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Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool – Match Review

Arsenal failed to turn up in the first half and blew Liverpool away in a devastating second half spell, but had to make do with a share of the points in a whirlwind game at The Emirates.

Arsenal wenger again opted for four at the back and a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Alex Iwobi getting nods to start. The changes didn’t have much of an effect though, as Liverpool edged into the game.

The first ten minutes we played with a good intensity, but our moves broke down and we gave Liverpool the initiative they needed to get into the game. Philippe Coutinho started a counter in his own half and continued his run, closely marshalled by Jack Wilshere. The delivery into the box got a crucial deflection, sending the ball skywards and Coutinho got his head on the ball to float it over Petr Cech and into the far corner.

Liverpool were in the ascendancy, as they were catching us cold repeatedly. Mo Salah was looking every inch the dangerman, and Cech pulled off some impressive saves to keep the Egyptian at bay.

Liverpool kept coming, and it was a real wonder how the away side were not stretching their lead, but some basic mistakes in their passing and some good work by Bellerin and Maitland-Niles were keeping the space to a minimum at crucial times.

The Reds were still creating chances quite easily though. We weren’t able to escape the high press, and the pressure was building. 

On the 44th minute, Liverpool missed out on doubling their lead, Salah denied by a wonderful low save from Cech, and Mane acrobatically missing the rebound chance.

The referee’s whistle couldn’t come quickly enough, and the second half had to bring improvement.

It would take a while though.

Before that, Liverpool went two up, as the pattern of the first half continued. Mo Salah got his goal, with a low shot that got a crucial clip off of second half sub Shkodran Mustafi’s leg, sending it just out of the grasp of Petr Cech.

2-0 down, at home, and looking as limp as Donald Trump’s hair. This could have gotten ugly.

Instead, the response was quite terrific.

Within a minute, we had woken up. This is something I’ve gotten used to as a Gooner, seemingly unable to kick into the high gears we’re capable of unless we’re under duress. This was duress indeed, but Hector Bellerin swung in a marvellous cross to the back stick, where Joe Gomez had switched off and let Alexis steal in and plant a header into the net.

The fires were lit, and the crowd could sense a shift. So could the players, as two minutes later, we were level from nowhere.

Granit Xhaka, always implored to shoot by the Gooner faithful, actually did so, and from 25 yards, his shot had plenty of fizz, but Mignolet should’ve parried it over, instead, he let the pace deceive him and the ball smashed into the net.

2-2 and we were on the crest of a big wave. This was a role reversal, Liverpool couldn’t cope with our forward impetus, and Jack, Mesut and Alexis were in their element.

Two minutes later, we were ahead, and it was a beautiful goal. Mesut carried it forward, and played it into the willing Lacazette, who had his back to goal. He held it and Ozil carried his run on. Lacazette scooped the ball behind him and the ball found the German, who finished sublimely.

Where had this come from? This was the Arsenal who had destroyed tottenham and should have destroyed United, this was the Gunners team that most of our opponents can’t deal with.

We didn’t stop there, and we continued to knock on the door, but the two goal advantage didn’t come. We would pay for it too.

It is strange to feel slightly disappointed with a draw after being two goals down, but Roberto Firmino’s 70th minute goal should have been stopped. He received the pass just inside the box and central, but he had space. His markers were nowhere to be found, and he took full advantage, his finish intending to go over Cech, but the keeper got a hand to it, but not enough to keep the ball looping in.

The rest of the game was the perfect advertisement for the craziness of this competition. One attack at one end was swiftly followed by another at the other end. Both teams could have won it, but the game saw no more goals and ended all square.

Wenger has still been unable to beat Klopp in five meetings, but this game could have been so much worse. We showed great resilience in getting back into the game, and our attack spluttered into life, at least for five minutes.

Onwards and upwards, we go to Selhurst Park next week, with three points much needed to close the gap on the top 4. 

Is Mesut Ozil Underperforming?

Every club possesses a star player. The one his teammates look to when matters on the pitch are on the slide. These men have within their grasp that sprinkling of stardust that illuminates the darkness and opens up previously locked doors.

They pull up their cohorts by their very eyes, showing them that anything is possible even in the most difficult of circumstances. Inspiration is the key ingredient that is liberally stored in their pockets, and the manager knows that every minute spent on the pitch is another possibility that something could materialise. 

They offer hope and salvation from the dregs of misery. Every club is lucky enough to have one in their ranks, and some clubs have two or three. 

Manchester City have Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne. Chelsea have Eden Hazard and Diego Costa, Liverpool have Philippe Coutinho and United have Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil provide the sparks for the team, but what happens when there is no flicker of light? 

Last season for Ozil saw him exhibit exactly what makes him one of the finest playmakers in world football, and coveted by clubs all over the world. Despite the static nature of first choice striker Olivier Giroud, Ozil registered 19 assists for the season. He missed the chance to set a new record at Arsenal for amount of assists in a season, but for the majority of the year, his deft touch was the key for the Gunners attack to unlock even the most stubborn defence.

He finished above his positional rivals in terms of chances created and assists, and thus proved his superiority. You see, stats may lie in the eye of the beholder, but they still underline facts. His greater numbers showed that his productivity was better than those players who were supposed to be on a par with the German. 

When there is no productivity however, it undermines most arguments. Mesut Ozil is a player that even when his velvet touch is quavering and his radar is on the fritz, he still instigates attacks. He is still integral to every move Arsenal conjure. The problem with this is that pre-assists are not counted, and his excellent positioning is not registered. All that matter are numbers.

