After announcers across the globe went wild in describing how lowly Arsenal — the 6th richest club in England, with the 5th highest wage bill and a £360m transfer net spend over the past five years — were taking it to the mighty Liverpool — 3rd, 4th and £278m, for comparison — in the first half, what with their four shots from an average distance of 22 yards and all, the Reds went out and got their goals and then shut things down for a relatively routine win in the end, three points and a clean sheet in hand.
To be fair, Arsenal did not at all play poorly, it’s just that putting the brakes on this Liverpool attack tends to severely limit what you can do offensively yourself, and while the Gunners did well to bypass the Reds’ press, they struggled to carve out anything like clear opportunities for themselves. In fact, Arsenal’s only clear cut chance, accounting for 65% of their 0.6 expected goals, came courtesy of an unpressured Thiago backpass
This is not to say that Liverpool were flawless. Throughout the first half, in particular, they seemed to rush the play when patience would have been better, and concentration appeared to come and go as the players looked every inch like a group that has competed at the highest level every three days for a full month.
Once they did get their first goal, though, they went into cruise control, keeping Arsenal to two shots in the 39 minutes following Diogo Jota’s opportunistic opener, and pressing and carving their hosts open for a second on the hour mark, as Roberto Firmino ghosted in ahead of Aaron Ramsdale to flick home his ninth of the season.
Below, we dig into the narrative of the night and crown some winners and losers of the contest.
Title Chasers: After sitting twelve points back of the league leaders as recently as eight weeks ago, Liverpool have gone on a run of nine straight wins and cut Manchester City’s lead at the top of the table to a single point. The two sides have been each others’ only real competitors over the past four seasons, and the standards they’ve set would have been unheard of at any previous point in the history of the league, but now, with nine games to go, the margin for error is as narrow as its ever been.
Both teams are still in three competitions, with sights firmly set on winning them all — there’s even a not-insignificant chance they will face off in both the FA Cup and Champions League sometime next month — and what looks like it could be a decisive clash at the Etihad on April 10th looms large on the calendar.
Whatever the final outcome is, there can be little doubt that Liverpool will be pushing their rivals to the very end, and that the season run-in will be a high-stakes and dramatic one.
Stat Padding Reds: It’s already well established that Liverpool have the three top goal scorers and the three top goal creators in the Premier League this season, but with Andrew Robertson making it ten assists on the year, the Reds are now only the third ever side in the Premier League to have three players score double digit goals and three players provide double digit assists.
Decent in attack, these Reds.
Gabby Martinelli: Ahead of the match, Jürgen Klopp went out of his way to praise Arsenal’s two talented wide attackers, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, and while the former has typically received more attention by virtue of bein an English international, it was his Brazilian team-mate who shone the brightest tonight.
Taking up extremely wide positions throughout, Martinelli was consistently set up in one-on-one situations with Trent Alexander-Arnold, and he torched the fullback on multiple occasions, racking up three successful dribbles over the course of the match. The 20-year old was also involved in Arsenal’s two best chances on the night, slashing the ball across the six-yard box only for it to be cleared by Andy Robertson in the first half, and curling an effort inches wide of the far post after being set up Granit Xhaka in the dying moments of the second.
Arsenal have been experiencing something of a renaissance over the past five months, but the question remains whether they can be successful enough to keep their most talented players when they blossom in full and bigger teams come calling. Martinelli was already on Klopp’s radar, and will not have done any damage to his case for a future move to Merseyside tonight.
Sadio Mané: Not because he played particularly poorly, mind you, Sadio did fine. He simply could not get a single call his way tonight, as Andre Marriner had clearly decided in advance that the Senegalese attacker could be hacked down at will without repercussion and in return would get pulled up for any sort of contact with an opponent. Mané was called for four fouls on the night, winning only a single free kick himself, while anybody who watched the match would agree that those numbers should have been reversed.
Marriner did fine otherwise, but this seemed oddly personal and deliberate.
Arsenal’s Prospects of Beating the Reds: For all their recent improvements, it has now been ten hours and five minutes of football played between the two since the last time the Gunners scored against Liverpool. Arsenal are edging into Everton territory in terms of their ability to put a dent in the Reds, and you never want to edge into Everton territory.
Pep’s Water Bottles: They’re about to get a chugging and a chucking.
What Happens Next
The Reds travel to Nottingham Forest on Sunday as they look to make the FA Cup semi-final for the first time since 2015, and the first time in Jürgen Klopp’s tenure. Then, it’s a much-needed international break, from which we can only hope and pray all our international Reds will return injury free for the very pointiest end of the season.