“ARSENAL are still a very good team with very good players. I know they’ll get a lot of criticism, especially after our game, but at the same time we were very good. When we play like that, with that intensity, it’s hard for any team to come and perform really.
“A lot of credit has got to go to the lads at Liverpool for the way that we played and the intensity that we played at. Anyone coming to Anfield that day would have struggled.”
The words of Jordan Henderson, speaking from the England camp yesterday.
It strikes me as somewhat unusual that the captain of a team that has just beaten a close rival 4-0 has to remind the press that credit should be given to his team for that performance. But in the circumstances it’s entirely understandable. From the way the mainstream media has reacted to The Reds comprehensive win against Arsenal at the weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were playing against the worst Sunday league side of all time.
The reality is that Liverpool played against a team that finished one point behind them last season, and which featured Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech and a host of other seasoned Premier League players with an abundance of international experience, a few of whom are being targeted by Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and other top clubs. They are no mugs but they were made to look like amateurs by a rampant Liverpool side.
What seems to have been forgotten in the stampede to denounce Arsenal as the worst team of all time is that they actually started the game quite well. After five minutes they’d had the lion’s share of possession and Danny Welbeck had missed the target from 10 yards with the first extremely presentable chance of the game. Liverpool didn’t blow them away from the first whistle as some would now have you believe.
4 – Four of Arsenal’s eight Premier League defeats by a margin of 4+ goals have come against Liverpool at Anfield. Bullied. pic.twitter.com/Tupwqxy7rd
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 27, 2017
Even after a fairly dominant display, it took until the 39th minute for Sadio Mane to provide the two-goal cushion in the contest, heading into half time 2-0 up. Having been condemned for his performance in the first half, Arsenal Wenger replaced Aaron Ramsey with Francis Coquelin to shore up the centre of midfield. A move which should, in theory, have helped the Arsenal players to impose themselves more on the game.
But despite that change and a switch back to a flat back four, the Liverpool team continued its dominance in the second half, adding a further two goals to the scoreline. While in reality The Reds could have scored eight, I’ve been surprised by just how much everyone has been focusing on how bad Arsenal were, with only a tip of the hat to the winning team’s performance.
Not that it overly concerns me. I hope that the press keeps lambasting the opposition that Jürgen Klopp’s side blow away each week while exclaiming Manchester United as a reborn dominant force. I watched their game against West Ham on the opening weekend of the season, and the presenters on Sky were quite happy to focus on how Jose Mourinho was clearly going to have his standard second season and win the league after such a powerful display, without much comment at all on how poor West Ham were in the match.
It’s the perennial question. If one team destroys another, how much was down to the victor forcing the other team to look so poor, and how much was simply down to the defeated team not turning up? The reality is that we don’t know for sure, so all that remains is for people to interpret the events before them in whatever way they see fit. United were great and Arsenal were terrible. I haven’t seen many people mention that the team destroyed by the Red Devils have gone on to be beaten by both Southampton (against whom they conceded three goals despite Southampton having failed to score in eight of their last 11 matches) and Newcastle (who had previously not won a point themselves), and even fewer have commented that Arsenal had 51 per cent possession at Anfield and made 32 more passes than Liverpool with the same percentage completed, yet The Reds prevented them from even having a shot on target.
You can say what you like about a few of Arsenal’s players not being overly concerned about sprinting towards their own goal, but I watched their comeback against Leicester a couple of weeks ago and their attacking play was nothing short of mesmerising. Listening to Sky and the BBC though, and you’d think that although they had the majority of possession, Ramsey, Sanchez, Ozil, Welbeck and, subsequently, Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette, just decided on the day that they wouldn’t bother with trying to score a goal.
It seems a little far fetched. Leicester scored three against them in a poor defensive display, yet their attacking players still managed to bother turning up when running towards Kasper Schmeichel’s goal.
0 – Arsenal didn’t attempt a single shot on target in a Premier League game for the first time since October 5th 2014 (vs Chelsea). Weak. pic.twitter.com/nAVMZyeIdJ
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 27, 2017
In reality, despite their possession, Arsenal’s players were not given the opportunity to play the type of intricate, quick-passing football in the final third that we have become so accustomed to seeing. The entire Liverpool team worked its socks off to close spaces, cut off passing lanes and, on the few occasions in which Arsenal did get a view of Loris Karius’s goal, managed to throw in a last-ditch block or tackle to prevent the handsome reserve keeper from having to do anything other than give everyone a heart attack with his drag backs and Cruyff turns.
Don’t let anyone fool you. Liverpool destroyed Arsenal on Sunday because they were explosive going forwards and aggressive protecting their own goal. That combination will see The Reds tear apart far more teams than the Gunners this season, no doubt each opponent being labelled a disgrace until the point at which it can no longer be denied that the boys in red are the creators of their own destiny.
I hope the media focuses its attention on Jose and his lads, allowing Liverpool to stay in the hunt but relatively unnoticed long enough for them to be the runaway train that no one can stop from March onwards. I remember the feeling of watching Brendan Rodgers’ side in 2013-14 and wondering how any team could stop it once it got into its rhythm, and I’m getting a similar feeling about this team. The main difference being that this team is more than 11 lads, and it’s undeniably more than one player. It’s a proper squad. It’s a load of lads looking after each other, sprinting 70 yards to make sure that the lad through on goal isn’t caught by the two defenders who could be bothered chasing him (my favourite moment of the season so far — take a bow, Sadio). It’s a side missing two of its most important cogs in Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, yet has somehow managed to make us wonder how they even get back in the 11.
On top of all of that, as I write this the internet is going insane with stories of more club-record bids being put in for players who would add further depth to an already strong squad.
I’m off to check in with the Twitter account of a people carrier and play “Where’s Virgil van Dijk?” with my private aeroplane tracker.
Whisper it quietly this time, Reds. But it could be a season that blows everyone’s socks off.
For further analysis from Liverpool’s win over Arsenal, SUBSCRIBE to TAW Player and listen to our Review show. Also look out for regular transfer shows from now until the end of the transfer window. A subscription also gives you access to our podcast archive – here are some of the highlights so far…