Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
Premier League, Emirates
November 3, 2018
Goals: Lacazette 82′; Milner 61′
Fabinho Still with Work to Do
Fabinho was named in the starting XI for the third successive match, but there was an awful lot of hesitancy over his first-half performance.
The Brazilian was essentially the deepest of three, though seemed to be instructed to push up and tackle to stop Arsenal‘s buildup play in their own half.
Recent games have seen the Brazilian shine in a double pivot, but here he still looked short of the tempo required and perhaps the understanding of the role within a different system.
The second half saw a system change to leave Gini Wijnaldum deeper and Fabinho pushing to the left, another indication of Klopp’s dissatisfaction—but also his willingness to help the new signing adapt and integrate.
Klopp’s ‘Safety’ System?
The Reds’ last two games, and big wins, have come using a 4-2-3-1 system, but for the trip to north London, Klopp reverted to the previous three-man midfield.
It’s understandable that the boss wanted an extra man in the midfield zone against one of the league’s in-form teams, but it’s telling that he’s perhaps not quite entirely convinced just yet by a few new faces.
On the other hand, it wasn’t all about safety first for Klopp: Dejan Lovren‘s injury saw Trent Alexander-Arnold handed a starting berth, giving Liverpool a more attacking outlook down the right flank.
We might see 4-2-3-1 more often going forward, but perhaps it’s three in the centre for the bigger games—though there was far more flexibility in the midfield shape after the break.
The shift to four across the middle gave greater protection to Alexander-Arnold at right-back, allowed Fabinho to sit beside Wijnaldum and got Mo Salah central, all keys in the Reds’ dominance for the most part.
Virgil van Dominant
What a bloody performance.
It’s tempting to simply repeat the above, over and over, to hammer home and emphasise just how monstrous the Dutchman was.
This was every inch the performance of every favourite member of the old guard you might have; Phil Thompson, Ron Yeats, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher—all of them would recognise and applaud the near-perfection offered by the current Liverpool No. 4.
In attack, he could have scored a hat-trick: a brilliant chest-and-half-volley, a brave header against the post, another firm header tipped over.
In defence, he was magnificent, shepherding Arsenal‘s forwards whichever way he wanted, winning his tackles and headers, passing forward with ease.
The difference he has made over the past 11 months would be classified as immeasurable, except it is—we’re a lot better, keep more clean sheets and concede fewer goals.
He couldn’t help add to the shut-outs entirely at the Emirates, no huge point of shame given their attacking armoury, but the ability he brings was on full show once more.
It’s often a point of contention how Klopp chooses to use his subs bench, but Saturday was particularly frustrating from the point of view of winning the match.
Shaqiri for Roberto Firmino was fine: like-for-like positionally, while different in style. It could have panned out nicely; it made little difference.
No attacking sub after Arsenal‘s goal is different.
Liverpool should have had the mentality to go and win, go and take the three points they largely earned, and it was frustrating to not see that from the bench.
Joel Matip for the only remaining forward, Salah, in stoppage time?
That’s settling for a point, and it’s a hateful, horrible, irksome thing to see when Liverpool are clearly the better team. There were seconds left and it wasn’t going to do much, but it sends a very loud message all the same.
Top of the League
So it wasn’t the win Liverpool wanted, even deserved perhaps given a wrongly disallowed goal, but another point at a top-six rival continues the Reds’ unbeaten start to the season.
It also continues the slow improvement of results—non-defeats, at least—against those same top-six rivals, and indeed moved the Reds clear at the top for 24 hours.
Onto the Champions League and a real must-win game, and while this might be half an opportunity missed, Liverpool still have everything to play for moving forward.