Arsenal 3 - 1 Liverpool
Arsenal: Saka 14’, Martinelli 67’, Trossard 90+2’
Liverpool: Gabriel (OG) 45+3’
The stakes, which feel like it’ll be the same through the end of the year, are that Liverpool can’t lose if they are to continue to keep Arsenal and Manchester City at bay in the race for the title. Ahead of the match itself, Conor Bradley was predictably given time away in order to mourn the loss of his father. Thiago is also included in the matchday squad which is a welcome sight. Lastly, Cody Gakpo gets the nod ahead of Darwin Nuñez with talk indicating the Uruguayan might be carrying a minor knock.
It’s pretty open at the moment. A big chance for Arsenal early as Gabriel Martinelli beats Ibrahima Konate in a foot race and squares to Bukayo Saka who nods it wide. Cody Gakpo is played in and fires it wide. This is clearly a great pace for neutrals and terrible for partisans with heart conditions.
Goal. Didn’t have to wait too long for the opener. Both teams started brightly with balls into space early, but it’s Arsenal that strike first. Saka finishes off a rebound from a saved Kai Havertz shot off of a breakaway. There’s lots of time and this is a Liverpool squad that can’t be counted out, but that was certainly not the start we wanted and one we’d not had for some time.
Arsenal give another scare as Trent Alexander-Arnold loses the ball just outside of the penalty box. It leads to a blocked shot by Martin Ødegaard but the entry pass to that run of play - a diagonal trying to play Martinelli in behind Trent - feels like a recurring tactic that the Gunners are trying to exploit.
With nearly a half hour gone, it looks like Liverpool have managed to find a bit of a hold on the match. Admittedly, it looks as though Arsenal have tampered down their press a bit, looking more content to soak up some of the pressure. Liverpool continue to probe with what’s become a bit of a trademark patience as they stroke it around the park.
GOAL!!!! Inside of the last minute of added time, Liverpool play the ball into Luis Diaz, who muscles his way towards the ball and forces a toe-poke off Gabriel and into the net. I was just writing that the half was winding down that Arsenal’s defensive shape had successfully managed to smother the Reds. But it was the type of chance that had been threatening most of the match with.
And so, in a way that half played out quite similarly to the first match at Anfield.
No changes for Liverpool while Arsenal take Oskar Zinchecnko for Jakub Kiwior. Liverpool start the half much more on the front foot with a lot of play going through Luis Díaz, almost a carbon copy of Arsenal playing through Martinelli in the first half. Less than three minutes in and we’ve already seen Liverpool take two shots and cross the ball all from that left-wing through Díaz and Curtis Jones.
There’s a lot more energy in general, as the front three are seeing more of the ball and more connection with the rest of the squad, resulting in possession higher up the pitch. The moves look a lot more cohesive as well. More of this, please.
Substitution. Big call here by Jurgen as he takes off Trent Alexander-Arnold just shy of the 60 minute mark in favor of bringing Andrew Robertson on, moving Joe Gomez into the right back slot. Trent’s just come back from injury, but I would say that’s a testament as well to the quality of JoeGo’s play across the back line since Robbo’s injury. Also coming on are Darwin Nuñez and Harvey Elliott for Cody Gakpo and Ryan Gravenberch.
Scary moments as Alexis Mac Allister does brilliantly to recover against Kai Havertz who goes down in the Liverpool box. Anthony Taylor had a good angle and said no penalty and after a few nervy moments, VAR agreed. Relief for the Reds.
Goal. Absolute shambles as Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker combine one of the biggest blunders we’ve seen from the defense in some time. I think it’s quite shocking given the stature of both - Ali, in particular, having a terrific game with at least two major saves already - and is such a body blow. The Reds had been playing quite well to that point so this is quite the disappointing turn of events.
Following the goal, Arsenal have once again returned to their defensive shape where they are happy to cede possession in favor of retaining a stubborn shape. Alexis has had a few shots from distance that look great on slo-mo but don’t really test the keeper. Credit to the Gunners as this is clearly playing out as they hope.
Substitution. Thiago comes on for his first appearance of the year in a bit of a puzzling swap as Joe Gomez makes way. Luis Díaz is now nominally the right back. Almost immediately, Lucho is caught in the corner and Harvey Elliott has to step in to relieve the pressure. This is gonna be a throw it all against the wall finish. The first proper day we’ve missed Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endo.
Red card. Already on a yellow, Ibou Konate picks up another off of a foul on Kai Havertz. Not long after, Thiago coughs up the ball just outside of the Liverpool penalty area, but thankfully Robbo is able to clear the resulting Arsenal attack. Things have gotten extra wobbly.
Goal. Trossard puts in a goal after dribbling in. Alisson is beat between the legs. Truly colossal way to fall apart here.
Liverpool went into this match really wanting simply not to lose. Arsenal’s discipline combined with a rare set of gaffes will make it so their lead at the top is that much more narrow. One might even point to some puzzling substitutions - the first time in that second half adjustments haven’t really paid off - as a sign to maybe just write this off as a weird, one-off.