The good, the barely bad and retaining the title – Debating Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal

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Liverpool were almost faultless in their 3-1 win over Arsenal at Anfield, so much so that some supporters believe they are already champions-in-waiting.

This was supposed to be a major test for the Reds, as they hosted a Gunners team seemingly going places under Mikel Arteta.

It was men against boys at Anfield, however, as Jurgen Klopp‘s champions cruised to victory, making it maximum points after three matches.

Alexandre Lacazette may have opened the scoring, but Sadio Mane swiftly equalised, Andy Robertson made it 2-1 and debutant Diogo Jota fired home late in the day.

It was a superb display from Liverpool, who looked every bit the team to beat again this season, particularly after the weekend results.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) and Chris Williams (@Chris78Williams) are joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) to discuss the positives and rare negatives from the Reds’ win, as well as their healthy-looking title hopes.

 

The good…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

CHRIS: Lots to try and fit in here so bear with me.

Joe Gomez looked much better than of late, both positionally and on the ball, Sadio Mane was world class again – he is the best player in the world right now – and Mohamed Salah‘s movement is unplayable. It scares teams to death and they can’t cope so end up leaving holes everywhere for the other front two to exploit.

Andy Robertson making a massive cock-up then working his socks off to atone for the error and bagging himself a goal was superb, while Fabinho in the holding role is almost as good as Fabinho the centre back. His reading of the game is crucial to this Liverpool system that’s been polished over the last 12 months.

Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum worked very well together in the press – it was nice to see and both got forward and could have notched goals on another night.

Diogo Jota came off the bench and could have had a hat-trick such was his liveliness. If this is the new level of drop-off from the front-three to a stand in, I am very happy, because it has been an issue for a while. Scoring on your Premier League debut against a side like Arsenal speaks volumes.

An all-round top team performance and we’ve still got Thiago and Jordan Henderson to fit in!

OWEN: Despite some pre-match jitters, this was another performance that reminded you just how good our team is right now – and reminded everyone else of that fact at the same time.

Salah and Mane were absolutely buzzing, with Mane starting to develop a sixth sense for where the ball will be – not just for scoring the tap-ins but, equally importantly, for winning back possession in the final third too. It’s a shame evening newspapers don’t still run Spot The Ball competitions or else he’d have even more silverware to his name.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, September 20, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp shakes hands with goal-scorer Sadio Mané after the FA Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Stamford Bridge. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

Elsewhere, Keita’s pressing was a joy to behold, Gomez returned from his latest injury with an unflappable performance and Alisson was showing signs of being back to his best.

We got a first chance to see Jota as a direct replacement for our first-choice attackers too, with a tantalising cameo and a well-deserved goal to finally bust Mikel Arteta’s hoodoo over us.

Also worth mentioning as a plus point, our away kit got a social media kicking during the Lincoln game, but compared to Arsenal’s deep vein thrombosis-inspired effort, it looks a design masterpiece!

HENRY: I completely echo what has been said from Chris and Owen, it was a fantastic performance and there was so much to love about it. The ball retention and authority on show was incredible at times.

Mane was the pick of the players for me, but I thought Salah was also a nightmare to deal with and he so often creates space for others because teams double up on him.

Some of Trent Alexander Arnold’s use of the ball was unbelievable, but I want to give special praise to Robertson for responding to his error. That’s now seven goals or assists in his last eight games, which is ludicrous for a left-back.

Fabinho and Keita were excellent, Wijnaldum was typically reliable and both Alisson and the centre-backs were colossal for the large part.

I was worried about this game for some reason, but yet again, Liverpool showed why they are the best team in the world (better than Bayern Munich, yes).

 

The barely bad…

Mane and Salah (Image: Michael Regan/PA Wire/PA Images)

CHRIS: The only small aspect for me was that we didn’t score more goals. It didn’t matter in the end but one match it might.

Wijnaldum had two excellent chances and fluffed them both and Salah took one off Jota’s toe, which was greedy. Sometimes greed is good and sometimes it is bad – that one is going down as bad.

The good far outweighs any negatives, though, and to be honest no team on earth scores all their chances all the time.

Not my words, but the words of Klopp!

OWEN: Not getting to see the purring Rolls Royce of Thiago again was a disappointment, although one soothed by Fabinho’s return to midfield. Similarly, as Chris touched upon, Salah’s fine line between hunger and greed almost denied Jota a perfect Anfield debut, but the disappointment didn’t last long.

While I wouldn’t go so far as Roy Keane (and neither will Keane anymore), we’ve been making needless mistakes at the back which we’re getting punished for, both last night and on the opening day against Leeds.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

I have no way of proving this, but I wonder if the lack of fans is causing concentration levels to drop slightly?

In which case, it might be worth pumping Sky Sports Main Event’s bizarre fake crowd noise into the stadiums themselves. Or just Keane saying “sloppy” over and over again, which seems to provoke the perfect burst of defiant up-and-at-’em.

HENRY: I’m with Owen in terms of concentration occasionally looking a little iffy, and soft goals being conceded.

It is being ultra-picky, but Liverpool have started to concede avoidable goals and Arsenal did find it easy to get in behind a few times. That is part and parcel of playing such a high line, though – it’s a risky strategy but one that has paid off handsomely overall.

I also agree with Chris that the finishing could have been better, and had it not been for Alisson‘s save, the Reds could really have rued the missed chances.

Roberto Firmino still isn’t at his best which could do with changing soon, although the Brazilian still did plenty of good.

 

And are Liverpool already proving they’ll retain the title?

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with Roberto Firmino (left) during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. (Jason Cairnduff/PA Wire/PA Images)

CHRIS: Anyone who looks at the table seriously before December needs their head examining, but it is good to be nine points from nine, that is what champions should be doing, laying down a challenge to the other 19 teams.

Nobody has ever won a league in September, but a few have been lost by exceptionally poor starts. It looks good so far, but if we are top after Matchday 10 with 30 points then we can maybe start talking about back-to-back titles.

OWEN: As I said, it was the sort of performance that reminds every other team in the league what the standard is – and it’s a standard that Arsenal and Chelsea don’t seem to be at yet, that much we know for sure.

The biggest argument in favour of us retaining the title is that unlike our rivals, we have no obvious weak spot. It is a team of champions, now with the added intangible benefit of having gone out and done it once already.

I think what really sets us apart is our creativity – perfectly evidenced last night. The passing, the crossing, never just picking the easy ball or the predictable one.

In musical terms, we’re often described as “heavy metal football”, but in literary terms, this Liverpool side is more like Roald Dahl meets J.G. Ballard – a seemingly limitless imagination, and a ceaseless, visionary redefining of what is both possible and plausible.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, September 28, 2020: Liverpool’s substitute Diogo Jota during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by Propaganda)

HENRY: Anyone who knows me will tell you I am naturally pessimistic as a Liverpool fan, even when we’re the best on the planet. I wasn’t convinced last season’s title race was over even when it was mathematically impossible for Man City to win it!

That being said, I watched last night’s game and felt like I was watching the incoming champions again, such was their superiority, not to mention Man City‘s current struggles.

This is just such a polished, perfect football team that I don’t see how anyone is going to get the better of it over 38 games, unless Liverpool have incredible bad luck with injuries.

Losing Virgil van Dijk for several months would admittedly be absolutely huge and potentially season-changing, but on this evidence, every other team is playing a supporting role to Klopp’s men.

I agree with Chris that looking at the league table now is pointless – Everton are level on points with us for god sake! – but it is already looking very good for the Reds, to say the least.

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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