Ozil has also had to adapt to a style change at the club. Since his blockbuster move to Arsenal in 2014, his bullseye has been Olivier Giroud. Ozil prospers when his boot can hone in on runners into the box, but Giroud’s primary strength is with his back to goal, laying off the ball and then finding a nick of space in the box. Ozil, to find his optimum level, needs a Freddie Ljungberg/Bobbi Pires type. A player who constantly makes intelligent runs.

So to still get 19 assists last season was a real feat. This season should be even better then, considering he has the effervescent Alexis Sanchez and the fit and firing Theo Walcott to aim for?

This hasn’t transpired. He is still making things click to a degree in the final third, but this season has seen him and our other source of inspiration Alexis, drop ever deeper in an effort to ignite our play. How much of this is down to a drop in form for our German though?

Comparing him to the aforementioned playmakers at our rivals, Ozil’s lustre diminishes a little so far this campaign. De Bruyne leads the way for assists at the time of writing (Dec 1st) with seven, closely followed by Coutinho with five. Ozil has a paltry one.

What about chances created? He may not be getting assists, but that may be down to the profligacy of our strikeforce? Well, out of four players (De Bruyne, Hazard and Coutinho), Ozil is third in terms of chances created, with De Bruyne and Coutinho again earning better numbers.

Ozil has been more of a goal threat this season – Arsene Wenger has mentioned his wanting for Mesut to fire in more goals this term – but he again lags behind two of the four, with Hazard and Coutinho bagging more than Mesut.

One stat that is quite telling is the number of key passes –  This shows that Ozil is still the heartbeat of our attack, as his number surpasses all three of his rivals so far. 

It also highlights that he is lacking the keen edge of the assassins knife that is his signature. He is still seeing as much of the ball, but the numbers don’t lie, he is not producing his beautiful passing in the right area. 

It seems unfair that we expect so much from him – and Alexis – when our team are not exactly firing on all cylinders, but these players are a step up from the norm and should rightfully warrant the elevated expectations. 

At the moment he is a Lamborghini, but he is being driven around the one-way system in Norwich. We are not utilising him where he can be most potent – or is it down to Ozil himself that he is dropping deeper rather than at the cutting edge of play?

We need his productivity to increase. He is still finding teammates with the ball, but if they are thirty five yards away from goal, it matters little. Ozil needs to exert his influence in the final third and remind everyone again that his boot is capable of slitting open any opponent. 

At the moment his knife is too far away from the enemy to create any lasting damage. 

Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool – A Little Perspective 

The feeling around the fans prior to kickoff wasn’t exactly laden with optimism, but none could have foreseen the crazy second half which proved our undoing.

Much of the consternation was located at our defence – and who would play with the absences of Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel.

Wenger, after making several points about experience being required in the back line – then went with 20-year-old Rob Holding and 21-year-old Calum Chambers. 

Left-back Nacho Monreal was expected to slot inside to lend a hand, but was named in his usual position. 

It was to prove decisive.

The first half went according to plan for the Gunners. Klopp’s men were shackled well by the youthful exuberance of Holding and Chambers, and when chances were created – they were ours.

Theo Walcott, the man facing a big fight to win over his doubters, started well. Tracking back, fighting for every ball – and making his marker Alberto Moreno look a fool repeatedly.

It was this mismatch that granted us a penalty, as Moreno lunged at the ball which had changed direction suddenly thanks to Theo’s first touch. 

It was Theo who dusted himself off to take the penalty. Simon Mignolet was his equal though, but in truth the penalty was at an optimal height for the Belgian.

Only two minutes later though, Walcott wasn’t to be denied. It speaks volumes for his spirit that he took Alex Iwobi’s pass with a great touch, and finished so well into the far corner.

The rest of the half played out with the Gunners in control, right up until Philippe Coutinho was granted a free kick 25yds out and curled an unstoppable effort into the top corner.

Justice? Hardly, but what was to come in the second half would be far worse….

Four minutes after the restart, Adam Lallana chested a pass down and finished into the far corner. He took it well, but after a strong first half, Calum Chambers was pulled out of position too easily. 

Seven minutes later, Coutinho had his second. Nineteen passes were involved in the buildup to the goal, with the Brazilian slotting home.

The ire from the fans started to build, and soon enough, reached a crescendo.

Sadio Mane drove at Arsenal’s defence, cutting in and leaving Monreal for dead. A thunderous finish left Cech no chance, and droves of the crowd left the stadium in disgust. Boos rang out from the crowd.

Within twenty minutes, our inexperience had cost us dearly. Blitzed. They had coped admirably but they couldn’t cope with the one spell of dominance Liverpool had.

A minute later, after Rambo and Iwobi had come off injured to add to Wenger’s woes, one of the substitutes, Oxlade-Chamberlain, finally showed what he is capable of, with a good run and finish to pull a goal back.

On the seventy-fifth minute, another goal was pulled back. Santi Cazorla whizzed a free kick into the danger zone and Chambers glanced past Mignolet.

Despite the twenty minute horror show, the spirit to come back and make a fist of it was good to see. The comeback was not to be completed, but there were performances to raise levels of hope a little.

There needs to be a cold, hard look at our lack of investment. There needs to be inspection upon our tactics after we concede. 

Our season isn’t over though, and players shouldn’t be consigned to the exit for the portion of play that lost us the game. 

What is clear is that these mistakes cannot continue if we are to push on.  

What is clear is that conceding four goals at home is hardly the mark of belief and talent that our Manager purports we possess. 

One centre back was making his debut in the Premier League. The other has a severe lack of experience – but neither can be earmarked as not good enough. Not yet. 

The blame for this lies at Wenger’s feet. He has the power to rectify. 

Wenger, it’s all on you.