The wheels come off...
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
After watching Arsenal fumble their way through an unbeaten run, lose to Southampton, squeeze past Burnley and produce an abject display away at Brighton, I can't say the prospect of facing a rampant top of the table Liverpool at Anfield filled me with any pleasure at all. Just how many could that creaking back line keep out? was the question on most Arenal fans minds as BT Sports cut away for yet another betting advert seconds before kick off, quite what those poor souls who made the trip were hoping for is anyones guess!
The team news saw Mesut (Who?) stay at home playing Minecraft, the return of Ramsey (captain no less) and Lacazette benched. Unai opting for back four!
Arsenal: Leno, Maitland-Niles ,Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Sokratis, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Torreira, Ramsey, Iwobi, Aubameyang
(Face palm), where to start? Well, Arsenal managed to survive an early scare as Liverpool got stuck in early on, a press forcing Leno to put the ball out of play under pressure, the players looked nervous and the crowd could sense it as well. Arsenal did settle eventually and after some composed possession managed to press at the other end forcing an error in the Liverpool defence. Iwobi who had started brightly, ceasing the ball and putting a good ball to the back post where Maitland-Niles had sped in to get the ball over the line. What? 1-0 to Arsenal? How did that happen? - which was the look on the young midfielder's face as he ran to the corner flag.... the joy was short lived however.
Four minutes of head scratching, hand picking and checking for vital signs passed before reality came home to bite everyone on the rear. Liverpool working the ball into the Arsenal box with ease in the form of Salah, Xhaka making a desperate tackle, Lichtsteiner trying to clear but the ball deflecting off Mustafi's backside and into the path of Firmino who tapped home from close range. 1-1 and absolutely comical defending...
It got worse seconds later as Torriera who was having a poor game got caught in midfield and Firmino walked through the Arsenal defence and slotted home, I say walked, maybe trotted, as Mustafi and Sokratis both went to ground in 'clown like' fashion and then Torriera trying to get back also ended up on his arse. Like some sort of secret invisible force field had blown them all down. Not even schoolboy defending, worse than that!!
15 minutes passed as Arsenal tried to halt the slide, but as a viewer you just felt Arsenal were another mistake away from watching the house of cards fall down. Kolasinac overhitting a back pass to Leno who could only shank it out for a corner was the mistake that set the jitters on again. As Arsenal cleared from the corner the ball swing back into and the box, and the defence tried to hold a line. Lichtsteiner failed to follow orders and played Salah onside without getting close enough to challenge or stop the cross which found Sane, unmarked, to finish with ease past Leno. 3-1 game over already!
Xhaka then lost his S**t, getting all angry and frustrated and should have been sent off after first trying to tear a leg off a defender and kicking the ball away after the resulting free kick was awarded. Stupid behaviour from one of the most experienced players on the pitch. Ramsey and Aubameyang being the two players claiming it all down.
If Arsenal fans were thanking the referee then, they were cursing him just before halftime. I for one had secretly mouthed the words, "Well if Arsenal can just keep it at 3, then maybe in the second half.." the pause came in the form of Salah getting behind Sokratis and falling. Pen awarded. Sokratis went mad and to be fair, twenty years ago it's not a pen, because twenty years ago the striker, feeling a slight touch wouldn't have gone down. This is 2018/19 however and he got what he deserved. 4-1 HT. A total *%@**%g disaster!
The sight of Martin Keown gnawing his way through the goals at halftime was a sight I couldn't bear to watch, but one thing was certain, Unai would make some sort of change. I personally was hoping for a back three, instead Mustafi got hooked and Koscielny replaced him. Still a back four, and now a rubbish defender being replaced by an ageing one. Didn't exactly install confidence.
Liverpool were straight into the Arsenal box at the start of the half, Mane getting upended by Sokratis, this time Michael Oliver, taking pity, played on. Liverpool also took some pity, thinking about the game against City coming up they took their foot off the pedal giving Arsenal some room and space to create a couple of chances. Ramsey going close, and Aubameyang somehow putting the ball over the bar from 1 yard out, thankfully for him his blushes were saved by an offside flag.
The 5th and final nail in the Arsenal coffin came in the form of another penalty in the 64th minute. A cross from Liverpool was going nowhere but Kolasinac decided to push Lovren, only slightly but enough for him to make the most of it in professional fashion. You can look at it and say it's soft, but essentially Kolasinac made contact so it's a pen. My thoughts returned to the home game with Burnley where Kolasinac did the exact same thing and got away with it, after that game Sean Dyche highlighted the injustice to the world. I suspect My Oliver had that in mind when pointing to the spot.
So 5-1, Firmino duly dispatched the penalty for his hat-trick, Arsenal humiliated!
Emery brought on Lacazette and Guendouzi, to try and muster some pride and the Frenchman should have had a penalty in the 84th minute, when brought down, but that would have just put an unfair gloss on the scoreline. Game over and a disaster Arsenal have been avoiding defensively all season, the amount of chances they have given away in games was always going to come home to roost against a decent team, Liverpool were clinical.
Afterwards Unai said something in broken English which made no sense at all and although I admire him for trying to communicate that way I do think there are times when clarity is needed. If that means talking through an interpreter to get the point across then so be it. As a paying fan I just want to know why a particular decision was made? Is that player injured or dropped? What was the thinking in that sub or formation change? I also fear this confused narrative, constant changes and lack of any real playing style is becoming an issue, do the players actually know their roles?. Arsenal have big decisions to make in January with Ramsey and Ozil, do they sell? and possibly get the funds to fix a creaking defence? Something needs to give!
Positives: Maitland-Niles getting his first goal.
Negatives: Everything else!
Leno: Looked shaky throughout, but ket the scoreline down. 5/10
Maitland-Niles: Great goal, but played very high up at times, looked confused. 7/10
Lichtsteiner: Too old and out of his depth against a top side. 3/10
Mustafi: Just stop it! I will drive, just tell me the destination. 1/10
Sokratis: Worst game in an Arsenal shirt. 4/10
Kolasinac: Doesn't work in a four, a liability defensively and gave Liverpool their 5th. 4/10
Xhaka: Should have seen red, didn't do anything defensively or offensively. 4/10
Torreira: Got over-run in the first half too many times, improved in the second. 6/10
Ramsey: Ran around a lot. 5/10
Iwobi: Started brightly but faded, probably the only spark. MOM:7/10
Aubameyang: 12 touches? Had zero service. 5/10
Kolscienly: Did a job when the game was over. 6/10
Guendouzi: Added style and hair but little else. 6/10
Lacazette: Could have won a penalty, but pointless cameo. 6/10
Next up a chance to get some goals at home to Fulham on New Years Day.
Ozil? No idea, probably back in a Fornite!