What is it with Liverpool FC and North London this season?
After walking out of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium empty handed back in September, the Reds suffered a second league set-back against Arsenal in this big Sunday clash.
If the defeat at Spurs will be forever remembered for a certain VAR farce, this one at the Emirates Stadium was more of the Gunners being predominantly more up to it.
In fact, the Merseysiders looked like having hardly gotten off the team bus as Jurgen Klopp admitted in his post-match conference that the home side deserved the 3 points.
In addition to putting their league campaign back on the rails, it can be said Mikel Arteta’s men had an extra motivation.
Had Liverpool finished this season with that solitary league defeat at Tottenham, Arsenal would have to face the most ambivalent prospect of being grateful to their fiercest rivals for keeping them as the only Invincibles in the Premier League history so far.
But they saw to it themselves that this big paradox would not materialise.
The team sheet to this game should have been a harbinger for Liverpool of things to come on the pitch. The absence of Dominik Szoboszlai and sadly of Conor Bradley as well, was reflected in the lack of energy in driving forward, particularly during the first half.
Uncharacteristic first half to forget
Arsenal opened the score in less than 15 minutes. A Martin Odegaard pass from the centre circle sent Kai Havertz clear. The German’s shot was blocked by Alisson Becker but Bukayo Saka was on hand to follow on the rebound.
After relentlessly going at it during the 4-1 against Chelsea in midweek, Liverpool were at the receiving end this time. It was one of those days when Alisson’s saves thankfully kept the score from getting worse.
Only one shot on target for the whole game was also indictment of the Reds’ unrecognizable performance.
The equalizer was not even a shot as Luis Diaz forced the issue down the right just before half-time.
The Colombian persisted in his battle with William Saliba and in the scramble, managed to get a foot in the ball which was then inadvertently handled by Gabriel into an own goal.
At that point, this somewhat lifted the mood in the Reds camp as Liverpool looked set to make another of their famed comeback.
But it turned out as quite a stretch this time. Arsenal did not waiver from their well thought game plan, especially the compact defensive aspect of it.
Uncharacteristically, the Redmen had barely encroached into their opponents’ penalty box during that first-half.
If another Liverpool goal was to come, it would more likely be via long-range shots.
Effectively we saw such attempts from Curtis Jones, Diaz and a handful from Alexis Mac Allister as the second half rolled on.
Just as the proceedings finally looked more balanced, misfortune struck on the 67th minute when a miscommunication between Alisson and Virgil Van Dijk enabled Arsenal to take the lead once more.
Under pressure from Gabriel Martinelli, the normally most reliable members of Liverpool’s backline did not properly deal with a long pass from Arsenal’s defence and the Brazilian forward was left with lodging the ball in an empty net.
If Alisson had been at his usual self on this one, this would have been a routine clearance for him. One can only sigh at what could have been if Arsenal were not gifted this second goal.
Seeing red also
Liverpool’s North London bugaboo this season did not come only from the final scoreline and unfortunate moments but also from red cards as well.
Iboue Konate had snuffed out countless of Arsenal attempts but his overemployed situation was also more likely to lead to two yellow cards.
With the Reds down to ten men, it was left for the Gunners to put the match to bed on the 92nd.
Leandro Trossard who once tormented Liverpool with a hat trick when Brighton came to Anfield 15 months ago, applied the finishing touch for the Londoners.
After cleverly ghosting past Harvey Elliot, the Belgian ran down their left and slid the ball in between Alisson’s legs after a slight deflection off VVD.
Definitely not Liverpool’s afternoon. Thank goodness the players now have six days to get this one out of the system.
More importantly is the need to recharge. With this being Liverpool’s 8th game in the first 35 days of 2024, it should perhaps not be utterly surprising they were found lacking at the Emirates.
Arsenal have now opened a three-horse race to the league title. For the neutrals, this has become much more interesting.
In various sense of the word, it was a bad day at the office. May be like yours truly, Liverpool supporters feel like calling in sick on Monday morning.