Ar­se­nal striker de­nies Liver­pool at Emi­rates

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Sam Wal­lace at Emi­rates Sta­dium

These are the big games that Unai Emery will one day be ex­pected to win as a mat­ter of course, but in the mean­time it was an oc­ca­sion that showed the new Ar­se­nal are much bet­ter than the later Wen­ge­rian ver­sions, ro­bust, at­tack­ing and will­ing to fight to the end.

The Ar­se­nal man­ager let his side off the leash from the start and although they went be­hind, Alexan­dre La­cazette’s equaliser was the least they de­served – you could tell as much by the way the Emi­rates was on its feet and roar­ing them on to get the win­ner. They very nearly did so, against one of the league’s un­beaten teams who for long pe­ri­ods found them­selves un­der pres­sure and de­nied the ball.

Jur­gen Klopp’s side were un­for­tu­nate that Sa­dio Mane’s first-half goal was wrongly ruled off­side by lines­man Si­mon Long, one of those de­tails of the evening that made a big dif­fer­ence. By the end, a draw felt right in what was for the most part, a high-qual­ity game with two teams per­mit­ted by their man­agers to at­tack in the best tra­di­tions. Liver­pool are un­beaten in 11 Pre­mier League games and re­turn to the top of the ta­ble by a point be­fore Chelsea and Manch­ester City play.

For Klopp there was much char­ac­ter in ev­i­dence from his side, although not quite the qual­ity re­quired to steal the three points. In in­jury time, Mo­hamed Salah needed to sum­mon one good pass to put Mane in on goal but could not get it past Rob Hold­ing. It was James Mil­ner who scored Liver­pool’s goal af­ter 61 min­utes, a rapid turn­around of pos­ses­sion and then the away team cap­i­tal­is­ing on the in­de­ci­sive­ness of goal­keeper Bernd Leno.

The mood is dif­fer­ent now at Ar­se­nal – the home fans could see what their team set out to do and then, when they fell be­hind, how hard they worked to res­cue a point. No team has gained more points – eight – from los­ing po­si­tions in the league this sea­son. Their man­ager made de­ci­sive sub­sti­tu­tions – Alex Iwobi in par­tic­u­lar – and, af­ter those open­ing de­feats to Manch­ester City and Chelsea, they were hold­ing their own against the best in the league.

Emery did not hide his dis­ap­point­ment that his side had not man­aged to win their first game un­der him against big op­po­si­tion. “We have the in­ten­sity and now we need more qual­ity,” he said. “This was a good test for us. We need more work tac­ti­cally. The spirit was what we want and the at­mos­phere [in the Emi­rates] was big.”

It was the first time that he had started his big four at­tack­ers to­gether: Hen­rikh Mkhi­taryan, Me­sut Ozil and Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang as the at­tack­ing tri­dent be­hind La­cazette. They al­ways gave up chances, but that was the pay-off for such an ag­gres­sive ap­proach and a de­fence that is un­doubt­edly the weaker part of the en­sem­ble. By the end, Liver­pool had en­joyed just 38 per cent pos­ses­sion, less than they com­man­deered against Manch­ester City, and there will not be many op­po­nents who do that to them.

This was foot­ball at high tempo and all of it, even the er­rors, made for an en­gross­ing spec­ta­cle.

Ar­se­nal fought Liver­pool at their own game, squeez­ing up the pitch and put­ting on pres­sure at all times. Granit Xhaka and Lu­cas Tor­reira were ex­cel­lent at shield­ing the back four who looked much less cer­tain at times.

In his early deal­ings with Salah, Sead Ko­lasinac was ag­gres­sive but also vul­ner­a­ble when the Liver­pool striker could turn and run at goal, re­quir­ing a su­perb re­cov­ery tackle from Xhaka on one oc­ca­sion.

Mane’s dis­al­lowed goal came af­ter Roberto Firmino had hit a post and re­plays showed that while the for­mer was off­side when Salah’s cross was played in, he was in­ac­tive. The re­bound off the post meant he was not in an off­side po­si­tion when he put it in. Through­out the Ar­se­nal pres­sure there were Liver­pool chances and Vir­gil van Dijk’s header hit a post when Leno came for a long free-kick and failed to get there.

There were no re­crim­i­na­tions over the dis­al­lowed goal from Klopp, who felt it was just one of those things. “Do I feel ag­grieved? I don’t know,” he said. “That’s how it is, a foot­ball sit­u­a­tion. “It was a bril­liant at­tack. That is what you do on the train­ing ground, you keep one player be­tween the cen­tre-halves slightly off­side and the other player takes the ball. It is a pity it didn’t count but we made a few more mis­takes than the ref.”

Van Dijk was the heart of this splen­didly mean Liver­pool de­fence, and Klopp felt his cen­tre-back might have scored three at the other end. For the Liver­pool goal, Mane got in be­hind Hec­tor Bel­lerin and crossed, Leno pushed the ball weakly away and Hold­ing thrust out a leg at it. But no one in the home side could get a de­ci­sive touch and Mil­ner ar­rived in the penalty area to drill the ball past Leno. From there Emery made his sub­sti­tu­tions in quick suc­ces­sion, even­tu­ally front-load­ing his team with the fi­nal change of Danny Wel­beck for Ko­lasinac. It was Iwobi who made the dif­fer­ence. His ball down the chan­nel was the one La­cazette ran on to for the goal and even then it was a fine fin­ish. The French­man had to go away from goal to get free of Alis­son and then turn sharply to shoot into the far cor­ner.

Klopp said his team had changed for­ma­tion in the sec­ond half, match­ing up with Ar­se­nal’s strength in cen­tral mid­field. He joked that once again Ar­se­nal had brought on so many strik­ers he was “wait­ing for Van Per­sie and Bergkamp”. “First half, the one time we don’t close the half-space they play the ball and score. Not nice. But a point at Ar­se­nal will al­ways be ab­so­lutely a good re­sult.”

Good save: Alexan­dre La­cazette res­cues a point for Ar­se­nal af­ter they had gone be­hind to a goal by James Mil­ner (below)

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