in a Clyne cross from the right, side-footed in by Coutinho to make it 3-1 to Liverpool.
The home side and supporters seemed shocked at what they had just seen. But, there was still more to come from a rampant Liverpool. Another cross came in from the right, and Cech was in the right place to save from what would have been a tap-in from Firminho. Adam Lallana couldn’t take advantage of the loose ball. However, in a matter of minutes, Saido Mane bamboozled three fourth’s of Arsenal’s defence, to release a left-footed screamer past Cech on 63 minutes. 4-1 to Liverpool.
Arsenal managed to pull one back, though; when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, on for the injured Iwobi cut between to Liverpool defenders to put one past Mignolet on the near post. It was a fine goal. Santi Cazorla, also on for Aaron Ramsey tried to infuse some creativity and urgency into the team, and new signing Granit Xhaka also got a chance to strut around, when he came in for Elneny on 66 minutes. Emre Can came in for Coutinho in the 70th minute. An effort from Cazorla went over, before the Spaniard’s free kick was deflected in by Callum Chambers to make it 3-4 on 75 minutes.
It seems like Arsenal would complete an improbable comeback, but Liverpool looked organized and allowed little in terms of space, despite playing the error prone Alberto Moreno. Jurgen Klopp threw on Belgian striker Divock Origi in place of Lallana to create an attacking outlet in the 76th minute. Arsenal huffed and puffed, with Liverpool closing most of the attacks down.
When Arsenal did manage to put in a good move together, Theo Walcott tripped and fell over the ball, having been in a good position in between two defenders. Another late move collapsed when Santi Cazorla’s pass/cross struck Nacho Monreal to go for a goalkick. All in all, it was a poor start to a season, where expectations seem to be pretty low. A clear indication of lack of preparedness in terms of the squad as well as fitness and match-readiness was on display.
But, what a result for Liverpool. An opening day win at a ground of a rival, scoring 4 goals, including 2 for star man Coutinho. It’s back to the drawing board for Arsene Wenger and Co., as they face a daunting trip to champions Leicester next weekend, who are also smarting from an opening day loss to Hull.
Things have been pretty quiet on the blog lately. In fact, very quiet. Last season, I barely struggled to put any timely articles up, and I will sincerely attempt to update more often.
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