Liverpool’s entertaining 3-3 draw away at Arsenal on Friday evening was definitely one for the neutral – but not if you’re a Reds supporter and have any regard whatsoever for the health of your heart.
A topsy-turvy game saw the visitors race into a two-goal lead which seemed unassailable at the time, with the Reds utterly dominant in every department. However, in typical Liverpool style, they gifted Arsenal three goals in the space of 388 seconds to miraculously give the Gunners the lead. Roberto Firmino’s equaliser 20 minutes from time though ensured Jurgen Klopp’s side left North London with a share of the spoils.
Arsene Wenger will no doubt be the happier of the two managers with the point – whilst his opposite number Klopp will be annoyed at his side’s repeated failure to hold onto leads.
More worryingly, though, for Liverpool, it was a case of individual errors again taking centre stage. A week ago, I wrote an article on this very site regarding the side’s failure to hold onto leads. Yesterday, it was a case of that argument cementing itself firmly once again. Since the German took charge back in October 2015, 43 points in the league from winning positions have been lost. The most in Europe.
I was fortunate enough to be inside the Emirates along with the travelling contingent – and once Arsenal got a route back into the game thanks to Alexis Sanchez’s header, you could sense the crowd were beginning to bay for more blood. There was all of a sudden a renewed sense of belief once again.
Predictably, the Reds crumpled under the pressure and heads began to fall off completely at the back – hinting to a lack of mental strength in the side. Minutes later, Mignolet failed to deal with Xhaka’s drive, before Ozil put Arsenal in front. It was, once again, amateurish individual errors which contributed to all three goals.
Joe Gomez performed well on the whole last night but was guilty of losing Sanchez for the hosts’ opener. After the young English international appeared to have the Chilean international covered, he inexplicably let him ghost past and head in to make it 2-1. Although he is still young and learning his trade in the first team, he was guilty of a similar error against West Ham earlier this season which lead to Manuel Lanzini scoring.
The equalizer was down to the much-maligned Simon Mignolet – who should have done better to keep out Granit Xhaka’s effort. Somehow, the Belgian international contrived to let it fizz through his hands and level the game at 2-2. What once was a dominant Reds display was turning into a horror show defensively – with Arsenal pouncing on almost every error that was made throughout.
Mesut Ozil soon made it 3-2, sending the Emirates into raptures. Firmino soon equalised to make it 3-3 on the night after his effort was spilt by Petr Cech and rebounded into the net.
The common theme here, in case you hadn’t noticed, was the number of individual errors, both of which were easily preventable. Klopp can take solace that the defensive setup has improved – since the debacle at Wembley back in October, only four goals had been conceded in the league prior to yesterday’s encounter. If it wasn’t for the individuals that are costing several valuable points this season, you could make a case to suggest that Liverpool would be better off in the league this season.
Mignolet jumps to mind. This isn’t the first time the Belgian has cost Liverpool points this season. Against Tottenham and Chelsea earlier this season, he was guilty of several fearful errors which have cost the Merseysiders points this term – and he very nearly did the same away at Leicester in September. The general consensus is that he is unable to command his box and lacks communication as well as indecisiveness when the balls drops inside the box.
Also, a damning statistic even shows the 29-year-old has the lowest save percentage of any keeper in the Premier League so far this season (52.8), which is concerning as his shot-stopping ability is considered to be his best quality. This will once again leave Klopp in two minds whether to start him or Loris Karius more often in the festive period.
Despite this, there is no doubting defensive acquisitions are still needed in January. A new goalkeeper is a necessity, whilst two centre-backs and a defensive midfielder is required at the very minimum if Liverpool want to challenge in all cup competitions this season. The new system, which Klopp does deserve credit for, cannot mask over the familiar flaws which have regularly hampered the side’s progress in the last few years.
To reiterate, I do not believe the defensive shambles at the Emirates was necessarily down to the setup – which has been much improved in recent weeks thanks to the new 4-4-2 formation which has been utilised by Klopp since late October. However, it is more down to the individual errors which mean that the Reds are facing a battle to stay in the top 4.