It’s another of those where to begin? Write-ups of an Arsenal game. The quality of the attack, with a brace from Martinelli, a pearl from Joe Willock and a triumphant return for a motivated Mesut Ozil? Or the reality that Arsenal gave up a two goal lead twice, were in the lead going into injury time, and conceded five goals?
Let’s start with the entertainment factor anyway, as last night’s game Carabao Cup 4th Round tie at Anfield was further confirmation that, as box office goes, you cannot beat putting the Gunners on top billing. Because you are going to get something from your 90 minutes. It’s like a game of bingo, and if you enjoy playing that, you can get a heart bingo promo code before the next time you play. As for Arsenal, you can never predict exactly what will develop, but there are certain things you can rule out. One of those is any semblance of defensive stability. Another is positional discipline. And of course, a 90 minutes without at least one mad moment.
Shkodran Mustafi provided the latter with a classic ‘Mustafi Moment’. Rather than making a suicidal challenge to concede a penalty, on this occasion it was a farcical own goal, not trusting his left foot to take care of what should have been a routine clearance, missing it with his leading right and then seeing the ball cannon in off his knee past a hapless Damien Martinez. This is why Unai Emery was trying to offload him in the summer. And this is why there were no takers. It’s still a mystery as to how he made Germany’s victorious 2014 World Cup squad. He was playing for Sampdoria in Italy at the time.
Still, no matter. VAR wasn’t in operation last night, which meant that Lucas Torreira’s equalizer stood, even though he should have been flagged off. Mesut Ozil played a significant part in the build up to this goal, with good play on the right flank. The home section went quiet, and I enjoyed hearing an “Is this the Emirates?” chant from the travelling support. 2-1 shortly afterwards, with a Martinelli goal after good work from Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the right. It seems that when the Brazilian starts a game, he will score. He’s had a brilliant beginning to his Arsenal career, and we await bids for him next summer that will test the resolve of the powers that be at the club.
Astonishingly, Emery’s side doubled their lead with Ozil picking the pocket after 16-year-old Harvey Elliot made the kind of risky pass we see all too often in Arsenal’s own back line. He set up Saka to cross to Martinelli for his second goal. He had two decent further opportunities to make it a hat-trick, but it eluded him.
3-1? At Anfield? It all felt too easy.
VAR might have done Arsenal a favour when they equalized, but I was struggling to see any sign of contact when Martinelli attempted to get the ball from Elliot in the penalty area. Referee Andre Marriner thought otherwise, and Milner made it 3-2 before half-time.
Who could predict the second 45? Arsenal unquestionably had a stronger bench, as Klopp stuffed his with youngsters rather than insurance policies, demonstrating the lack of real significance the competition holds for the Liverpool boss. And things looked rosy for an away win when James Milner underhit a backpass, Ainsley Maitland-Niles pounced, and Mesut Ozil kept the move alive with a delightful backheel in front of the Arsenal fans. AMN simply had to tap home into an unguarded net. Two goals clear for the second time, in the game, surely now they could control proceedings and get in the hat for the quarter finals?
Er, no. 3 minutes later, Maitland-Niles was a little too relaxed clearing a ball in front of his penalty area, and the immutable law of the ex (whereby former players score against their old clubs) became the immutable law of the Ox, as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit a good half-volley over Damian Martinez. Five minutes later and the scores were level – Origi taking a long range shot which Martinez should have really saved, rather than simply deflecting into the net. The keeper was highly rated earlier in the season, but now, he’s looking a lot less solid. He was questionable for both of Origi’s goals last night (Spoiler alert – he’s not finished scoring yet).
Ozil was taken off for Guendouzi at 4-4. I honestly think this was a pre-planned substitution, and it may have even been made with Saturday’s game v Wolves in mind. Is Granit Xhaka likely to play? Torreira also came off – so we could see a midfield minus Xhaka, and given the relative lack of creativity, perhaps the formation might include Ozil, with Emery reverting to a 4-2-1-3 formation. Time will tell, but it's really difficult to envisage Xhaka playing will aid an Arsenal win… then again, most people would say that even without last weekend’s controversial events.
Arsenal’s last win at Anfield was back in 2012. Remember that? A 2-0 victory with goals from Podolski and Cazorla. It was the third Premier League game after the signings of Cazorla, Podolksi and Giroud (Robin van Persie having departed that summer), and you felt that it was the beginning of something special, not least because the recently promoted Steve Bould seemed to have stiffened up the team’s defensive resolve. Arsene reputedly got a bit miffed at Bouldy getting credit in the press and the rest is history. This was the season when the League Cup saw Arsenal beat Reading 7-5 after extra-time. Under the current rules, that game would have gone to penalties at 4-4, the score on 90 minutes. With the score at 4-4 last night, another Arsenal visit to Anfield floated into the memory, the Andrey Arshavin game. Another when the team were incapable of holding onto a lead…
There was of course still time for them to blow another one. Joe Willock scored an absolute pearler from range after 70 minutes, and for a while, it looked like his team could actually hold out. It wasn't until deep into five minutes of injury time that Origi scored his second and his team’s fifth, with a scissor kick that as stated earlier, Martinez should have done better with.
So penalties, the lottery (then again, every Arsenal game feels like a lottery these days) and Dani Ceballos drew the losing ticket, his penalty strong, in the corner, but at a savable height.
In the greater scheme of things, it’s not hugely significant. The competition is an opportunity to give game time to those not getting starts in the Premier League, although the Europa League last season provided 12 ties to do that before things got more serious at the semi-final stage, and of course the FA Cup comes around in January. So there will be enough opportunities to retain match fitness.
As for last night, well, it felt like typical Arsenal at any time over the last decade. Some great attacking play, but a failure to control a game they have done enough to win, and giving the opposition too many opportunities to score. That isn’t going to change under Unai sadly, and in the end, will probably mean the difference between playing Champions League next season, or not. I’m not optimistic, because the current head coach has had time to correct the problems with the team’s solidity, but there is little sign of improvement.
At the end of the day, Arsenal’s second stringers were beaten by a team with even less experience, especially when you look at the involvement of the substitutes on the respective sides. They did what was required in attack to win the game – I mean, five goals at Anfield! But it wasn’t enough.
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