So much for easing us in gently. Liverpool started the new season with a dramatic 4-3 win away at Arsenal in a game that forced fans to endure a whole range of emotions, chief amongst which were stress and tension. In the end though it was elation, as the visitors clung on to secure an excellent three points against their rivals.
This was always going to be a high-scoring game. Arsenal were missing Gabriel and Mertesacker through injury. Koscielny, who joined up with the squad late after reaching the European Championship final with France, was also unavailable – this left something of a crisis at centre-back for the hosts. In the end it was the inexperienced pairing of Chambers and Holding that were left to deal with the potent attacking threat of Mane, Firmino and Coutinho. Meanwhile, Liverpool lined up with an extremely attacking side: a central three of Henderson, Lalllana and Wijnaldum meant that at times our shape was a de facto 4-1-5 that almost entirely bypassed the midfield. As such the defence was exposed, a defence that is prone to errors: Moreno in particular is a weak point, and he was constantly targeted. It isn’t often that you go into a game predicting a scoreline of 5-3, and it’s even less often that you’re nearly right – regardless of the inevitability of it, however, it made for a great, albeit stressful, spectacle.
The first half was surprisingly drab. Liverpool seemed sluggish and altogether un-Klopp-like, failing to put much pressure on Arsenal when not in possession and unable to string any passes together when on the ball. The (lack of) midfield was a primary factor: transition from the back was nigh on impossible, meaning the options were to smash the ball long or risk losing it by passing through the lively Arsenal press. It was this latter route that led to the opening Gunners goal – Lallana lingered too long and was robbed of the ball in a very dangerous area, and Moreno, who had just surged forwards to support the potential developing attack, was left hideously out of position. Iwobi then found Walcott who finished well, having been denied from the penalty spot by a good Mignolet save only moments previously. Liverpool looked destined to go in at the break deservedly trailing, but on the stroke of half time Coutinho came up with a piece of pure inspiration. The free kick, which he himself had won, was a fair way out; this did not put the Brazilian off, and he found the top corner with unerring accuracy and power.
Despite this equaliser, Klopp cannot have been a happy man in the half time dressing room. The performance was well below the levels that the squad are capable of – this point was emphasised by the storming fifteen minutes immediately after the break. Liverpool came out looking rejuvenated: suddenly the energy and skill was evident throughout the side, and beautiful moves were strung together seemingly effortlessly. The second goal for the visitors came quickly, as it seemed it must – Wijnaldum squared the ball for Lallana, who controlled it beautifully before rifling it between the legs of Petr Cech. The third goal followed soon after, this time coming from the right hand side: Clyne drilled in a cross following a wonderful passing build-up, and Coutinho was on hand to steer it in for his second. The fans were sent into ecstasy when Mane bagged the fourth – his excellent run was followed by a staggeringly good weak foot finish into the top corner. It’s only the second day of Premier League action, but already we have a possible contender for goal of the season.
This is Liverpool, however, so of course we did not cruise on to an easy victory. The lead was pegged back to two almost immediately after Mane’s strike, with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot deflecting wickedly off Lovren and past a helpless Mignolet. This seemed to breathe new life into Arsenal, who seized control of the match once more. They made the most of their newfound dominance with 15 minutes to play – Callum Chambers rose above the defence to head home, leaving the score at 4-3. An extremely nervy end to the match ensued, but Klopp’s introduction of Origi paid dividends – rather than inviting pressure Liverpool retained an outlet and were able to prevent Arsenal from creating too many more chances, and consequently held on for the win.
Certainly this was far from a perfect performance, but this team is far from a finished product. This is day one of Liverpool’s season, and the key was always going to be the three points: an invaluable three points against a potential rival. A rival for what position remains to be seen, but there is no reason why this team can’t be pushing for the title itself. Of course the defence will need to tighten up if we want sustainable success this season, but the attack looked immense at times today – if Klopp can find a balance, Liverpool look like a formidable force once more.