LONDON — On Friday night under the lights in north London with the world watching on, two of the Premier League’s great entertainers lived up to their reputations to deliver an early Christmas present.
It was beautiful. It was ugly. It was exactly what we’ve come to expect from both Arsenal and Liverpool.
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The 3-3 draw showcased the good and bad of both teams and underlined why neither will seriously challenge for the Premier League title unless something changes drastically in their soccer DNA.
Speaking to reporters after the game, both Arsene Wenger and Jurgen Klopp saluted their teams attacking instincts but stopped short of slamming their defensive displays even though both clubs have conceded the most goals among the current top seven in the PL table.
“We defended well but you know with their quality going forward they can always score a goal,” Wenger said when asked if he should have ‘parked the bus’ after going 3-2 up. “I hoped that we could score one as well. I think in the second half we were not much in trouble. They have quality everywhere going forward and it is difficult to say that you can guarantee you don’t concede a goal.”
Saluting the spirit of his team for their comeback, Wenger conceded that the game could have been over at half time and it should have been.
Liverpool’s counter-attacking unit was rampant with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings and popping up to head home the opener. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane should have both scored and Arsenal were hanging on for dear life as their fans ripped into Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez and took aim at Wenger.
“It is true that I am frustrated after 3-2 that we couldn’t keep the result but overall what can you say,” Wenger said. “It was a fantastic game with quality going forward on both sides. Us more on quick combination. Them more on fantastic counterattacking pace. That’s why it was always an interesting game.”
For neutrals, sure. But fans of both Arsenal and Liverpool have seen this kind of game far too often for their liking.
Both managers saluted the attacking play of the other and therein lies the problem. The defensive frailties of both Arsenal and Liverpool remained unchecked. Their defensive players aren’t up to scratch and unlike Chelsea last season and Manchester City this season, they’re unwilling to adopt their philosophy and change personnel defensively to solve the issue.
Klopp believes his team need to learn from their five minutes of madness which saw them concede three times just one minute after they went 2-0 up. But how many more times does a collapse of this nature need to happen for the message to sink in?
“On the whole we had more chances. It is not too cool but we had five minutes where we had obvious problems. That’s how it is. We had individual problems. In this case it is not about team defending,” Klopp said. “First goal, that’s why we shouldn’t invite crosses because when the ball is in the box it is at least 50/50, a misjudgment, obviously. Misjudgment the second goal. Third goal, a misjudgment and too deep and offside blah, blah, blah and let them go in the box and make it too easy.
“After these five minutes we reacted much better and deserved, in the end, the point. That is the minimum that we deserved tonight. The result is not what we wanted. The performance for 89 minutes is what we wanted because we played for 94. The five minutes were decisive tonight. Difficult to explain but good to learn from because we need to react differently as individual players in situations like this. We need to be much more angry than sad or disappointed. We gave them and we opened the door for them in those five minutes and they, all respect, they took the chance.”
Liverpool fought back to at least grab a point after their defensive collapse but it is a scene becoming all too familiar this season.
Klopp reacted angrily even when Roberto Firmino made it 3-3, slamming his water bottle into the ground and then apologizing to Arsenal’s fans around him who had been hurling abuse his way. The German coach called it an “aggressive celebration” and you can understand why he’d be incandescent with rage.
During this encounter, Liverpool’s collapse to draw at Sevilla after being 3-0 up in the UEFA Champions League earlier this season sprung to mind, so to did the hammerings at Tottenham and Manchester City this season. So far in 2017-18 they have conceded 12 goals in their three visits to fellow top six contenders.
Still, Klopp believes that Liverpool do not have a problem controlling games from a defensive standpoint and insists that individual mistakes are costing his team dear. Asked about James Milner‘s comments after the game that Liverpool need to learn how to be ‘boring’ in certain situations, Klopp only half agreed.
“He’s 100 percent right. Controlling the game, that’s what he means. But that was not the situation. It was not that we gave the game away,” Klopp said. “It was just that pretty much everybody was in and around the box, the cross comes in the box and we know that, we are professional football players. Everybody saw it. Joe Gomez makes a step in the right direction, shoots the ball to Tottenham and they can play with it. That was not a situation. It was a non situation but because we didn’t react well they had a goal. It was nothing about controlling the game. You can’t avoid all crosses in 95-96 minutes. Second goal, Xhaka shoots a few more times in his life like this and Simon Mignolet saves the balls in 99.99 percent of all situations. Not tonight. So, we have to take that. It is what it is.
“It is not about controlling. Yes, we need to control games but I thought we did control the game but then we opened the door for them. We should have scored. We all know that. We don’t have to talk too much about defense because it was not defense, it was individual. That is possible. Usually not all in one night. We should have scored another four and that is a big compliment for the team. Coming here and playing this kind of football and creating these kind of chances, that is not easy as well. We did it. And that is why everyone in this room thinks that if there would have been a winner tonight, it should have been Liverpool but now we have a point. Okay. That’s it.”
It should have been Liverpool. It could have been Arsenal. It was neither. Given their defensive mistakes, neither side deserved to win.