Liverpool have cruised to the Premier League title with such a blissful ease this season that rival fans will see this immensely frustrating run of games as just deserts.
On Saturday, the overly-merciful Reds were the victims of a vintage smash-and-grab. Here, they served up victory to a rotated Arsenal side on a silver platter.
It’s now two wins and two defeats in the five games since they became champions.
Liverpool lose without playing badly… again
It would be outrageous to label Arsenal’s win any sort of tactical triumph for Mikel Arteta. Liverpool were extraordinarily dominant, notching just shy of 70% possession and recording 24 shots to their opponents’ three.
Going forward, they actually moved the ball around nicely for the most part. An intricate move led to their first-half goal, and even against a makeshift back seven in the second, they were able to fashion good opportunities, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah both denied from close range.
But it was the split-second lapses that proved costly – two dreadful errors from the two most dependable figures in the Liverpool team.
In the Reds’ last two defeats – the first against Atletico and the second against City – they looked capable of taking control before the game swung on costly errors. The same was clearly true here.
After sealing the title with a record seven games to spare, all that was left to truly drive Liverpool was the possibility of a points record. That’s off the table now, of course, with 99 the measly ceiling.
Title winners can be forgiven for lifting their foot off the gas, but I don’t believe that’s what’s happening here. The Reds have poured so much into the season, into the countless one-goal victories upon which this title has been built. You could even argue that it has been a championship won more through sheer force of will than effortless quality, though that may be a reductive understanding.
Perhaps, after digging so, so deep to land the prize that has eluded the club for 30 years plus a lockdown, all other accolades have momentarily lost their shine. Maybe that’s why concentration levels are briefly but consequentially wavering when protecting our goal or attacking another, because the stakes of each game have been dramatically reduced. These players may just be exhausted and in need of a break. They can be forgiven…
Enemy hands on Liverpool prizes
It is testament to Alisson’s ability that, despite missing nine games, he may feel that the Golden Glove was well within his grasp.
Nick Pope and Ederson had been denied clean sheets in the earlier kick-offs, presenting an opportunity. Whilst he could lament defensive failings against Brighton and Burnley – games where shutouts should really have been a formality – he can hardly be aghast at Van Dijk’s blunder after offering a gift of his own.
Together with Mohamed Salah’s Golden Boot, these individual prizes have felt there for the taking. Irritatingly, they probably won’t be in Liverpool hands this time around.
It won’t go in for Firmino
Roberto Firmino is having a difficult time at the moment. Well, as difficult a time as you can have playing for the newly-crowned champions.
He hasn’t scored in the Premier League since January, and now it’s beginning to feel like he’s being teased. In consecutive matches now, he has seen efforts strike the post. He was alert enough to close on a hesitant Emiliano Martinez, but didn’t get the reward.
Substituted on 60 minutes, he cut a slightly forlorn figure. Come next season, I hope he can begin to enjoy his football again, because that’s when he’s at his joyous best.
Fresh blood needed in attacking ranks?
While three of Liverpool’s would-be game-changers from the bench looked bright, Divock Origi is becoming increasingly difficult to watch. The sanctified Belgian’s technical limitations are too often spurning our attacks. His foul on Kieran Tierney moments before Xherdan Shaqiri fired the ball home rather summed it up.
You might say it’s significant that Rhian Brewster continued his eye-catching Championship hot streak only hours prior to this dispiriting cameo.