A clash between the Premier League’s remaining unbeaten teams turned into a one-sided affair with Liverpool taking all the spoils in comfortable fashion.
From the onset, Arsenal clearly set out to avoid the recent beatings they have suffered at Anfield by sitting back on defence. They were happy to soak up pressure without giving Liverpool’s leading lights much room to operate or cause problems. This led to several crosses sent in from the flanks, with Andrew Robertson sliding in several passes that on another day might have led to a hat-trick of assists.
While Arsenal were relying on a bend-but-don’t-break strategy, they got themselves into trouble as the Reds used this as an invitation to press very high up the pitch, causing several turnovers and leading to some half-chances. Arsenal soon became bunkered in, but it was evident that they were seeking to draw Liverpool’s defence higher up the pitch so Pepe – who was occupying the lead forward role – could isolate the Reds defenders to set up some dangerous counterattacks. Pepe did turn Van Dijk on one occasion, but the Dutchman recovered quickly and stalled Pepe long enough for reinforcements to pick the Arsenal new-boy’s pocket.
Midway through the first half, the match settled into a repetitive pattern where Arsenal adopted a style Sean Dyche would be proud of by forming a shield around the penalty box and conceding space on the wings. Liverpool buzzed around the Gunners’ defence but could not find the cutting edge to pick the lock.
After a VAR review for an Arsenal red card was denied despite VVD’s insistence to the Anthony Taylor that he was raked with studs on his upper leg, Arsenal burst into life off a Liverpool corner and should have scored against the run of play. A Hendo blunder allowed Pepe to charge in on Robbo, who swiped recklessly and errantly at Pepe only to catch air. Pepe then bore down on Adrian but fluffed his lines to shoot hopelessly wide.
This was the chance that Arsenal had been waiting for, and they would soon regret their inability to capitalize on the Liverpool error. The Reds once again resumed the siege of the Kop End and earned a corner that led to a delightful Joel Matip header into the back of the net. TAA had sent in some wasteful crosses, but his corner take was on the money, and Matip got on the scoresheet once again in the new season.
The Matip goal was the spark that Liverpool had been looking for, and Arsenal were very lucky to go down only 1-0 at the break after a few more half-chances for Liverpool went wanting. But Arsenal’s inability to create much of anything aside from a couple of Pepe chances left the 1-0 scoreline feeling like a greater advantage than it was on paper.
While Unai Emery had a chance to use the break to regroup his charges, whatever he said clearly didn’t work as the Reds came storming out of the blocks in the 2nd half and soon put the Gunners to the sword. After some bright attacking play after the restart, Mo Salah won a ridiculous penalty off David Luiz thanks to the Brazilian stupidly and blatantly pulling Salah’s shirt back in the box. It was an easy call from Anthony Taylor, and Salah continued to silence those doubting his PK taking ability by sending a missile into the left corner of the net to make it 2-0 in the 49th minute.
David Luiz’s day of misery was not over though as less than 10 minutes later, Salah isolated Luiz on the wing and left the former Chelsea man chasing shadows. Salah ran down the wing into acres of space in classic Egyptian King fashion and coolly dispatched one past Bernd Leno again to put the match out of reach. Frankly, it would not be surprising to hear that Luiz was treated for third-degree burns post-match after he got roasted in such drastic fashion.
The three-goal lead effectively killed off the contest, and Liverpool transitioned into game management mode. Milner came on as a substitute for Gini before the final 20 minutes of the match and contributed with some solid defensive efforts.
However, Liverpool’s perfect day was spoiled by another Hendo defensive lapse and some sprightly feet by Lucas Torreira that allowed the Uruguayan to bury a shot from the middle of the box in the 85th minute. But Arsenal failed to seriously threaten after that, and the sight of human victory cigar Adam Lallana all but wrapped up proceedings.
Ultimately, the loss of a clean sheet was the only blemish on the day where the gulf in quality between the sides was still crystal clear. The Gunners had come to Anfield looking to display their progress after a solid transfer window, but similar frailties were exposed by a Liverpool side that is rounding into its form from last season. In years past, Arsenal’s tactics from the first half might have been enough to stymie Jurgen Klopp’s men, but this Liverpool team has solved that particular puzzle by staying patient and allowing continued pressure to break open almost any team focused primarily on damage limitation.
The Reds remain at the top of the table with a chance to stay there going into the international break after their trip to Burnley next Saturday. While Turf Moor hasn’t always been an easy place to travel for Liverpool, the Reds should be well prepared to face the actual Burnley after facing and easily dispatching a side trying to do a better impression of the Clarets.