Liverpool reclaimed top spot in the Premier League but were left to rue refereeing and goalkeeping blunders as they conceded a late equaliser at the Emirates. The match was entertaining yet lacking in the technical quality both sides posses as the sides settle with a point each.
Virgil Van Dijk missed an early chance that is a contender for miss of the season. However worse was to follow for Liverpool as Roberto Firmino’s lobbed effort onto the bar, which was knocked into the net by Sadio Mane on the follow up was incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Liverpool, playing in a terrible purple away kit, reverted back to 4-3-3 but struggled with the work rate of Arsenal’s two midfielders, Xhaka and Torreira. The second half however saw Liverpool go ahead as Leno palmed an innocuous looking Mane cross into the path of James Milner who calmly drove a shot through the crowd to put Liverpool a goal up after an hour.
With Aubameyang withdrawn late on it looked like Liverpool had done enough but Alisson came out to meet Lacazette only for the Frenchman to turn back away from goal and curl a delightful shot over and around Gomez and Van Dijk to claim a point for Arsenal with eight minutes to go.
Can Emery propel himself and Arsenal to the highest level?
A lot was made of Arsenal’s unbeaten run since losing back to back against Manchester City and Chelsea to open the season. Since then Arsenal have beaten West Ham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Everton, Watford, Fulham and Leicester in the Premier League, as well as going top of their Europa League group with wins over Sporting Lisbon, Vorskla and Qarabag and progressing to the Carabao Cup quarter-finals with wins over Brentford and Blackpool.
Arsenal and Emery deserve immense credit for stringing an unbeaten run through those fixtures, a run that would have been beyond the late era Wenger sides.
However the result, coming on Emery’s birthday, provided the first point against a Premier League elite side and this needs to become the norm if Arsenal are to kick on. Arsenal deserved their point and a display like this will hearten Emery as the Gunners go into a tough run of fixtures.
Emery himself needs to improve a record that saw him win only ten of seventy matches against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid whilst managing in Spain and whilst he won six of eight against Monaco as PSG manager, even that record is tempered by the fact he contrived to lose a league title to Monaco despite a huge financial advantage. Both records need to be taken with a pinch of salt given the polarised wealth of teams in La Liga and Ligue One, but Emery does need to up his game against the very best if he is to turn Arsenal back into trophy contenders rather than mere top four finishers.
Mesut Ozil: A riddle wrapped in an enigma
The German playmaker’s career at Arsenal could be neatly condensed into his last two performances. A spellbinding display against Leicester was followed by an anonymous one against Crystal Palace – notable only for his glove throwing hissy fit.
Is Ozil Arsenal’s version of David Silva or a version of Georgi Kinkladze? Saturday night didn’t provide an answer to the debate with Ozil attempting and probing but often without that burning intensity that means he doesn’t impose his talent as forcefully as he should. In a week that saw one talented midfielder start to leave the club over wage disputes, Mesut Ozil’s £350,000 a week contract signed in the end of the Wenger era remains an intriguing decision.
Can Firmino rediscover his blend of traditional number 9 and false 9?
The Brazilian forward has looked a little off the pace all season and whilst his work rate and off the ball runs to create space for Salah and Mane are still present, Firmino has lost the goalscoring touch that made him so dangerous last season. With only four goals this season Firmino looks a long way off matching the 27 he notched last season.
Saturday evening saw Firmino test Arsenal with some cunning runs but his only chances on goal saw the flicked lob onto the woodwork that led to the controversial disallowed Mane goal and a tame header from a corner. Firmino was withdrawn ten minutes from time having hardly made an impact which he will be keen to put right midweek as the Reds travel to Belgrade.
With Daniel Sturridge having something of a revival and Shaqiri proving himself when used, Firmino could find himself out of the team soon, but Klopp will need the traditional goalscoring number nine/hard working false number nine hybrid back soon rather than later if Liverpool are to carry a title challenge to Manchester City this season.
The early weeks of the season saw Petr Cech struggle with the new passing principles of Unai Emery and it looked a matter of time before new signing Leno was introduced. An injury to Cech in the Watford game provided the perfect excuse to ease Cech out.
However what Cech lacked in passing ability he more than made up for in traditional goalkeeping skills of shot stopping, command of an area and defensive organisation, such skills were still on display in a man of the match display against Everton earlier this season.
Leno has by no means had a bad game yet for Arsenal and he made a couple of smart stops to deny Virgil Van Dijk tonight yet his complete brain fade that saw him palm a nothing cross into the path of Milner for the opener shows he is far from the finished article.
Arsenal may rotate Cech and Leno through the season but as Liverpool themselves can attest rotating two goalkeepers who aren’t quite up to the standard can cause more harm than good.
Liverpool look to have solved the keeper issue and Alisson is certainly an upgrade on Karius and Mignolet but is he the real deal? Both Karius and Mignolet were often jittery and never seemed far away from a mistake whereas Alisson seemingly looks calm and composed until something ludicrous happens. He conceded a goal against Leicester in the opening weeks of the season with some poor footwork, and tonight came flying out of his goal with no real purpose on two occasions. The first, he got away with as Mkhitaryan’s header went wide but the second caused Lacazette’s equaliser. The Brazilian is by no means a liability but perhaps the rush to anoint him as the missing piece of the title jigsaw was premature.
Granit Xhaka – the rock?
The Swiss international was the best midfielder on the pitch as Liverpool’s much of a muchness midfield struggled against Xhaka and Torreira. Xhaka spent his first few years at Arsenal with nobody seeming to know what kind of player he was – “neither nowt nor summat” as they would say in Yorkshire – but under Emery his mix of tackling and passing seems to have kicked on a level, and having a player the quality of Torreira with him has helped.
The two Arsenal midfielders coped with the three of Liverpool easily enough with Fabinho looking especially out of his depth, if Xhaka and Torreira carry on like this the flimsy midfield displays of the previous years will be banished.