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The Good, The Bad, And The Weird

Football can be beautiful. It can be heartbreaking. And sometimes, as in the 3-3 Arsenal Liverpool affair, it’s just strange.

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp is keen to remind fans that anything is possible in a given match. Sure, this can be taken as a mere reference to the possible results: win, draw, or loss. And most of the time, it would be accurate to talk about top-flight competitions with this results-based language.

But other times, “anything is possible” can encompass the seemingly infinite things that can happen during a given 90 minutes of football. If you watch long enough, you start to think you’ve seen it all. Nearly impossible comebacks at Istanbul to nearly impossible deflections off of beachballs for decisive goals.

Last night’s Arsenal-Liverpool showdown was one of the weirder games of football I’ve seen in a long time. It had the promise of brilliant, attacking football, and we got that! However, of the six goals we saw, only one, by Mesut Ozil, wrapping up a wild 5 minutes of football with a smart 1-2 and deft finish, was worthy of the occasion.

Philippe Coutinho got the action started, after Mohamed Salah’s pass took a perfect deflection off a defender to allow the diminutive Brazilian of all people to bag a headed goal. Liverpool would go on to create some great chances after beautiful interplay the rest of the half, but none of them managed that little bit of luck needed to find their way past Petr Cech.

Liverpool’s second was also fortunate. Although we expect just about everything Salah touches these days to turn to gold, the goal he created was essentially out of nothing, and relied on a lot of luck to beat Cech. Salah, already once fortunate to assist on the first goal, got yet another lucky deflection to beat the keeper with his long-range shot.

At 2-0 I allowed myself to breathe a sigh of relief, which, in retrospect, was quite dumb. Two defensive errors later, and Arsenal had equalized, with Ozil’s finish still to come in short order.

On another game we might talk about Joe Gomez’s youth and inexperience in dealing, or rather not dealing, with the cross that led to Arsenal’s first goal by Alexis Sanchez. But instead we’re left to talk about the goalkeeping howler from the otherwise generally good shot-stopper Simon Mignolet. Granit Xhaka’s shot from distance was no doubt hit with quite a bit of venom, but it was straight down our Belgian keeper’s throat, and he should have done better than deflected the ball into his own net.

Not to be outdone, or maybe just in goalkeeping solidarity, Cech then deflected Roberto Firmino’s shot into his net.

With 20 minutes still to play after Liverpool’s equalizer to make it 3-3, you could just tell at this point that both sides were spent. After both sides looking dangerous for 70 minutes, it was almost as if all 22 players on the pitch said, “Eh, fuck it, let’s take the draw and move on.” In a game where both sides led, and both sides relied on quite a bit of fortunate and strange circumstances to get where they were, the sentiment is understandable.

Neither side deserved to lose that match (nor did they deserve to win it). Not that “deserve” means anything in a football match.

As a fan watching the final few minutes tick away I thought, “I’d much rather not lose this one than win it at this point.” As game drew to a conclusion, I felt myself returning, along with the players, to the reality of the situation and away from the surreal anything-is-possible football we just witnessed. My mind switched to the three possible results that we can categorize this match into—win, loss, or draw—not about what happened to get there. Arsenal needed the win more than we did. A draw keeps us in the Top 4 for Christmas.

Now, we can just hope Santa Klopp brings us more wins in the second half of the season. And, you know, maybe a center back or two.

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