Kop clangers

Nel­son de­but goal pun­ishes the cham­pi­ons

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport -

It can be re­ported that on the evening of July 15, 2020, some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary hap­pened: Vir­gil van Dijk made a mis­take. With it, and another care­less blun­der by goal­keeper Alis­son, Liver­pool’s hopes of mak­ing his­tory with a record Pre­mier League points to­tal were tossed away.

They can now “only” fin­ish on 99 points and so the for­mi­da­ble mark set by Manch­ester City two years ago will re­main, which will please Pep Guardi­ola and es­pe­cially in this week of all weeks when he has gone to war with Liver­pool.

Jur­gen Klopp will say he could not care less about such records and all that mat­ters is a first league ti­tle in 30 years. Still, beat­ing that cen­tury was in Liver­pool’s grasp and they have lost three games this sea­son in run­ning away with the ti­tle – which is two more de­feats than the last cam­paign when they fin­ished sec­ond.

This was a funny old game as Liver­pool com­pletely dom­i­nated and yet were un­done, while Arse­nal can take great en­cour­age­ment from beat­ing such a for­mi­da­ble team.

The sta­tis­tics re­flected Liver­pool’s dom­i­nance – they had 24 at­tempts at goal to Arse­nal’s three, 13 cor­ners to their op­po­nents two and claimed 69 per cent pos­ses­sion (and up to 79 per cent in the sec­ond half) – but Mikel Arteta will be de­lighted with Arse­nal’s de­fen­sive re­solve shown af­ter a lax open­ing 20 min­utes and how they cap­i­talised on their rare op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Still, to give it some fur­ther con­text, it is a re­sult that leaves them just the 40 points be­hind the cham­pi­ons. “Look at the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two teams, the gap is enor­mous,” the Arse­nal head coach con­ceded as he once again re­minded his club that a “big­ger squad” is needed. “We can’t close it in two months. Now the dif­fer­ence in fight and en­ergy is equal. With that we can cre­ate some­thing.”

Liver­pool are also “only” 18 points ahead of City when it looked like they would win the league by a record mar­gin – and still might.

“I can­not make a neg­a­tive out of some­thing so pos­i­tive – be­com­ing cham­pi­ons so early in the sea­son,” Klopp re­marked. “These boys have played an ex­cep­tional sea­son and no one can take that away.”

Even so, let us deal with the here and now, and hav­ing lost the north Lon­don derby through de­fen­sive er­rors, Arteta must have feared the worst with the way his al­tered team be­gan. First, goal­keeper Emil­iano Martinez drove a clear­ance against Roberto Firmino, with the ball re­bound­ing back and strik­ing the out­side of a post.

Soon af­ter there was more lack of at­ten­tion when Lu­cas Tor­reira stuck out a hand to stop the ball, be­fore point­ing to the as­sis­tant ref­eree Dan Cook who had flagged for an ear­lier off­side. Rightly, ref­eree

Paul Tier­ney gave a against Tor­reira.

In­evitably, from the third ex­am­ple of ca­sual play, Liver­pool took the lead.

Cedric Soares was beaten in the air by An­drew Robert­son, with the Liver­pool full-back sprint­ing for­ward to col­lect a pass from Firmino who had been al­lowed to stroll to­wards the penalty area. Robert­son pulled it back with no Arse­nal player track­ing Sa­dio Mane, who sim­ply side-footed into the net.

At that point, there ap­peared to be only one out­come. But ev­ery­thing changed when Fabinho and Van Dijk non­cha­lantly ex­changed passes on the edge of their penalty area be­fore Reiss Nel­son put the lat­ter un­der pres­sure. Van Dijk felt he was be­ing pulled back by the Arse­nal for­ward as he woe­fully un­der­hit a back-pass to Alis­son with

Alexan­dre La­cazette steal­ing in to round the goal­keeper and side-foot home. For all of Van Dijk’s protes­ta­tions he had not been fouled and he knew it. “I take the blame. I take it as a man and move on,” he later said.

As­ton­ish­ingly it was Liver­pool who erred again with Alis­son play­ing a slack pass to­wards Robert­son that La­cazette eas­ily in­ter­cepted, with the striker quickly pick­ing out Nel­son who smartly found the cor­ner of the net with a cross-shot for his first Pre­mier League goal.

“Come on boys, let’s start again,” Alis­son shouted and Liver­pool did just that in a sec­ond half which was at­tack against de­fence.

Arse­nal barely left their half as they dropped ever deeper and threw their bod­ies in the way with ad­mirable de­ter­mi­na­tion. Martinez tipped over Mo­hamed Salah’s scooped shot, ef­fort af­ter ef­fort was blocked, Mane screwed a low drive wide and on it went.

Liver­pool felt they should have had a penalty when Kieran Tier­ney leaned into sub­sti­tute Takumi Mi­namino who stum­bled and mis­kicked, but Arse­nal went clos­est when one of their sub­sti­tutes, Joe Wil­lock, sliced wide. In in­jury time it was fran­tic and fre­netic, as Martinez turned away a de­flected Trent Alexan­der-Arnold shot as cor­ner af­ter cor­ner was won, but Arse­nal stood firm.

Arse­nal (4-3-3) Martinez 7; Soares 6 (Mait­land-Niles, 78), Hold­ing 6, Luiz 7, Tier­ney 8; Tor­reira 6 (Ce­bal­los 57), Xhaka 6, Saka 6 (Ko­lasinac 85); Nel­son 7 (Aubameyang 58), La­cazette 8 (Wil­lock 58), Pepe 6. Subs Macey (g), Bel­lerin, Sokratis, Mustafi. Booked Tor­reira, Xhaka, Ce­bal­los.

Liver­pool (4-3-3) Alis­son 5; Alexan­der-Arnold 6, Gomez 6, Van Dijk 5, Robert­son 5; Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain 5 (Keita 62), Fabinho 6, Wi­j­nal­dum 5 (Shaqiri 83); Salah 6 (Origi 83), Firmino 6 (Mi­namino 61), Mane 7. Subs Adrian (g), Lovren, Jones, El­liott, Wil­liams. Booked Alexan­der-Arnold.

Ref­eree Paul Tier­ney (Lan­cashire).

Close con­trol: Alexan­dre La­cazette rounds Liver­pool goal­keeper Alis­son be­fore putting Arse­nal 1-0 up

Ja­son Burt at the Emi­rates Sta­dium CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT

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