Arsenal’s recent run of form has come under immense praise. The poise, attacking potency and the high-intensity press employed by Mikel Arteta’s men has been one of the main sources of enjoyment for much of the football viewing nation.
With a win over Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, coupled with a convincing victory over FK Bodø/Glimt on Thursday night, Arsenal headed into Sunday tea time’s clash with Liverpool full of the double-edged sword of both apprehension and confidence.
If Mikel Arteta’s recent team selections have been anything to go by, he will have no doubt been angered that he could not select Oleksandr Zinchenko for the match. Normally in this situation, it would mean calling on the reliable, experienced head of Kieran Tierney, but instead, Arteta opted for the strange route of playing Takehiro Tomiyasu at left-back.
Aside from that, Arsenal were unchanged from last weekend’s match.
They say grabbing the early goal is key. Against top teams like Liverpool, you need a goal early on to settle the nerves and that, arguably, is exactly what Arsenal did.
After a Liverpool attack was broken up in defence by William Saliba, Arsenal began to break forward at pace.
Bukayo Saka fed the ball into Martin Ødegaard, who took advantage of Virgil van Dijk’s poor positioning to feed Gabriel Martinelli, who hammered home the opener less than 58 seconds into the match.
It was the dream start for Mikel Arteta’s men and they showed instantly why their attack is one of the most potent in the league.
From there, Liverpool began to dominate the ball more.
The away side began to create some interesting avenues, mainly through Thiago Alcântara, but Arsenal stood firm and, by and large, stemmed the tide.
But, as the old saying goes, you can’t keep a good team down and Liverpool were no such exception.
A poor attempt at a clearance from Gabriel Magalhães allowed Luis Díaz the chance to break free on Arsenal’s left-hand side. Though William Saliba came over to deal with the subsequent low cross, he was unable to prevent it, as too was Gabriel Magalhães, who could only look on helplessly with Aaron Ramsdale as Darwin Núñez slid home the equaliser.
It was a hammer-blow to Arsenal, who had worked extremely hard to maintain their slender advantage and, now found themselves level.
Now, Liverpool began to dominate more and more and it was all Arsenal could do to hold on for dear life.
But after a poor Liverpool free-kick, Arsenal were able to break.
Gabriel Martinelli picked the ball up on the halfway line and, head down, began to sprint. Liverpool brought ment over to stop him and, looked to have stopped him. That was, until Trent Alexander-Arnold, totally losing his head, sprinted across the penalty area, clearing a path for Bukayo Saka to run free and slide home Martinelli’s grounded cross into the back of the net to restore the host’s lead just before half-time.
Though Liverpool screamed for offside, no flag was waived.
Half-time came and went and whatever nerves had been settled in the first-half were brought straight back in the second.
Arsenal dominated the ball much better in the second half, but that didn’t stop Liverpool drawing level.
Barely eight minutes after the restart substitute Roberto Firmino, who specialises in gials against Arsenal, was beautifully fed by Diogo Jota and managed to send a spectacular finish into the far corner, beyond Aaron Ramsdale.
It is perhaps a testament to how much the mentality has changed under Mikel Arteta and how much the fanbase is behind this Arsenal team that heads did not drop.
Instantly, Arsenal began to go about righting the wrongs of Firmino’s goal.
Liverpool tried as hard as they could to keep Arsenal out and even brought on the formidable forms of both Ibrahima Konaté and Fabinho to try and stem the tide, but to no avail.
Soon the ball broke into Liverpool’s penalty area and, try as they might, they just couldn’t get the ball cleared. Eventually, the ball fell to Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area and he was brought down by Thiago Alcântara for a penalty.
On viewing of the slow-motion replays, it looked exceptionally soft and one of the many penalties that Arsenal would (this time rightly) have been turned down in the past.
The dissent from Jordan Henderson and co was understandable and was unlikely to have abated when Bukayo Saka tucked home from 12-yards to hand Arsenal the lead once more.
From then on, it was a perpetual onslaught from Jürgen Klopp’s men. Try as they might, they just couldn’t beat Arsenal’s stubborn defensive line and, soon enough, tempers were running high.
Mikel Arteta and Jürgen Klopp had to be spoken to, at length, by referee Michael Oliver. What had been the flashpoint of last season’s 4-0 drubbing at Anfield, this time felt like the motivation Arsenal needed and they were just able to cling on for dear life until the final whistle.
It was inarguably one of the biggest wins of Mikel Arteta’s relatively short career to date. To take three points off a team as good as Liverpool while also conceding two goals is a huge statement for such a young side to be making.
There were standout performances all round, but the performances of Benjamin White, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Martinelli stood out among the lot.
White, so often overlooked because of his £50m price tag and the emergence of William Saliba was his usual spectacular self at right-back. Not only did White provide exceptional support to Bukayo Saka, but he was also near impenetrable on his side.
On the other flank, Takehiro Tomiyasu was again exceptional.
It was a big call from the manager to play the Japan international at left-back today and the former-Bologna man repaid his manager’s faith with a superb display. Precious few defenders in world football can say that they have had the pleasure of “pocketing” Mohamed Salah, but Tomiyasu joins that list today. The Egyptian got no change out. ofTomiyasu all game and cut a frustrated figure as he was substituted before the 70th minute.
As for young Gabriel Martinelli, it was perhaps one of the best performances from a non-Manchester City player so far this season.
The Brazilian was at the heart of everything positive about Arsenal’s play today and, try as they might, they could get nowhere near him. In fact, Martinelli’s performance was so good, Liverpool were forced to substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold at half-time. His replacement, Joe Gomez, arguably faired no better.
Martinelli’s performance deserved a goal and he was richly provided with one and a wonderful assist too.
This was a huge statement for Arsenal to make. To have taken 24 out of a possible 27 points this season and to be sat ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League and a full 14 points clear of Liverpool is one hell of a statement of intent.
The attention will now turn to Thursday, but not before the euphoria of Sunday’s win have worn off.
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White
12.) William Saliba
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
5.) Thomas Partey
34.) Granit Xhaka
8.) Martin Ødegaard (c) (Tierney 81′)
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
9.) Gabriel Jesus (Nketiah 90′)
30.) Matt Turner
16.) Rob Holding
17.) Cédric Soares
3.) Kieran Tierey
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
21.) Fábio Vieira
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Eddie Nketiah
1.) Alisson Becker
66.) Trent Alexander-Arnold (Gomez 45′)
32.) Joël Matip (Kontaé 68′)
4.) Virgil van Dijk
21.) Kostas Tsimikas
14.) Jordan Henderson
6.) Thiago Alcântara
20.) Diogo Jota (Elliott 79′)
11.) Mohamed Salah (Fabinho 68′)
23.) Luis Díaz (Firmino 41′)
27.) Darwin Núñez
62.) Caoimhín Kelleher
2.) Joe Gomez
5.) Ibrahima Konaté
47.) Nathaniel Phillips
7.) James Milner
19.) Harvey Elliott
28.) Fábio Carvalho
9.) Roberto Firmino