A 5-0 demolition by Manchester City at the end of August had Mikel Arteta hanging on to his job by a thread.
Everything pointed towards the Spaniard being one of the first – if not the first – Premier League managers to lose their job this season, with there being precious little sign of improvement from last season.
A run of 10 matches without a defeat followed, including a 3-1 win over rivals Tottenham and Arteta also won the Manager of the Month award for September. They even went into Saturday’s trip to Anfield knowing a win would put them above Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Whether they were caught believing the hype is up for debate, but what isn’t is the fact they were utterly outclassed eventually by Liverpool, who dealt out a 4-0 defeat that put Arsenal firmly back in their place.
As you would’ve expected, Liverpool were the controlling force, though for the most part Arsenal looked content with how the match was progressing during the first half-hour – after all, their average of 46.8 per cent possession is their lowest seasonal record since Opta began collecting such data (2003-04), so they’re used to having less of the ball.
That’s not to say Liverpool didn’t threaten, though. Aaron Ramsdale had to be alert to keep a Thiago Alcantara volley at bay and he then managed to tip Sadio Mane’s follow-up effort around the post as the pair scrapped for the ball on the ground during an otherwise tame opening.
A flashpoint on the sidelines in the 33rd minute finally brought a little spice to proceedings, however, as Arteta and Klopp clashed following a collision between Mane and Takehiro Tomiyasu.
That seemed to increase the volume inside Anfield and it translated to greater intensity on the pitch, with Ramsdale producing fine saves to deny Mohamed Salah and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a two-minute period soon after as the England goalkeeper continued to show the kind of decisiveness that has drawn him considerable praise in recent times.
But he was soon made to look culpable as Liverpool went in front, Mane heading in Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick with Ramsdale failing to keep it out despite the ball bouncing under him in a fairly central position relative to the posts.
Arsenal initially showed some invention at the start of the second period, with Emile Smith Rowe slipping a lovely pass in behind Virgil van Dijk for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, only for the Dutchman to make a fine last-ditch tackle to end the danger.
That was not a sign of things to come, however, as the Gunners fell right into Liverpool’s trap with their insistence to play out from the back.
Arsenal’s possession share increased from 35.1 per cent in the first half to 55 per cent between the second-half resumption and the hour mark, and that brought Liverpool’s biggest strength into play.
Klopp’s men went into the weekend with a league-leading 122 high turnovers (when the ball is won within 40 metres of the opposition’s goal) and it was during the early stages of the second half that they found their groove in this regard.
Alexander-Arnold even touched on it in his post-match interview with Sky Sports, saying: “The first 15, 20 minutes of the second half was probably as good as we’ve pressed this season. 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 what we want.”
The Reds’ pressing was relentless in the Arsenal half and that forced the visitors into numerous mistakes – Albert Sambi Lokonga, Gabriel Magalhaes and Nuno Tavares were all guilty of being caught in possession inside their defensive third, with the latter seeing his error punished.
Tavares’ loose pass just outside his own box was pounced on by Diogo Jota, and the Portugal star showed immense composure to casually saunter past Ramsdale and convert into an empty net.
For all the praise that’s come Arsenal’s way in recent times, Liverpool were providing a timely reminder that they remain some way behind the Premier League’s best – and it still got worse for them.
Ramsdale produced another excellent stop to deny Jota a second, but it was only a matter of time until Liverpool got a third as they continuously broke into the spaces vacated by Arsenal.
Salah got a deserved goal as he nudged over the line after Mane raced beyond the Gunners’ backline and crossed, with both then playing a major role as they made it 4-0.
Mane chased another ball over the Arsenal defence, this time courtesy of Jordan Henderson. He held the ball up, found Salah and he slipped Alexander-Arnold in to smash across goal for Takumi Minamino to bury with his first touch since coming on.
What was billed as Arsenal’s first opportunity to show how much better they are since getting battered by City turned into another brutal mauling.
There’s much to be optimistic about for Arsenal, given the young talent they have in their squad, but Liverpool brought them crashing back to reality here.