The display in the first half was absolutely awful and I’m struggling to remember the last time I saw Arsenal play so badly. We didn’t create a chance of note in that first half and it was only a mixture of luck and poor Liverpool finishing that kept the score to only 1-0 to them at the break. I hoped for better in the second half, but I had very little confidence of seeing it.
Arsene Wenger went with the same team that struggled to beat Newcastle 1-0 last Saturday which meant Young Ainsley Maitland-Niles continued at right back in a back four as we seem to have finally discarded the experiment with three central defenders. To be honest we never really played three central defenders as Nacho Monreal is a left back. Maybe that’s part of our defensive issues as too many players are being asked to play positions that are alien to them far too often.
Liverpool targeted AMN in that first half in particular and it was his positioning which let him down. It was too easy for players to find space behind him, but you would have to ask what help he was getting from the senior players in the side. They missed a couple of chances on that side before he was finally caught out and Phillippe Coutinho scored with a header to put them 1-0 up.
Mohamed Salah might be the top scorer in the Premier League, but it was his wayward finishing which kept us in the game as he missed two good chances to increase the lead. The ease at which Liverpool opened us was frightening and their ability to terrorise our defence on the break was scary. We offered virtually nothing at the other end in return despite playing against a team who have constantly shown they have no idea how to defend either.
I thought the second half started a little better, but that soon changed when a deflected Salah shot found it’s way past Petr Cech and I genuinely feared the worst at that stage. In a bizarre turn of events we found ourselves ahead within five minutes though as we finally realised the way to beat Liverpool was to attack them. Alexis Sanchez started it with a close range header and he was quickly followed by a pile driver from Granit Xhaka which Simon Mignolet should have saved. Just before those five minutes were up the turnaround was complete when a neat Mesut Ozil finish put us ahead to my surprise and I would imagine Liverpool’s too.
At that stage anything could have happened and Liverpool looked more than a little shocked, but they gradually played their way back into the game. We continued to push forward and they continued to catch us on the break with an equaliser becoming inevitable as the minutes passed. It was Roberto Firmino who delivered the equaliser, but Cech should have done an awful lot better after he got a strong hand to the shot.
The better chances after that fell to Liverpool, but at least we offered some threat and we were a lot better than we were in the first half. I can’t say I was unhappy with the result because I still can’t work out how we managed to get a point from a game where we were completely outplayed for all but five minutes. It leaves us only one point behind Liverpool and them in fourth place, but in truth any team who defends like we did last night won’t finish in the top four.
It’s not very fair to pick individual players out, but both Xhaka and Alex Iwobi were awful in that first half in particular. Added to that we had Laurent Koscielny yet again doing his best to hand goals to the opposition and it’s become a very regular occurrence for him this season. If it wasn’t for the recovery speed of Hector Bellerin in particular at times we would have conceded an awful lot more goals.
I can’t believe a team who practices defending could have defended as badly as we did last night which leads me to conclude we don’t actually practice our defending. The players don’t seem to know what positions to take up, how to track a runner or how to pass to their team mates for that matter. I’d love to be told how wrong I am, but if someone is responsible for that defensive coaching they should be looking for another job by now.
We’ve two tricky away games coming up at Palace and West Brom given our away form this season we should be very concerned about those games. We lost away to both of those teams last season in two of our worst performances of the whole season and there’s a sense of deja vu going into these games. If we can’t improve on how we’re playing at the moment our chances in those games are anyone’s guess and we play at hone to third placed Chelsea after those two games.
Last night’s point was better than we did at home to Liverpool last season, but I thought the performance was even worse. Jurgen Klopp seems to be able to get his team to score goals against us for fun and we don’t seem to have an answer for it. We can blame the players as much as we like, but so much of the blame has to lie with the man who bought those players and who coaches them and picks the team.
It looks to me like the manager is no longer capable of improving players and players quickly become worse than when we sign them. Sead Kolasinac was the best left back in the Bundesliga last season and he can’t get in ahead of AMN now while Xhaka looked like the midfielder we were missing when we signed him, but he most certainly isn’t that now. You have to ask what is going so badly wrong at the club that not one single player is playing to their full abilities or living up to their potential.
The only conclusion for me is the manager and the decision to extend his contract last summer was a mistake. It gave him a chance to leave on a relative high and I don’t know if he will get a chance like that again. We’re stuck with him until at least the end of next season though and I can only see things getting even worse between now and then.
Defend him as some might it’s impossible to look past the fact that they are his players playing the way he has told them to play and it is going horribly wrong far too often. His team selections and transfer activity are baffling at times and it’s hard to see how there is any plan for progression or improvement. A new man might send us in the wrong direction, but I think that’s a chance we just have to take at this stage because it just is not working under Arsene Wenger.
That’s it for today.
See you tomorrow.