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Arsenal 3 Liverpool 1: A twist in the title race? – The Briefing

The wry smiles from Jurgen Klopp perhaps summed it up best.

Arsenal pounced on two defensive errors to beat visitors Liverpool 3-1 and move to within two points of them at the top of the Premier League table.

The home side went ahead through Bukayo Saka and dominated the first 45 minutes. Yet a mix-up between William Saliba — under pressure from Luis Diaz — and David Raya meant Liverpool were level by half-time without having had a shot on target after Gabriel Magalhaes had the final touch on their equaliser.

Kai Havertz had a penalty appeal turned down but then it was Liverpool’s turn to suffer a defensive mishap. Virgil van Dijk failed to manage a long ball forward as his goalkeeper Alisson rushed out and kicked only air, leaving Gabriel Martinelli to stroke the ball into an empty net.

As The Athletic’s Liverpool writer James Pearce put it, we saw two goals you would “expect to see scored in a local park rather than in a game between two elite teams”.

Liverpool’s disappointing afternoon was compounded when Ibrahima Konate was sent off on 88 minutes for a second yellow-card offence, and Leandro Trossard added a third goal in stoppage time after more poor defending by the league leaders.

Here are the key talking points…

How did Arsenal manage to go in level at half-time?

Arsenal were in total control and there were no signs of a swing in momentum as the interval approached, but Liverpool did not even have to register their first shot on target in the game to get level.

In the third minute of first-half stoppage time, Saliba attempted to shepherd Ryan Gravenberch’s dinked pass back to Raya.

The centre-back blocked Diaz’s path to the ball for a few yards, but Raya did not move towards it. By the time he did, Diaz had got around Saliba and poked the ball away from him. It ended up in the net, via Gabriel’s hand.

(Charlotte Wilson/Oaffside/Offside via Getty Images)

It was calamitous defending from Arsenal and the type of self-inflicted damage that undermined other dominant performances last season.

That one error completely shifted the momentum of the game, as Liverpool had three shots in the opening three minutes of the second half.

Jordan Campbell

And what were Alisson and Van Dijk doing?

So often down the years, Alisson and Van Dijk have been Liverpool’s saviours. These are two experienced campaigners who have seen it all and done it all. But they won’t want to see this again.

In the biggest game of the season for Liverpool so far, they combined for an error that is so uncharacteristic of players who would be in the conversations for best goalkeeper and central defender in world football.

All seemed rather calm initially as a long ball over the top appeared to lack threat. As it travelled towards Liverpool’s box, Alisson advanced from his goal and looked set to clear it — as he does so often and so well.

Meanwhile, Van Dijk was marshalling Martinelli as he attempted to win the race himself.

It should have been routine, but it turned into a nightmare. Van Dijk left it for Alisson, but a slight nudge from Martinelli directed the Dutchman towards the ball and close to his goalkeeper. Alisson then missed his attempted clearance and Martinelli had the simple task of knocking it into an empty net.

Arsenal, Liverpool

(Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

It may prove to be a defining moment in this season’s title race.

The defensive disasters continued for the third Arsenal goal. Liverpool had taken off their right-backs (Trent Alexander-Arnold and then Joe Gomez) as they chased an equaliser and their right centre-back Konate had just been sent off, and they were left exposed down that side.

Trossard’s shot took a deflection off Van Dijk, which sent the ball through Alisson’s legs. They’ve both had better days.

Andy Jones

But Martinelli deserved his goal…

A fifth Premier League goal this season, and Martinelli could not have asked for an easier finish.

You could see that Martinelli was up for this game in the first few minutes, with the Brazil international looking sharp with some neat touches and typical probing runs from out to in. A counter-attacking run in the first half saw him race past Konate to cross for Saka, who was coming in from the opposite flank; he was simply Arsenal’s biggest threat every time they went forward.

As a testament to how much Arsenal were targeting Martinelli before he was substituted on 74 minutes, Mikel Arteta’s men had 37 per cent of their attacking touches (in the opposition half) down the left third of the pitch.


It was a run through the middle of the pitch where Martinelli found his goal, with a long ball causing confusion between Alisson and Van Dijk to leave a simple tap-in for Arsenal’s No 11.

Sure, it was gift-wrapped, but Martinelli’s electric performance was deserving of a goal — no matter how unconventional it was.

Mark Carey

How did Arsenal control the midfield so well?

With Gabriel Jesus missing due to his knee flaring up, Arsenal were without their first-choice striker again.

Jesus has only been able to start 37 of Arsenal’s 60 Premier League games since joining last summer and it has meant that Arteta has had to find a way of attacking without his plan A option.

Against Liverpool, Arsenal used Kai Havertz as an alternative profile but they also tweaked their usual set-up when building up.

Jorginho — making only his fifth Premier League start of the season — and Declan Rice were instrumental in playing through the press, but it was Havertz dropping deep alongside Martin Odegaard to form a box midfield which created so many overloads in midfield during the first half.

They managed to get down the outside and the German’s starting position was the key to the opening goal as he broke from deep.

In the second half, Havertz had to be more of a physical presence but he gave them a good focal point and ensured that Arsenal retained a threat. It was his smart hold-up work that twice saw Konate booked for bringing him down.

Jordan Campbell

Why didn’t Liverpool learn their lessons against Arsenal?

Last month, Liverpool were overpowered by Arsenal’s intensity and high pressing but managed to weather the storm and not concede in the opening half an hour.

While they may have hoped they had learned their lessons, it was not the case as they were once again second best to a sharp Arsenal side — and this time, they were punished.

It did not come from one of Arsenal’s high pressures, but Liverpool were opened up seamlessly by a flowing move that left them out of shape and played around and then through.

Arsenal were consistently quicker to the ball, dominated the midfield area and forced Klopp’s side into mistakes in their own half. It may have been billed as a significant game in the season’s title race, but while it did look like it for Arsenal, Liverpool appeared to have missed the memo.

Trossard, Arsenal

Trossard makes it 3-1 (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It could have been much worse, but once again Liverpool were fortunate that Arsenal were wasteful with their final pass or finishing as they registered an expected-goals total of 1.94 at half-time.

It left Liverpool with an uphill climb and one that proved insurmountable.

Klopp has received plenty of deserved praise for his use of substitutes and tactical tweaks in the second halves of games, but this time it did not work. The introduction of Harvey Elliott and Darwin Nunez made no difference as Liverpool continued to create half-chances at best.

Andy Jones

What did Arteta and Klopp say?

We will bring you this after they have spoken at the post-match press conference.

What next for Arsenal?

Sunday, February 11: West Ham (A), Premier League, 2pm GMT, 9am ET

What next for Liverpool?

Saturday, February 10: Burnley (H), Premier League, 3pm GMT, 10am ET

Recommended reading

(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

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