14 August 2016

Liverpool 4-3 Arsenal

Walcott 31'
Coutinho 45+1' 56'
Lallana 49'
Mané 63'
Oxlade-Chamberlain 64'
Chambers 76'

If we're in for 38 matches like there, I'm not gonna make it. None of us will. No one gets out of here alive.

That was bananas. And wholly unexpected after a tire fire of a first half. Arsenal were no great shakes – not atypical in an opening day match – but Liverpool's midfield was broken, Liverpool couldn't piece together few-and-far-between bits of promise in attack, and Liverpool continued to do some incredibly dumb things in its own half.

It started, unsurprisingly, with Alberto Moreno, our new favorite scapegoat. And, at times, rightfully so. Like when he brainlessly dives in on Walcott after Henderson's failed clearance on the edge of the box, a clear, needless penalty.

Mignolet saved Walcott's mediocre spot kick, but we weren't out of the woods. Ball don't lie, etc. Barely a minute later, Lallana turned into traffic when trying to play out of defense and is cleverly robbed by Coquelin, his tackle falling to Iwobi, who found Walcott in miles of space where Moreno should have been. To be slightly fairer to our new favorite scapegoat, his job is often to burst forward quickly, providing width and an outlet down the left, but you can't help but think he should be smarter in that position. Maybe wait under Liverpool actually establish some semblance of possession? This time, Walcott made no mistake with this finish, arrowed into the far corner under Lovren's attempted block and a sprawling goalkeeper.

But Coutinho single-handedly redeemed the half, winning a foul on 45 minutes before smashing in an unstoppable free kick from 30 yards out. Our magical unicorn, once again attempting to score Liverpool's goal of the season in the first match of said season, for the second year running. Level at intermission and lucky to be so.

And there was that second half. That's what Liverpool are capable of, for both good and evil. Three goals in less than 15 minutes and nearly a fourth. Then two goals conceded in 11 minutes, from switching off and then a set play.

Coutinho remained the epicenter of everything good in attack, first releasing Wijnaldum with a typically tricky blind outside-of-the-boot throughball. Wijnaldum crossed to Lallana, seemingly losing the opportunity by taking it on his chest but actually creating the space to get away from Monreal and somehow beat Cech at the near post. Seven minutes later, Coutinho finished off a 19-pass move, charging into the box to convert Clyne's low cross in front of a slow-to-react Rob Holding. And two minutes after that, he should have had a hat-trick, but a shot similar to his previous goal was a foot too close to Cech.

Thankfully, Mané soon got Liverpool's fourth, a move that almost immediately justified both his price tag and hype. Lallana's pass over the top found him in space, his speed taking him behind both Monreal and Chambers before his footwork took him around and through Monreal and Chambers, cutting in from wide right before unleashing a rocket left-footer. That's what he was bought for: a release valve over the top, pace, trickery, and goals goals goals with either foot.

Liverpool would need that fourth.

That should have been it. Liverpool were three up against a demoralized Arsenal, who had also lost both Iwobi and Ramsey through injury. But, because Liverpool, it wasn't, and because Arsenal, it was the accidental substitutes who changed the game.

First, with Liverpool still glorying in their fourth goal, Oxlade-Chamberlain broke down Liverpool's right, released by the other substitute Cazorla, somehow cutting between Clyne and Lallana before a deflected shot squirmed past Mignolet. Then, with Arsenal actually almost starting to believe, and at least reasserting possession and control, Liverpool failed when defending a set play. To be fair, it was immaculate delivery by Cazorla and Chambers jumping highest; well-taken and well-scored. There was little that Liverpool could do about it aside from not conceding the free kick in the first place. Shit happens. But shit happens to Liverpool too often.

Sigh. There were still 15 minutes plus injury time to go. Liverpool were rocking, and all the memories of Southampton, Newcastle, etc. from last season came roaring back.

But for all the nail-biting and heart palpitations, Arsenal didn't take a shot after scoring their third. Substitutes Can and Origi were a massive factor in that: the former calming and solidifying the midfield, the latter both a bother and holding play up well when Liverpool hoofed clear. The back four looked miles better, especially Klavan and our new favorite scapegoat, making sure the speedy Walcott and Bellerin had little space on that flank. Liverpool won free kicks and corners and Liverpool time-wasted. By hook and by crook, Liverpool held on.

Deep breaths. It was the best of Liverpool and the worst of Liverpool, the back-to-back 90 minutes against Barcelona and Mainz smashed into a single match. It was Liverpool's potential up front but Liverpool's terror at the back, but it was also the same surprising ability to kill the game that we saw at Dortmund last season.

Liverpool almost never win at Arsenal. Before today, they'd done it just once in the last 15 years, in 20 visits. No matter if Arsenal were missing their three best center-backs, no matter if it's the first game of the season, no matter if Liverpool came too close for comfort to losing a three-goal lead. Any win at Arsenal is a good win.

As we saw in preseason and hoped was true, there's a real team in there. There's a very, very capable blitzkrieg attack, ability in midfield, and the defense really doesn't look bad most of the time as long as no one does something dumb. For all the flaws, this is a very promising start. But Liverpool still have quite a long way to go to put it all together.

Liverpool just scored four goals at Arsenal and won there for just the second time in 15 years, and still have that much room to potentially grow.

1 comment :

drew said...

Wonder if the extra Arsenal goals might not actually help in the long term—you go and whip a competitor 4-1 or 5-2 on their patch (which it easily would have been if Coutinho hadn't cramped just then), then maybe you think everything's pretty all right for the season. But now even the gaffer admits he got carried away, I don't think anyone will be taking the boot off the throat anytime soon.

Obviously you never want to concede, but it might be the sort of lesson that produces a lot more multi-goal wins down the line.