The start of Arsenal’s quest for the Premier League title has arrived. Mikel Arteta and his team were aware that this was a crucial game to win, and they managed to come out on top, moving up to second place and closing in on Liverpool’s lead by just a couple of points. Manchester City, who will play against Brentford on Monday, are still in a position to challenge for the top spot. It looks like we could have a thrilling three-way battle for the trophy.
Arsenal deserved to win on the balance of a frantic game, mainly because of the way they controlled the first half. But the manner of how they got themselves in front – decisively so – came as the surprise. Then again, it was that kind of wild and draining afternoon, the kind to have managers ready to pack it all in at the end of the season.
William Saliba, a dependable defender in the division, made a costly mistake with his teammate, goalkeeper David Raya, resulting in Liverpool’s equalizing goal by Gabriel Magalhães, due to pressure from Luis Díaz. This repeated incident broke the momentum that Liverpool was gaining.
During the second half, Virgil van Dijk and Alisson encountered a breakdown when trying to handle a high ball from Gabriel Martinelli. Van Dijk had instructed Alisson to handle the ball, but after being pushed by Martinelli, Alisson missed his kick. As a result, Martinelli was able to easily score and give Arsenal the lead.
After the 1-1 tie against Arsenal at Anfield on December 23rd, Liverpool continued to excel in all competitions. However, their performance was inconsistent in this match and they suffered their second loss of the season in the league. This defeat was secured when Arsenal’s substitute player, Leandro Trossard, scored in stoppage time to humiliate Alisson.
Trossard’s touch to wriggle clear of another substitute, Harvey Elliott, up the left was lovely and when he sliced in on goal Van Dijk seemed reluctant to engage him. Trossard’s low shot took a slight deflection off Van Dijk before going through Alisson’s legs. The No 1’s nightmare was complete.
Liverpool had been reduced to 10 men in the 88th minute, Ibrahima Konaté collecting a second yellow card for a check on Kai Havertz. His first booking was for wrestling down Havertz, who played as Arsenal’s No 9 in the absence of the injured Gabriel Jesus. Jürgen Klopp had thrown everything he had left at Arsenal, moving Díaz to right-back in the closing stages and playing Darwin Núñez, who appeared only as a substitute, and Diogo Jota as twin strikers. Now his team were broken.
Arsenal came out with high energy and the fans at the Emirates Stadium were energized. It was clear that Arteta wanted a quick start and there was a moment, seven minutes in, where he aggressively retrieved the ball for an Arsenal throw-in.
There was the sight of numerous Arsenal players whipping up the crowd, including after the breakthrough goal, which had been advertised. From a Raya throw, Martinelli switched on the afterburners to glide away from Konaté before crossing for Bukayo Saka, who had timed his run. Saka’s headed connection was not true.
Jorginho performed exceptionally well in midfield, and Martin Ødegaard also had a strong showing in the No. 10 position. Ødegaard was responsible for kickstarting the play that led to the first goal, with a brilliant first-touch pass that released Havertz. Despite being in a one-on-one situation with Alisson, Havertz was unable to score as Alisson made a block. Unfortunately for the goalkeeper, the rebound ended up at Saka’s feet, who confidently scored his 11th goal of the season.
During the first half, Arsenal had control of the game. They were successful in physical battles, with Declan Rice’s presence felt throughout. The team also displayed their individual styles with the ball, including Ben White’s impressive skills. Liverpool lost possession while attempting to build from the back, resulting in Ødegaard’s shot being blocked by Van Dijk. Gabriel and Martinelli also had opportunities to score.
The Liverpool squad is seldom unsettled. They had minimal impact on the attack in the first half, but they exude confidence that their opportunity will arise.
At the exact moment of half-time, a costly mistake was made by Saliba of Arsenal. He attempted to guide a pass from Ryan Gravenberch over the top back to Raya, but Díaz quickly intercepted and passed it to Gabriel, who unintentionally deflected it into the goal with his hand. Saliba should have taken more responsibility in handling the situation.
At the beginning of the second half, Liverpool appeared revitalized, as Curtis Jones attempted a curling shot that narrowly missed the far post. Meanwhile, Arsenal’s Ødegaard saw his shot deflect off target, and Díaz’s attempt was too close to Raya. This would be their only shot on goal for the game.
Arsenal dug deep to tap into their determination. They were in desperate need and, despite Havertz’s loud plea for a penalty after a scuffle with Alexis Mac Allister, they finally got what they were looking for with Martinelli’s goal.
The final moments were tumultuous. Mac Allister narrowly missed a shot after a corner, while Arsenal’s substitute Jakub Kiwior headed at Alisson, missing a potential goal. Arsenal maintained their composure.