Mohamed Salah scored twice as Liverpool cruised to a relatively straightforward victory over Arsenal at Anfield. 

By Jonathan Wilson
August 24, 2019

Another trip to Anfield for Arsenal, and another comprehensive defeat. That’s 25 goals conceded now in its last seven visits and while the Gunners can justifiably say this wasn’t as bad as many of their performances here in the seven years since their last victory, it was also a chastening reminder of just how far behind Liverpool they have fallen. For its part, Liverpool will relish its best league performance of the season and a third straight win, although there will still be some concern about the occasional moment of defensive fragility.

Arsenal’s set-up was unexpected and defined the flow of the game. Although the midfield diamond, with Dani Ceballos at its peak, made sense in looking to combat the central power of Liverpool, doing so left the flanks vacant for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. Given those two amassed 23 assists between them last season, that was, to put it mildly, a risk. Unai Emery’s logic, presumably, was that Liverpool has so many attacking threats, it’s about prioritizing which is likely to cause least danger. He perhaps reasoned that Arsenal’s best hope of survival was for Sokratis and David Luiz to win every ball sent into the box.

Inevitably, they could not. Jurgen Klopp was critical of his side’s movement in the box, but it was inevitable that Arsenal would yield eventually. Liverpool’s 22nd cross, the 19th from a full-back and the 12th from Alexander-Arnold was a 41st-minute corner that Joel Matip powered in.

From then, the course of the game was set.

Somewhat oddly, there was no change from Arsenal at half-time. It remained just as narrow and faced the same problems in the second 45. Three minutes after the break, Alexander-Arnold was left in a preposterous amount of space maybe 10 yards outside the Arsenal box. Roberto Firmino touched on his sharp pass and a panicking David Luiz tugged back Mohamed Salah to concede a penalty that the Egyptian converted emphatically.

The signing of Luiz was welcomed at the Emirates largely because his presence meant Shkodran Mustafi’s absence. But the Brazilian is a complex figure, charismatic and capable of games of great authority, but also prone to the sort of intemperate push from the defensive line that led to Liverpool’s third, Salah skipping by him out near the touchline on theLiverpool right before finishing with the sort of controlled precision that has become characteristic.

At that point, it seemed Liverpool might make the scoreline something truly embarrassing for Arsenal. It did not, despite winning the shot count 25-9, but a late goal from the substitute Lucas Toreira served as a useful reminder of how shaky the Reds had seemed at times in the first half. Three times with the score at 0-0, Arsenal had chances, the best of them as Jordan Henderson misjudged a bouncing ball. Nicolas Pepe, living up to his reputation for extreme pace, charged through, burst through an exposed back line, but then seemed to get the ball slightly caught between his feet and ended up pushing his shot weakly into Adrian.

The vulnerability of that high line—a line that has consciously been set higher this season—remains a major concern. Liverpool may have won the UEFA Super Cup, taken Manchester City to penalties in the Community Shield and have a 100% record in the league, but after looking so improved defensively last season it has begun to look shaky again. On the opening weekend, Norwich had more shots in the first half at Anfield than any away side in the previous two seasons. At Southampton, Liverpool ended up clinging on for its win. Although Liverpool won comfortably enough here, an early Arsenal goal might have changed the dynamic of the game.

Certainly Unai Emery didn’t seem overly downbeat, highlighting his side’s “character” and the chances they had in transition. He was right, of course, that this was far better than last year, but after all the early-season optimism, this was a sobering reminder that there is still a long way to go.

Klopp spoke of his side’s greater precision, their passion and desire, the way they had done the good things from the earlier weeks of the season for longer, but he acknowledged Liverpool need to control games better. For now, though, it has nine points from nine and, early as it is, it has an advantage over Manchester City. Most positively of all, it has achieved that while still clearly some way short of its best.

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