LIVERPOOL, England — The clock struck 57 minutes and for Arsenal, already 2-0 down against Liverpool, the nadir was still to come.
Mohamed Salah received possession on the right flank and beat David Luiz with such ruthlessness that social media was awash with obituaries for the defender’s career. The Egyptian forward sped goalward, with Nacho Monreal’s presence proving to be no impediment either, before planting the surest of finishes into the bottom left corner of Bernd Leno’s goal.
The home side had a third goal through a piece of wondrous football, and despite Unai Emery’s side following a different tactical script on this latest visit to Liverpool’s red side, their all-too-familiar inferiority on this ground had been extended: this 3-1 reverse means that Arsenal have conceded 25 times in the last seven league games at Anfield, of which they have drawn two and lost five.
“We are the champions, champions of Europe” had been the opening chant from the home support after kickoff and what followed on an atypically sunny Merseyside evening served as a reminder of how wide the gulf is between these two sides, something a late Lucas Torreira consolation strike could not disguise.
Having begun the season with back-to-back wins, Arsenal arrived with confidence and a plan to starve Liverpool of space centrally. Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola once remarked that Jurgen Klopp’s men “especially like to attack from inside, through the middle. I don’t think there is another team in the world attacking in this way with so many players capable of launching moves in an instant” and Emery wanted to stifle that strength with a narrow midfield.
Klopp admitted later that he “didn’t expect the system they played,” and the tactic encouraged Liverpool to use the twin threat of full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the flanks, with the visitors backing themselves to deal with crosses and fire the ball quickly upfield to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, isolating them against Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip.
It was partly successful for 40 minutes, with Arsenal coping with aerial bombardment and sustained pressure. But while the best chances for the north Londoners came via their front men, they were created by Liverpool’s mistakes. The standout statistic of the first half was that Klopp’s charges made 128 passes in the attacking third, while Arsenal only managed 18.
Liverpool’s superiority would eventually be reflected on the scoreboard, beginning when Joel Matip headed in Alexander-Arnold’s corner four minutes before half-time. During a 10-minute spell after the interval, Salah got the better of Luiz twice — first winning a penalty as the centre-back tugged on his shirt, then leaving him in his shadow for his second and Liverpool’s third — to leave Arsenal on the canvas.
“I think now we have reduced the difference with Liverpool over the 90 minutes,” Emery said post-match. “We’ve reduced the difference from last year (Arsenal lost 5-1 at Anfield in December 2018), but at the moment it’s not enough.”
That last line summed up matters succinctly. Arsenal were not so awful as they have been here — they were organised, they had a blueprint and they created chances in the first half — but that was nevertheless not enough against the champions of Europe.
Liverpool, like City, are operating in a different sphere from their rivals, and neither have yet hit the heights of which they are capable. Klopp noted after the game, for example, that “we could have controlled it better; that’s probably our real challenge.”
“I think everything we did well in the first four games we did tonight for longer, more precise and better tuned,” the Liverpool manager added. “I loved the desire, the passion, the power and the energy that we put into this game. It made us really uncomfortable to play against.”
Arsenal can take solace in the fact they will not be the only side to huff and puff but still be blown away at Anfield, where Liverpool are now unbeaten in 42 league fixtures.