November 20th – Liverpool 4 Arsenal 0

At least we only play at Anfield once a year. To get a result there we need to play at our best to stand any chance. And today there were too many mistakes. Youth has benefits. But not at Anfield.

As the game wore on their stranglehold tightened. The pressure builds and there is no margin of error. Unfortunately, we made too many. But bear in mind they originate with the pressure applied and not in a vacuum. It was a direct result of our inability to control the game Maybe it’s a by-product of playing two defensive mid-fielders. Neither of whom really inspired confidence today. Sambi was under pressure with few outlets. Tavares experienced that game of two halfs. In the first he was able to keep track of Salah – who, was again, impressive – but he must have drunk something at half-time. Because his distribution was devastating in the second half. We saw glimpses of this from Sambi as well. The temptation to always pass their way out of tight spaces. And, with experience, (and hindsight) there are times when it’s better to loft the ball upfield. Liverpool are quite adept as using that long ball. Unfortunately, with us that long ball seems to end up with their backline. So I can see why Tavares would like to retain the ball. But there needs to be some situational awareness. For a few weeks now there have been indications that he could apply pressure to Tesco Tierney. Today was a coming back down to earth.

But Tavares was not the only one. As mentioned, Sambi too often would overplay the ball outside of our area. We’ve seen in previous games him lose the ball leading to goals again (Man City I think). He’s still make the same mistake. And after their second goal Tavares still lost the ball a few times. One of his errant passes nearly lead directly to another goal. On the others side Tomi also had trouble with his passing – and marking. Again, a direct result of the constant pressure Liverpool applied. There really was no real release valve.

That first half though was not so bad. We had small periods where we had some control even if we could not create much. Saka and ESR were too isolated, and Cigarette was close marked by Thiago. So as we tried to play out from the back White was caught on the ball and forced to smack it long. Partey was pretty quiet; I do wonder whether he was fully fit. Overall, we would often lose the ball after just a few passes.

Ramsdale again had to perform heroics but eventually we caved in. Taking off Sambi was the right call but even AMN was careless with the ball. And by that I mean when you’re swarmed by 3 of their players you have to move the ball more quickly. You can’t dribble out of that situation.  

The team selection was right as we the substitutions. It’s the concentration levels that waned. And then the mistakes proliferated. Again, that was for a reason. If you give up that much possession then all that chasing will eventually wear you down.

Gabriel was again impressive. He alongside Ramsdale come out of this this thrashing with credit. But everyone else should be extracting valuable lessons. That second goal was crushing though. We had created few chances and so then sloppily hand them a gift just as we were weathering the storm took the air out of the team. We made had one clear chance with Aubameyang where Allison was able to save with his feet. Beyond that he was hardly troubled.

Saka had the beating of their left back today but you’d not know it because we was scared to take him on. When he runs directly at the full back he’s so much more threatening. Today – especially in the first half – he too frequently either cut inside or passed inside. He needed to be more aggressive in taking on the defender. And without Robinson there he should have been.

So what did we learn today? I’m not sure too much. It just re-enforced that we are a work in progress. I thought the score was unflattering we did not deserve this. But maybe this can help us realize that we’re not as good as the last 10 games indicate nor as poor as this result indicates. We have a world-class goalkeeper who is also fearless. Gabriel and White will be our backbone. We have too much youth in the team for now but it will allow them to grow. They will make the types of mistakes we saw today. Though I think Tavares did not seem to learn much after his first cataclysmic mistake.  I like that AMN was our first substitution even if his presence did not help stabilize our midfield.

Against mid-table or lower teams we have the chance to grab those points. But against the tippy-top teams, we are just not there yet. We get out-pressed and out hustled. Maybe our fitness levels are where they need to be. I think it’s more that we require too much time on the ball. That we need to move the ball quicker. And when we press it never felt the same way. They were able to play round our press much more easily – they seemed to operate in more space. It just felt that our play was much higher risk – hence the number of turnovers in our third of the pitch. I lost count of the number of chances they created from our giveaways or when we lost possession. In the first half we had a number of breakaways whereas in the second half, post those mistakes, and until we were already out of the game, we hardly had any.

A word on the Ox. He was swarming all over us today. Very physical and very committed. That’s one of the best and most consistent performances I’ve seen from him. High energy and high pressing. I’m not sure we had anyone with the same passion as him today – aside from Arteta himself facing up to Klopp. Though that encounter just seemed to fire up Liverpool at our expense.

I refuse to get too distraught over today even though it was a tough game to watch. We are still progressing even if it was not too evident today. And that progress can only be measured over a longer-time horizon. Today was always going to be tough. And early on we held firm. But at this level you can’t make the kind of sloppy passes that we did.

I do wonder whether the style of play we’re developing suits the players we have though. Today was a case in point. Passing it out the back under immense pressure when our two defensive midfielders – and Sambi in particular – are prone to give the ball away and our wing-backs are too isolated seems like a kamikaze strategy. Of course, when it worked it looks enterprising but it’s very high risk. And I don’t know if we have the right players for this. But then, if you don’t try this then you’ll never find out.

In the meantime, the manager merry-go-round continues. Next up will be Oli. And just before we play them. It looks like that change will happen today. Losing at Watford is pretty hilarious. And then Conte has now landed along with Howe. One will burn them out within 24 months and the other likely lead them into relegation. Let’s see which one is which.

And next up is COVID Eddie. Though we no longer have must-win games, this will at least be a chance to reestablish some momentum and correct the flaws from today. And don’t be surprised if you see at left-back Tesco Tierney


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