Going into this game, it was really make or break to see if we were the real deal this season, with many people saying we were only top of the league because we had had ‘easy’ fixtures – yet other ‘top 6’ teams that had dropped points to these same teams proved ‘there were no easy games in the Premier League’, but don’t get me started – despite a thrilling 3 – 1 victory over Spurs last weekend. Liverpool were undeniably our biggest challenge so far this season and a win was vital to prove the plentiful doubters wrong. The odds definitely weren’t in our favour despite Liverpool’s poor form this season, with us only winning one in the last fourteen matches against Liverpool. Arteta’s men did him justice as we won three goals to two, but let’s not mention how shaky this game felt, despite the incredible atmosphere our fans brought, with the chants and support being easily understood even through the TV. There were seven changes to the side that continued our unbeaten run in the Europa League, with only Tomiyasu, Gabriel, Xhaka and Martinelli keeping their places.
We started the game well with a goal within the first minute scored by Gabriel Martinelli. The visitors had the first kick of the game, but when Saliba got the ball and launched a rapid counter attack through Starboy Bukayo Saka, then onto captain Ødegaard who set Martinelli up beautifully for the best start we could have hoped for.
We remained in control for the opening twenty minutes, but it went downhill from there for the rest of the first half. In the 30th minute, Liverpool finally made their breakthrough after dominating possession. Nuñez only needed a tap in after Diaz set him up, and the visitors had equalised. The remainder of the second half was much like that, and Arteta looked understandably nervy. However, in the fifth minute of added time, Martinelli went racing down the pitch after a poor free kick from Liverpool which we defended well. Henderson came out to try and take on Martinelli, as did Alexander-Arnold, which left Saka open and able to tap the ball in; it was clear he was stretching with everything he had in him. We went into the break 2-1 up.
We started the second half in the same way we started the first, asserting total dominance and it is a surprise we didn’t score any goals. Liverpool, however, managed to score on the counter attack as Jota found himself with the ball and found Firmino who equalised, making it 2-2. Arsenal responded in the way they have been doing all season; fighting. Arsenal kept pushing and pushing and Salah was subbed off after he was totally pocketed by Tomiyasu who was playing incredibly well, especially considering he was in LB as opposed to RB or CB. Xhaka came close with a chip of the ball and a powerful shot but it wasn’t meant to be. Liverpools midfield and defence were run ragged by Martinelli who was up and down the pitch constantly, which enabled Xhaka the space to put cross after cross into the box and we were unlucky not to score from open play. This constant pressure eventually got to Thiago, who kicked the back of Jesus’ leg and conceded a penalty, which Saka cooly converted and we regained our lead for the third time.
As we continued to wind down the clock, KT came on for Ødegaard and we switched to a defensive back five, although we still took the game to Liverpool and kept on pushing. In injury time there was outrage from Arteta as the referee allowed the game to continue for an extra three minutes after the whistle should’ve been blown, and a well defended Liverpool corner led to a counter attack which could have seen us end the game with just one point, but some Rolls Royce defending meant we held Liverpool at bay and finished the match with all three points and regaining our position as leaders of the Premier League.
This game was a satisfying one, and will hopefully put the comments of an easy run of fixtures to bed. Liverpool played well at times but the fact of the matter is, they aren’t the Liverpool of old anymore after Klopp sold Mané and didn’t get a replacement, and Arsenal were just the better team. It was rewarding to see a victory against Liverpool at last after such a woeful outcome from this fixture for so long. Don’t get me wrong, that wa ssuch a positive performance, but the highlight of the game for me were the celebrations after the full time whistle was blown and we were celebrating like we had won the leage. So much confidence in this young squad makes it feel as if anything is possible for these boys.
Looking forward, we face Bodø-Glimt again on Thursday, this time away at their stadium. Their fans were amazing at the Emirates so this should be an entertaining fixture for Arsenal’s B team as we look to continue our unbeaten run in the Europa League and remain top of the table.
Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson