29 December 2018

Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal

Maitland Niles 11'
Firmino 14' 16' 65' [pen]
Mané 32'
Salah 45+2' [pen]

We've lived through three full days of nothing but title talk. A seven-point gap with supposedly all-conquering Manchester City. A six-point gap with Tottenham, which could be nine because of their loss to Wolves earlier today. We're midway through the season and Liverpool top the league.

That's a lot of pressure for a Liverpool side which has capitulated in similar conditions in previous seasons. And that pressure's massively compounded by Arsenal opening the scoring in the 11th minute. Liverpool are forced into trying to play out from the back, not with heavy Arsenal pressing but with passing lanes very much blocked off. It's not quite lackadaisical but Liverpool certainly aren't at their sharpest. And they're warned a minute earlier when Fabinho's cross field pass is intercepted, with Iwobi's shot saved by Alisson. Less than a minute later, Lovren's skied clearance is picked off, Iwobi to Kolasinac to Iwobi, a low cross behind van Dijk and Robertson to Maitland-Niles at the back post.

It's the earliest goal Liverpool have conceded this season. It's just the third time they've conceded either an opening goal or a first-half goal in the league. It's absolutely a setback.

It ain't a setback for long.

Three minutes, in fact. There's Firmino, following up Salah's run into the box, in place to tap in following two deflections after Salah's tacked by Kolasinac. He played the pass into Salah and kept going, and he emphasized the finish with yet another no-look goal. Then there's Firmino again, slaloming through Arsenal's defense after Mané's pressing led to possession, putting both Mustafi and Sokratis on their butts before beating Leno. Two goals in two minutes from a player who hadn't scored at Anfield since April, scrappy then sublime.

There's Firmino, and there's Liverpool, in the lead against one of the tougher opponents they'll face this campaign – one of three sides to take points off of Liverpool in the first half of the season – less than five minutes after conceding first.

And from there, it's Arsenal against Liverpool at Anfield as usual. A fixture that's finished 4-0 and 3-1 in the previous two seasons, and memorably finished 5-1 in 2013-14.

Mané adds a third in the 32nd minute when Arsenal initially clear a corner but can't handle the second cross in, Robertson perfectly to Salah at the back post, touched directly into Mané's stride. Salah adds a fourth just before halftime, from the penalty spot after being pulled down in a similar manner to that against Newcastle.

From 0-1 to 4-1, against the fourth- or fifth-best side in the league, in less than 35 minutes.

The second half's a formality, as it was in this fixture last season. Arsenal are in damage control mode. Liverpool get a fifth just about midway through, a second penalty in the match and third at Anfield in two games after going more than a year without a single spot kick at home in the league. Firmino takes it this time and Firmino gets his hat-trick. Firmino gets his first Liverpool hat-trick, the fifth player to do so under Klopp. Salah, Firmino, and Mané all score in the same game for the second time this season, the first in the league, after doing it eight times last season. Liverpool give Mané, Wijnaldum, and Robertson a bit of rest, Liverpool don't do anything stupid, and Liverpool take it easy for about half an hour, which is absolutely fine by me, especially considering the next match in five days, and especially after that first half. Especially after going behind in that first half.

Liverpool have played eight games this month. In 28 days. Two a week for four straight weeks. And they've won every damned one of them. Two by a 1-0 margin, one by a 2-0 margin, and five where Liverpool scored at least three and won by at least two. Five clean sheets, two 3-1 wins, and this 5-1 win.

December usually sucks, because fixture congestion almost always sucks. December went a long way in dooming title challenges in both 2008-09 and 2013-14. December has definitely not sucked this season.

Compare that to the month that Liverpool's rivals' have had. Chelsea and Arsenal – the latter prior to today – each lost twice. Tottenham burst into life over the last 10 days, but then completely fell apart in the last third of today's loss. And City have lost three of their last six in all competitions, with three of the last four in the league.

Liverpool are unbeaten. In all of December and through 20 games of the league campaign. And Liverpool will go into 2019 at the top of the league, by at least seven points.

2018 has been very good, which makes it very, very possible that the 2018-19 season will be very, very good. But there's still the small matter of 2019, of the eighteen league matches still to come. The first of which will be against the team most likely in second at the time, who also happen to be the defending league champions.

1 comment :

drew said...

Leaving this as an appendix to this report: https://www.joe.co.uk/sport/xhakasnatch-a-choose-your-own-adventure-starring-the-arsenal-defence-213780