There was a little bit of everything in last night’s match against Arsenal. The good and the bad of Liverpool summed up in one 90 minute battle against the league leaders. It felt like three or four different games all rolled into one, such was the flow and changes in dynamics. But Jürgen Klopp’s time at LFC so far hasn’t been plain sailing, so what we saw seemed like an amalgamation of all our current strengths and weaknesses.
Our high pressing game led to a blistering start, and even before the opening goal you could tell the players were well up for this one. We were the better team, and though Arsenal got their goal against the run of play, at 2-1 I was still hoping we might be seeing a repeat of the battering we gave the Gunners two years ago. It had a very similar feel to it; with us flying forward into attacks with neat touches and exceptional movement and energy.
It wasn’t to happen though. Arsenal’s second goal had a massive impact on the game. That’s when our mental frailties began to show; as once again we’d conceded from a set piece where defenders failed to clear the ball and the goalkeeper failed to control his 6 yard box. You could then almost see the doubts begin to appear in the player’s heads. Apprehension took over, and we thought ‘here we go again’. The pressing faded, passes started going astray, and Arsenal took control.
It’s not that we fell to pieces completely, but the positive, proactive Liverpool that started the game had taken a setback, and let it have far too much effect psychologically. And it wasn’t until Giroud had put us 3-2 behind that we started having a real go again. Unfortunately that just comes as a by-product of having a back five that we can’t entirely trust. Our midfield and forwards had a real foothold in the game, but Arsenal looked like they could score every time they went forward due to our shaky rear-guard, and eventually that’s going to eat at the rest of the team’s confidence. So only when we had nothing to lose did we start to flood forward again.
Two of Klopp’s substitutes then combined to grab us the equaliser, as Christian Benteke cushioned a header down for Joe Allen to volley in. It was no less than we deserved, but on reflection it was a game we could have taken the full three points from had we not made such amateurish mistakes.
Looking at individuals, Emre Can was marvellous all game long. He’s becoming the dominating midfielder that we are all too desperate for, and his role in the middle is controlling, composed, aggressive or creative as is necessary. He’s forming a good understanding with Jordan Henderson, and I’ve long thought that if we can find a duo that allows us to play with a midfield two, it replaces a redundant third midfielder with an extra attacker, which in turn makes us far more of a threat going forward.
Alberto Moreno is a bit of an enigma, but I loved to see his passion and determination. They hadn’t been traits I’d particularly assigned to him before, but you could tell he was desperate not to lose at the very least, and all game long he was up and down the left hand side; providing an outlet and extra body in attack, then busting a gut to get back and defend if needed. He had a few wild shots, and his end product wasn’t perfect, but he went up in my estimation for not shying away and showing some bottle. And that’s on top of the high regard I already held him in as a very promising young player.
Roberto Firmino obviously deserves a mention too. He scored two excellent goals, linked play well, and showed some very neat touches. But I’ve genuinely never doubted him. I watched him too much at Hoffenheim to pay any attention to those saying we’d wasted money on another expensive flop. His overall form has been poor since he signed, but we’ve got ourselves a top class player in the Brazilian, and as he adapts and the team improves I expect him to become a very important player for us.
On the other hand, have we ever seen a match-changing performance like Firmino’s yesterday from Adam Lallana? He is a player who slots nicely into this team and the style we’re playing, and yet we’re still not getting any particularly special displays from him. After some injury troubles that maybe let his poor form off the hook last year, he’s now fit and having a great run in a team that plays to his strengths, but he is rarely contributing anything of real note. He puts the effort in and shows some impressive technical ability, but there’s almost never anything to show for it at the end of it all.
Daniel Ward, recently recalled from his loan spell at Aberdeen, should probably start preparing himself for his presumably imminent Liverpool debut. After Adam Bogdan’s horror show at Exeter, Simon Mignolet looked equally unstable and in general does little to instil any confidence into an already edgy backline. With the FA Cup replay to come next Wednesday, Klopp may see that as a more appropriate game to give Ward the nod in than the Utd match on Sunday, but if he does well I wouldn’t be surprised to see him keep his place after that.
We know by now that Klopp is working with a few square pegs in round holes that don’t exactly do his tactics justice, so because of that we will continue to be susceptible to games like this for the remainder of the season. However, you can’t say that the signs aren’t there that Klopp knows how to produce effective football, and it may take a transfer window or two, but soon enough we will be making it last the full 90 minutes.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)