Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
Given the total lack of investment in the squad during the summer transfer window, it was no real surprise to see Arsenal completely taken apart on the opening day of the season, by a Liverpool side that were far below their best for large parts of the game.
The Gunners have now failed to win six of their last seven opening day games and once again find themselves on the back foot as soon as the season has started. That damning statistic points to a serious lack of preparation by the manager and coaching staff, all of whom should shoulder the blame for this defeat.
The manager in particular looks like a man who is all at sea, drowning but with absolutely no idea about how to save himself. Those who still support him and show blind faith in his theory are becoming fewer and fewer in number as each season passes and those that remain in the Arsene knows best brigade do so against all logic. As the previous season drew to an end it was painfully obvious that Arsenal required a top quality central defender to play alongside Koscielny as well as a World class striker, which has been a shortfall of this team since Robin Van Persie left four years ago. Once again and to no real surprise, the manager has failed to recruit the required players in these positions, signing two inexperienced youngsters instead, Rob Holding and Takuma Asano. During pre-season both Mertesacker and Gabriel suffered long term injuries, while the manager also decided to give Koscielny and Giroud long rests, permitting them to miss the opening games of the season. As a result, Arsenal went into this game against Liverpool in the ludicrous position of having no real central defenders or strikers.
Having decided against recalling Koscielny back early, in central defence there was the option to deploy Mathieu Debuchy as a makeshift central defender, a position he has played in before for the Gunners and performed well in, however Wenger decided the best option would be to play the inexperienced Callum Chambers and Rob Holding. No matter how much talent these two youngsters have, they should never have been thrown into a big game like that. Fans of a club the size of Arsenal should expect better. Wenger’s decision appeared to be justified during a first half in which both Chambers and Holding performed well, but this was more as a result of Liverpool mysteriously failing to employ their manager’s famous high pressing game. There was no pressure on the Arsenal central defenders and therefore the first half was rather comfortable for them.
As soon as the second half started, things changed dramatically as Liverpool started to apply high intensity pressure on the Gunners back four and they just fell apart. The problem with playing two young and inexperienced players at the back is that when things go wrong there is no one to offer leadership and help get the inexperienced player through it. In years gone by, Tony Adams wouldn’t stop talking to an inexperienced player as he would coach him through the game. On Sunday, Rob Holding turned to Callum Chambers for help, but saw a player just as inexperienced as him and just as much in trouble too. It was no surprise that Liverpool were running riot.
Having taken the lead through Theo Walcott’s low strike, a minute after the Englishman had seen a penalty easily saved, Arsenal conceded just before half time to re-energise their opponents. Although the award of the free kick was a poor decision by the referee, Coutinho’s execution was sublime, directing the ball right into the corner of the corner and leaving Cech with no chance. Liverpool picked up where they had left off at the start of the second half and within a blistering 18 minute period, the visitors scored three times and were 4-1 one. First Adam Llanna steered the ball past Cech, then Coutinho’s neat flick made it 3-1 to the away side, before Sadio Mane showed the fragility of this Arsenal defence by powering his way through and firing a shot into the top corner of the net.
Arsenal needed to respond and quickly, but with no Giroud in the match day squad, there were no strikers for Wenger to call upon other than Chuba Akpom. Having overlooked the youngster for a starting place, despite the lack of options and the fact that Akpom enjoyed a positive pre-season, Wenger decided against even asking him to warm up, despite the dire situation his team found themselves in. Instead it was left to Alexis Sanchez to play the lone role up front in yet another ridiculous move by the manager. Anyone who has watched Arsenal over the last two years knows that Sanchez cannot play the lone striker role, yet the man in charge of the club seems oblivious to this fact. Rather than prioritise the signing of a striker in the summer, given the fact the Welbeck’s long term injury was confirmed towards the end of last season, Wenger elected to stick to his guns and the result was the comical sight of Sanchez attempting to win headers against defenders far taller than him.
Consequently Arsenal offered very little going forward and it was really Liverpool taking their eye off the ball which allowed the Gunners to get back into the game. First Oxlade-Chamberlain went on a positive forward run before seeing his shot deflect off a defender and into the net, then Chambers headed home a Santi Cazorla free kick to reduce the deficit to one goal. There were still 15 minutes left but Arsenal failed to mount another significant effort on goal as they struggled to pose a serious attacking threat.
Boos rained down from the stands at the final whistle and rightly so. The fact the Gunners failed to secure the equaliser was probably a positive in the long term as it would have allowed the manager off the hook, enabling him to praise the team’s attitude and mental strength instead of addressing his own shortcomings. Wenger will probably now scramble around trying to find a defender and a striker before the transfer window closes, and will probably end up signing players of average quality instead of the top level players required. Once again the lack of a real plan going into the transfer window is mind boggling and the fact the board allows him to get away with it just goes to show the real level of ambition they have. What a way to start a new season.