When Alexandre Lacazette scored to give Arsenal a surprise first half-lead an Anfield, the impenetrable fortress that serves as the home of Premier League champion Liverpool, it was fair to wonder if Monday’s marquee contest would be the next surprising result in a weekend chock full of them.
Giants have fallen across Europe over the last few days. Reigning Champions League winner Bayern Munich got spanked 4-1 by Hoffenheim. Later Sunday, Prem runner-up Man City shipped five goals in an upset loss to Leicester. The previous day, only a 93rd-minute equalizer spared Chelsea — which trailed West Brom 3-0 at halftime — from an embarrassing defeat.
Not Liverpool. Three minutes hadn’t even passed after Lacazette’s opener and these Reds were back on level terms thanks to Sadio Mané. Before the halftime whistle sounded, Jurgen Klopp’s side had taken a lead they would never relinquish, with fullback Andy Robertson’s 34th-minute strike standing up as the game-winner in a 3-1 victory that extended Liverpool’s home unbeaten streak in the Premier League to an unfathomable 62 games:
Here are three quick thoughts on the match.
Arsenal couldn’t capitalize on its advantage
As incredible as Liverpool has been at home, there was a sense coming into the contest that the Gunners presented a unique threat. Klopp’s men had failed to beat Arsenal in their last two meetings, after all, including a loss at Wembley Stadium last month in the Community Shield.
That feeling only intensified after Lacazette took advantage of a mistake by Robertson to put Arsenal in front against the run of play:
Had Arsenal, which despite an eighth-place finish last season has the look of a team on the upswing under young manager Mikel Arteta, been able to hold onto its lead for longer, perhaps it would’ve been able to catch the Reds on a counterattack and add a second.
But Liverpool had been utterly dominant to that point, and the early wound only strengthened its resolve to find an equalizer, which Mane did. On the other side of the midfield, you could see shoulders slump. The match was tied, but a loss seemed all but inevitable for the visitors at that point.
Arsenal has improved under Arteta, make no mistake. And the out-gunned Gunners do deserve credit for hanging around until Diogo Jota sealed the outcome by scoring Liverpool’s third goal with two minutes of regular time to go. The cold hard truth, though, is that even on a sometimes sloppy day (more on that in a second), Liverpool was in an entirely different class.
Despite the scoreline, Liverpool far from its devastating best
It says a lot about how good the Reds are that they could win going away after conceding first against one of England’s biggest clubs and still somehow underwhelm. Yet we’ve come to expect nothing short of excellence from Mane and Co., over the last two seasons, which have included Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup titles along with Liverpool’s first domestic crown in 30 years.
Had the hosts been just a little sharper, Monday’s final could’ve been 5-1, easy. (To be fair, Lacazette also missed a golden chance after his goal.) But the Reds still showed flashes of ruthlessness going forward, like on the equalizer, which came after Bernd Leno had saved Mohamed Salah’s initial effort:
Also, like all top teams, Liverpool took what it was given. Opportunistic as Robertson’s winner was, so was the capper by debutant Jota, the end of a sequence that began when Arsenal’s veteran center back David Luiz failed to clear a ball far enough up the field:
Thursday’s rematch should be fun
In an incredible scheduling quirk this coronavirus-condensed campaign, Liverpool and Arsenal will meet again at Anfield in just three days, this time in the last 16 of the League Cup.
Given the fixture crunch, both managers are expected to make lineup changes, understandable given that the Prem and European competitions (Champions League for the Reds, Europa League for the Gunners) are the main priority. Still, it will be fascinating theater to see these two sides face off again for the third time in quick succession.
An upset in that one is likelier for Arsenal, to be sure. And while Monday’s rout provided a lesson about how far Arteta’s team still has to go to truly compete with Liverpool and Man City and return to its early-2000s peak, victory would both help take the sting out of Monday and give the Gunners a needed morale boost ahead of the many tough Premier League tests that lie ahead.
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