It’s going to be one of those seasons, isn’t it? Certainly if yesterday’s win at Arsenal is anything to go by; it seems like we could be in for a wild ride. You wouldn’t expect anything less from us as we become more and more of a Jürgen Klopp side, but the crazy 4-3 result just reiterated the wild, tireless, eclectic nature that is being instilled into us. We had a taste of it in the 13/14 season when we threw caution to the wind and blitzed opponents before they knew what hit them, but our side now arguably has even more avenues and options to attack through; if not the one-man demolisher that was Luis Suarez.
It was far from a perfect performance, and there were many examples of areas we need to work on. Whether or not Philippe Coutinho’s free-kick truly turned the game on its head is something we’ll never know, but we certainly came out for the second half in much better state than anything we saw in the first 45 minutes. Suddenly we were attacking with purpose, and looking a genuine threat every time we went forward. Coutinho and Roberto Firmino linked cleverly, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum broke into the box from midfield, and Sadio Mané was perhaps the star man; always being an outlet, running willingly, and driving forward quickly to put Arsenal on the back foot.
There were the usual red flags though: Jordan Henderson in the holding position never inspires much confidence, and once again he performed only ‘okay’, without a lot of reassurance that he’s actually developing much in that role. With a bonafide deep-lying playmaker back there we’d a far better side, as Lallana and Wijnaldum ahead of him could start higher rather than dropping deep to give Henderson the get-out options he needs. Simon Mignolet thwarted Theo Walcott from the penalty spot, but it’s always the notable effect his mere presence has on the rest of the defence that is his main detriment; they don’t trust him, and he doesn’t command or dominate his area for them. The repercussions of this spread throughout the entire team like a virus, as players end up having more work to do as they start from further back and have more distance to cover.
And then there’s Alberto Moreno. In his defence, we all know his game now and we know that he’s not just capable of these moment of madness, but completely prone to them. Klopp has to take some of the criticism for not addressing the issue sooner. Any time Moreno plays it seems we can’t feel safe and secure, and even in performing the relatively bog-standard duties of a full-back, you’re always on edge just praying for him to pull it off unscathed. Why a left-back wasn’t higher on our priority list going into the summer is anyone’s guess, especially as we were so willing to sell Brad Smith and let Jon Flanagan leave on loan. We are seriously lacking in options there, and using James Milner as a square peg in a round hole doesn’t seem a particularly enticing solution.
There’s still two weeks left of the transfer window though, so it only seems fair to reserve judgement on the strength of our squad until it ‘slams’ shut and we know for sure what we’ve got to work with until January. A couple of new additions wouldn’t go amiss though, and so hopefully we see some sort of movement. Christian Benteke’s imminent exit may free up some funds to improve the squad further.
I think the Emirates Stadium is one of those places you are always happy to take three points from. To go to such a tough away ground (particularly for us, as it has proven) on the first day of the season and walk away with a win should prove to be a big boost for us, especially with two more away games to come – three including the League Cup – before we make our return to Anfield. Burnley, and Tottenham even more so, could have looked much trickier fixtures if we’d found ourselves on the wrong end of the score line yesterday and already in more desperate need of the points. We’ve now got the momentum to build on, and taking that away from last year’s runners-up should make the coming trips look slightly inferior contests than they could have.
While it would’ve been nice to hold on at 4-1 or even 4-2 and claim the result that would’ve put us on top of the table (until tonight, at least), we’ve overcome a far more difficult challenge than the likes of Manchester Utd and City to attain these three points. On paper, we’ve got three or four of the hardest matches we’ll face all season within the first eight games. If we’re still in good nick by the ninth game, we may start to believe that we could be in for a special season. And we’ve made exactly the start we needed to set us on our way.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)