Liverpool stays perfect in Premier League as Arsenal tries to keep up - Sports Illustrated

Liverpool Stays Perfect While Arsenal Tries to Keep Up

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It’s a mark of how good Liverpool has been in recent months that, after a relatively comfortable 3–1 victory, the thought was less of how well it had played than of how well Arsenal had done to live with it for so long. But this was a third successive win for Liverpool this season, one in which for a long period it looked streets ahead of any other side in the Premier League.

For much of the first half, Liverpool, perhaps benefitting from having had no European football in August, played with tremendous verve and a purpose. This was the relentless side of a year ago rather than the slightly careless side that had let in three goals in each of its previous two home league games. A strange vulnerability, though, remains and, against the run of play, it was Arsenal who took the lead.

The 25th-minute opener was initially brilliant but ultimately farcical. Since the return from shutdown, Arsenal has made a habit of countering effectively of ostensibly better sides and it did so again, Alexandre Lacazette shoveling the ball wide for Ainsley Maitland-Niles and carrying on his run onto the box to take advantage when Andy Robertson made a hash of the wingback’s cross. Lacazette suddenly and puzzlingly found himself alone in the middle of the box with his back to goal and the ball bouncing toward him. He then miscued his shot on the turn, hitting it into the ground from where it bounced up and looped over Alisson.

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For all Liverpool’s excellence in those early stages, its only clear chance had been a Trent Alexander-Arnold shot that was deflected into the bar. It soon reasserted itself though and the goals it had been threatening arrived. The equalizer, scored just three minutes after Arsenal had gone ahead, featured all of the front three, working in familiar harmony. Roberto Firmino slipped in Mohamed Salah, who shrugged off Kieran Tierney. Bernd Leno pushed out his shot, but Sadio Mane was there to knock in the loose ball.

Robertson then made amends for his error by giving Liverpool a 34th-minute lead, controlling the ball with his midriff after Alexander-Arnold’s cross had flicked off Hector Bellerin and lifting it over Leno. Again the goal came down the Liverpool right. Maitland-Niles has been key to Arsenal’s best performances over the past few months but Salah, linking with Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keita, kept finding space between the wing-back and Tierney on the left of the three-man central defense.

Arsenal’s game plan had seemingly been to sit deep, lure Liverpool on and then look to play through the press—and given it had worked in the league at the end of last season and in the Community Shield, and given it brought an opening goal, it can’t be said to have been the wrong set-up. But it did rather yield the initiative, and the result was Arsenal had only five touches in Liverpool’s final third in the first half.

It was far more aggressive in the second half and caused Liverpool problems, Lacazette being set through one-on-one with a chance of an equalizer only to clip his shot straight into the chest of Alisson, who was out quickly. Given Liverpool has started the season with three wins out of three, beating two of the notional Big Six as well as the best of the promoted sides, it would be ludicrous to be over-critical, but it will need to be tighter at the back if it is to get anywhere near last season’s points tally or seriously challenge in the Champions League.

The win was sealed in the 88th minute by Diego Jota, who having missed one good chance and had another one stolen off him by Salah got his debut goal with a neat volley from the edge of the box.

Arsenal’s run without an away win over a Big Six side now stretches to 28 games, but here at least there was a clear plan and persistent fight, something that certainly hasn’t always been the case. A significant gulf still exists between the sides, but there are plenty of positives to Arsenal to draw. It’s Liverpool, though, that is tied atop the table with a 100% record.