- By Danny Murphy
- MOTD2 pundit & former Liverpool midfielder
A big win for Arsenal, a good result at Manchester City… and a disappointing display from Liverpool.
That’s how some people saw Jurgen Klopp’s side’s 3-1 win at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday because, after the Reds’ stunning performance at Chelsea on Wednesday, you’d expect the same this time around.
But football doesn’t work like that. They came up against a very good team in Arsenal, who have a good home record and had a lot to fight for on the day, but they were very smart in what they did.
Arsenal’s intensity was greater than Liverpool’s in the first half, when they were in control. The Gunners were the first to have loose balls, and they hunted in the pockets.
They were very impressive in football, but their success was not only due to their efforts.
That part was smart, but their intelligence about who did what, and when, was also part of the plan – and it was very impressive.
‘Liverpool stood with intelligence and sport’
When Liverpool got the ball, they wanted to get into Alexis Mac Allister as quickly as possible, but Arsenal prepared them.
Martin Odegaard was instrumental in stopping the ball from being passed to Mac Allister when he was pushed up by Kai Havertz, but he also knew when to get deep and stop the Argentine playing there.
When Mac Allister got on the ball, if Odegaard wasn’t close to him, Jorginho or Declan Rice could move out of their position to block him.
It was a high-risk approach because there was a chance of the ball going into their backs, especially against a Liverpool team, but it worked because Arsenal’s organization was so good.
You can’t press well unless you are both on the page and you both have the same desire, and Arsenal had it all. It wasn’t just Mac Allister who stood out, either, as he quickly jumped all over Liverpool’s midfielders.
As well as Odegaard and Havertz, Arsenal’s other two midfielders were impressive, especially Declan Rice. He was amazing – he was at his best in an Arsenal shirt.
And Jorginho was also very good. Bringing him to the team seemed, on paper, like a bad move before it happened – it seemed to fear Liverpool – but it was an honor, and it was part of the plan.
His genius, next to Rice’s game, meant it worked.
No fight against Liverpool this time
Looking at the first half, I thought there was no way Arsenal could keep this up, and they couldn’t – Liverpool impressed and started well after the break.
But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Arsenal’s afternoon was what they did after going 2-1 down midway through the second half.
Yes, it was a mistake for Liverpool to let the Gunners take the lead again, but after that their referees helped them get a point.
Arsenal went into a position where, for the most part, they were deep – but because they acted as a team they were not confined to two of the four banks on the edge of their area.
Odegaard and Havertz both fell together, making it difficult for Liverpool to find space.
We’ve seen Liverpool fight back from behind many times this season but this time they couldn’t break Arsenal down.
In the 30 minutes – including stoppage time – after Gabriel Martinelli scored, he had just three shots on goal, none of which were on target.
Let’s put things in perspective, though. Liverpool were chasing a game against a very good team and they were without their best player. Mohamed Salah is a game changer and he doesn’t exist.
Failing to start with Darwin Nunez was also difficult. Yes, he came off the bench in the second half despite a foot injury, but he could have made a big difference before halftime, the way the game was going at that time.
His pace would have allowed Liverpool to go long, fast, to break away from behind and get behind Arsenal. Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota are also quick, but they don’t have the same power. He missed having Nunez as a target.
‘There is no reason for Klopp to be afraid’
Although Liverpool didn’t play as well against Arsenal as they did against Chelsea, I don’t think they were that poor.
It was a great display for Arsenal and, sometimes, you have to leave the pitch and go “you know what, the other team was better today”.
It was a bit difficult at the back for Liverpool, as they have been playing against some of the best teams in the last few weeks.
This was a taste of their own medicine, especially in the first half, when they had equal chances – they had not conceded a goal before Gabriel’s goal.
But I wouldn’t be scared if I were Klopp. It was his side’s first defeat in the Premier League since September – he needs to do something, and I think he will.
They have players coming back, we know that – Wataru Endo will return to the Asia Cup to compete in midfield, and Salah should return from injury in a few weeks.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are back to fitness, and Thiago Alcantara was on the bench on Sunday.
They have great depth and great competition for places here – and they are still top of the Premier League and trying to win four games, at the start of February.
So, there are many advantages in Liverpool. I can understand Arsenal’s excitement at the end because they are back in the competition now, but the Reds are still in serious danger, and this one defeat is not the end of the world.
Danny Murphy talks to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.