For David Luiz, this was an introduction to Arsenal and their infamous defensive fragility. For Arsenal, this was an introduction to David Luiz and his infamous defensive fragility. The very thing that Arsenal feared when they signed Luiz from Chelsea came to pass in only his second game as Unai Emery’s side were once again ripped apart by a Liverpool team that seemingly enjoys nothing more than pummelling their visitors from north London.
Make that 15 goals scored by Jurgen Klopp’s side in Arsenal’s last four trips to Anfield. A new season brought new faces and a new threat from Unai Emery’s team, but the same old problems were exposed by the same old faces in red. Chief among them was Mohamed Salah, providing Luiz with a very personal torment in a thrilling second half performance that reminded the league just how hard it will be to stop Liverpool this season.
When Luiz swapped Chelsea blue for Arsenal red, he would not have imagined spending his second match trailing after a motoring Salah, watching as the Liverpool winger disappeared further and further into the distance. Nor would he have envisaged being so careless as to pull Salah’s shirt and award the Egyptian the most foolish of penalties in the crucial moments after half-time.
This, it is safe to say, is not what Luiz was signed for. Where was the defensive leadership, the organisation, the calmness? Frankly, it was all at the other end of the field, where Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk were occasionally ruffled by Arsenal’s attackers but ultimately sturdy under pressure. For all the talk before the match of the opposing strikeforces, it was the defenders who made the difference at Anfield, for good and for bad.
Liverpool move back to the top of the table, then, and they do so with another humbling of a ‘big six’ opponent. The defensive solidity of last season has not yet fully returned, and they still seek a first clean sheet of the campaign after Lucas Torreira’s consolation strike, but no one can claim this was not another step towards the heights of last season. The sight of Salah scorching past defenders in the second half was both fearsome and familiar.
Liverpool have now scored 26 goals against Arsenal since Klopp took over in October 2015. There have been more one-sided affairs than this, but at this stage of the campaign it was a showing of remarkable physical strength.
“It was a brilliant game from my side so early in the season,” said a beaming Klopp. “It was outstanding. It was a performance full of power, energy, greed and passion, which I think you need to have against a team like Arsenal. We were completely in charge of the game. We are not Disneyland, we do not need to excite everyone in every second. Our identity is intensity, and we showed that today.”
It was hard to know what was more frustrating for Emery: the defensive collapse or the wasted opportunities in the first half. Arsenal had their chances in those opening exchanges, causing plenty of problems through the speed of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, but their hope dwindled with every wayward shot and tame finish.
Was it an improvement on last year’s 5-1 thrashing here? Certainly. Was it enough of an improvement to make them think they are ready to seriously challenge sides like Liverpool and Manchester City? Absolutely not. Arsenal remain worryingly frail under pressure, with Luiz’s addition seemingly doing little to paper over last season’s cracks.
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