Liverpool 3 Arsenal 1: Arsene Wenger loses top four spot as Alexis Sanchez cannot prevent Anfield defeat

James Benge
Liverpool FC via Getty Images

A disastrous first half saw Arsenal slip out of the Premier League’s top four as they lost 3-1 to Liverpool at Anfield.

Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored in an opening period where Liverpool tore their visitors, who had left top scorer Alexis Sanchez on the bench.

The Chilean’s introduction inspired Arsenal to fight back as he provided an assist for Danny Welbeck but the Gunners were unable to find an equaliser as Georginio Wijnaldum netted on the counter in injury time.

Pre-match the debate started and ended with Arsene Wenger’s decision to bench Alexis Sanchez, with Mesut Ozil having been left in London as he recovered from the flu. Olivier Giroud led the line in the Chilean’s stead.

There was a degree of logic to Wenger’s selection and it was at least apparent in the early stages that Arsenal had a plan, not something that can always be said of them on their visits to top six rivals. Giroud would allow them to break Liverpool’s press through long balls, with Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain providing bursts of pace and defensive endeavour.

Arsenal lined up in a 4-5-1 without the ball, Alex Iwobi slipping back into midfield. The gameplan made sense but then so did their inability to play to it.

Within nine minutes Liverpool had exposed the soft heart of Arsenal’s defence. Laurent Koscielny lost out from a goal kick and Jurgen Klopp’s explosive attacking trident were three on three with the rest of the Gunners defence. Mane fizzed a cross-shot to the back post, where Firmino had the time to take a touch before lifting his effort over Petr Cech.

(Getty Images)

The Arsenal goalkeeper was perhaps the only player to leave the pitch at the interval with any sort of credit after a fine save from Philippe Coutinho, who ought to have had a hat-trick in the first half as he spurned several chances.

Further forward, on the rare occasions that Arsenal managed to find their way past the Adam Lallana-led press, the Gunners couldn’t even play to their gameplan. Not a single touch in the area in the first 45 minutes and Giroud could scarcely muster a touch. How could you blame him though, on only one occasion did he have a cross to compete for and he then at least forced Simon Mignolet to flap at a cross.

That moment was the eye of the storm, the only second when Liverpool’s remorseless first-half whirlwind was dulled. Arsenal did however seem like they might get away with it and hold on until half-time.

But Alex Iwobi failed to track his runner on the far side of the pitch as James Milner burst down the lift. Georginio Wijnaldum and Firmino quickly switched the ball across the box, where Mane was waiting to hammer home the second.

(Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Wenger blinked at the half, as he had to. Francis Coquelin made way for Sanchez after 45 minutes in which he failed to shield the Arsenal back four, winning just a solitary tackle.

The dynamic shifted immediately. Sanchez crossed twice in three minutes. Mignolet flapped at the first. Giroud met the second with an excellent header that the Liverpool goalkeeper palmed on to the bar.

Though Liverpool continued to ask questions of their endeavour was to be their undoing. At 2-0 up they had committed far too many to an attack and Arsenal pounced. Sanchez slipped through Danny Welbeck. Sold by Manchester United because of his poor finishing he delivered a delightful chip over Mignolet to drag the visitors back into the contest.

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Both sides continued to chase another, leaving the space for their opponents to counter into but without either side quite making a clear cut chance, though the excellent Coutinho laid one on a plate for Joel Matip, who made minimal contact with his header from a wide free-kick.

Lallana was to provide the outstanding moment of the game in its closing seconds, pinging an outside of the boot pass to substitute Divock Origi. The Belgian crossed low, Wijnaldum tapped home and a thoroughly deserved victory was secured.

Arsenal should have been the beneficiary of a man advantage for the final 15 minutes when Matip and Emre Can, already booked for a cynical foul on Sanchez, slid in on Theo Walcott. Only Granit Xhaka was put in the book for his protestations.

Wenger may point to that as evidence of why luck was not on his side tonight but this defeat was down to more than chance. As is so often the case with Arsenal they put in a high-quality display against a high-quality opponent. They just waited until the contest was over to do so.

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