Groundhog day result isn't season defining... yet
Match Review: Arsenal 3 Liverpool 4 - Premier League 14.08.16
Oh dear. Another season begins under a cloud of frustration and disappointment. Three out of the last four seasons have opened with a defeat at the Emirates and yet again, we’re playing catch up from the first game. Despite the missing squad members and injuries, it feels like a huge let down and the discontent was palpable amongst the crowd. I don’t go in for booing the team and the manager, I think it’s counter productive, but with the way we capitulated I can’t say I really blame those who did.
With no senior defenders available thanks to injury and EURO 2016, Calum Chambers and new signing Rob Holding were partnered at centre back, with Bellerin and Monreal in the full back positions. Surprisingly, Granit Xhaka was left on the bench as Elneny and Coquelin took the central midfield positions and Aaron Ramsey started in the number ten role. With Giroud still recovering from the Euros, Alexis started up front with Iwobi and Walcott on the wings.
I thought we had a very good first half. The game was short on clear cut chances, but we dominated most of the play. When Theo Walcott won a penalty after a clumsy Moreno challenge, it seemed we’d get our just rewards for our play. However, Theo stepped up to take the penalty himself and saw his penalty beaten away by Mignolet. Heads could have gone down, but within a minute Walcott made amends. Another Moreno mistake allowed Iwobi to play Theo in and he arrowed a low shot into the far corner. I really don’t think the missed penalty had any impact on the overall result. The miss and the goal came so close together that I’d argue the chance for the goal wouldn’t have come about if the penalty had been scored.
A one goal lead would have been fully deserved at half time, but unfortunately football tends not to be fair. A very soft free kick, followed by a stunning finish from Coutinho provided a nasty sucker punch at the end of what had been a very good half. I can understand that the players will have been very disappointed, but what happened in the second half was completely inexcusable.
Arsenal came out of the dressing room looking like half time had consisted of several pints and a heavy dinner. We were slow, sloppy and it was as if the team had been kidnapped and replaced with replicas who didn't know how to play the game. In a truly woeful eighteen minutes after the break, Liverpool ripped us apart and Lallana, Coutinho and Mane left us reeling at 4-1 down. The stadium was in shock and the boos rang out. Despite Chamberlain and Chambers giving us hope, a three goal deficit was always going to be a huge ask. We gave ourselves far too much to do and paid the price.
I don’t think it’s time to panic and start calling for heads straight away, but I can certainly understand the anger at yet another poor start to the year. We can’t keep going into seasons and not being ready. The excuse doesn’t wash when last year we had no international tournament to prevent preparation and still lost our first game. Not being prepared also doesn’t excuse the poor result, it is the manager’s job to make sure the team is fully prepared for the first game of the season. It’s becoming a damaging trend and whilst it’s only one game, it’s really not ideal to start every season already having to play catch up.
Of course the injuries played a part, losing Gabriel and Mertesacker in such quick succession couldn’t be foreseen and left us completely depleted at centre back. There was also no point in rushing back Koscielny, as you could see from Ramsey and Lloris picking up injuries. However, the recent reports that a deal for Shkodran Mustafi is being held up by haggling over a fee will be an all too familiar story for Arsenal fans. We face Leicester away at the weekend and it already looks too late to get the German defender in in time. Sometimes it pays to be cautious with the money, sometimes you have to get the deal done for the sake of the team.
Despite the disappointment, there are still 37 games to play and whilst it already feels like groundhog day, we do need to remember that there’s still a long way to go.
Cech, Bellerin, Chambers, Holding, Monreal, Elneny (Xhaka 67’), Coquelin, Iwobi (Chamberlain 59’), Ramsey (Cazorla 61’), Walcott, Alexis
Ospina, Gibbs, Akpom, Xhaka, Cazorla, Chamberlain, Wilshere
Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren (Y), Klavan, Moreno (Y), Henderson, Lallana (Y) (Origi 76’), Wijnaldum (Stewart 88’), Firmino, Mane, Coutinho (Can 70’)
Manninger, Grujic, Can, Origi, Matip, Stewart, Alexander-Arnold
Cech - 6/10 - Didn’t have a lot to do, but went down too early for Lallana’s goal in my view
Bellerin - 6/10 - Didn’t look as composed without Mertesacker’s presence
Chambers - 5/10 - Had a reasonable first half, but lost it a bit in the second
Holding - 7/10 - Had a good debut all things considered, certainly better than most
Monreal - 7/10 - Solid amongst the chaos
Coquelin - 5/10 - Didn’t partner well with Elneny
Elneny - 5/10 - Again, didn’t gel well with Coquelin and our midfield play suffered for it
Iwobi - 6/10 - Decent assist, but looked knackered by half time and went off injured
Ramsey - 6/10 - Had a reasonable game before also succumbing to injury
Walcott - 6/10 - Looked dangerous and scored in the first half, disappeared in the second
Alexis - 5/10 - Doesn’t look like he can hold his own as a lone striker
Chamberlain - 6/10 - Scored a brilliant solo goal, then inexplicably disappeared
Cazorla - 7/10 - Whipped in a delicious assist for Chambers, surely starts on Saturday
Xhaka - 6/10 - His passing looked great, but his tackling was a little wild
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Tags: Walcott, Match Review, Match Report, Arsenal vs Liverpool, Holding debut