Amid the expected niceties that pepper every set of pre-match comments from a player desperately avoiding any antagonist dig rife for motivational fodder, Virgil van Dijk lay down a warning: “So we have to be very well prepared and very good to get a good result. We have to be confident. And obviously we all want to show a reaction after what happened in London.”
England’s capital obviously doesn’t have the same quality as Las Vegas because what happened to Liverpool in London stayed in London. A fortnight after their club record-equalling run of 25 matches without defeat was brought to an emphatic end by West Ham, Arsenal were swept aside by Jurgen Klopp’s reds with a commanding 4-0 win on Saturday evening.
Klopp echoed his defender’s sentiment pre-game: “You always want to see and you always have to show a reaction on different things,” as quoted by Liverpool’s official website. The manager’s major point of frustration in the 3-2 defeat to West Ham was Pablo Fornals’ strike on the break.
“The goal I hated most was the counter attacking goal because we had to defend that much better,” Klopp revealed. “The first goal, a foul, the second goal we have to defend it better and that’s what you have to learn from it, that this bit of aggression we have to show more.”
Arsenal arrived at Anfield in the same resolute 4-4-2 off the ball that West Ham had frustrated Liverpool with before the international break. It was long forgotten by the time Takumi Minamino gleefully celebrated the game‘s fourth goal, but the Gunners were proving to be obdurate opponents in the match’s opening stages, limiting their prolific hosts to just two shots in the first 20 minutes.
The first flickers of overt aggression in the contest actually sparked on the touchline, as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta had to be physically restrained half an hour in to prevent a sharp-tongued exchange with Klopp escalating into anything more ugly.
Liverpool’s players began to replicate that snapping on the pitch. Aaron Ramsdale may have conceded four, but prevented a greater humbling by batting the ball off Mohamed Salah’s toes after a flurry of particularly dogged harrying high on Liverpool’s left hand side.
Just as they did against West Ham, a Trent Alexander-Arnold set piece – this time delivered onto the head of Sadio Mane – broke the deadlock for Liverpool. However, with a goal advantage to start the second half, the Reds underlined their dominance with a suffocating press.
“First half we did have that aggression but didn’t really capitalise on it,” Alexander-Arnold reflected to Sky Sports post-game. “And then the first 15-20 minutes of the second half were probably as good as we played pressing-wise this season.
“[We] completely ran all over them, they continued to play out from the back, and we were all over them. They were just seeing red blurs all over the place and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. That second half was outstanding.”
Liverpool’s right-back provided a prime example of this blistering pressure in the build up to his side’s second goal. Having lost to ball to Nuno Tavares high in Arsenal’s half, Alexander-Arnold, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Salah sped into position to act as red traffic cones, funnelling the Gunners defender inside. Left with one passing option, Tavares played one of many blind balls only to find the feet of Diogo Jota who walked Liverpool into a 2-0 lead within seven minutes of the restart.
Arteta responded by hooking off one of his swamped midfield double-pivots, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles replacing Albert Sambi Lokonga afforded the Gunners little respite. Liverpool allowed Arsenal just 6.8 passes before applying a defensive action on the night – which represents a sizeable jump from their seasonal average of 12.6 PPDA according to UnderStat (the lower the number, the more intense the side’s press.
By the end of the game – which had concluded as a competitive contest long before Michael Oliver put Arsenal out of their misery – Liverpool had limited Arsenal to just five shots and, perhaps more damningly, as many touches in the opposition box; the club’s lowest such tally in the last six seasons (per Squawka).
For all of Arsenal’s improvement in what are still the opening stages of the season, Liverpool forced their dizzied visitors back into the dire hellscape from the opening month of the campaign with a reaction that will leave the next side to face the Reds wounded by a defeat fearing the worst – though there might not be too many more of those.