I was expecting a good game, but not one as intense as that. Both teams went into that fixture with the intent of winning, but at the end of the day they both came out with the same result. I was real nervous for this game to be honest, but as kick off drew closer I grew more and more excited, especially after I saw the team Emery was putting out on the day.
The squad we put out has arguably got to be one of our best. Leno has cemented himself as our No.1, even after Cech came back from injury. Hector Bellerin was deemed fit as well as the tank, Kolasinac, which meant that we had 2 full backs playing in their natural positions. Thank God, because this meant that Xhaka could slot back into his usual CM role alongside Torreira, seeing as we didn’t have Guendouzi for this match, who unfortunately got a Red Card in the week against Blackpool. Mustafi and Holding, who’ve formed quite a partnership, retained their place in the starting 11 as Papa Sokratis was still injured. Xhaka and Torreira seem like our strongest midfield pivot, and ahead of them were Lacazette, Özil , Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan… a very threatening attack. I was a bit disappointed that Iwobi wasn’t starting in place of Mkhi, given the form the Nigerian is in, but at the same time I want Mkhi to start regaining his form and form that old love affair with Auba on the pitch again, so I didn’t mind him starting.
We started the half off very very well and absolutely dominated the first 15 minutes of the game. Sead Kolasinac proved very effective on the left wing and created a couple of half chances. Ohhh how I’ve missed him. Auba also came close but the best chance was probably that Mkhitaryan header which went just wide as he beat Allison to the ball before the Brazilian took him out in mid air. Now I don’t know if that should have been deemed a penalty or not, but no one seemed to complain too much, and the ref made nothing of it. Shortly after that we were left with our hearts in our mouths as Firmino was played through and took a pop at goal, only to see it hit the post. Sadio Mané was quick with the follow up and put the deflected ball in the back of the our net, but the goal was disallowed due to Mané being ‘offside’. Whether it was deemed offside in the first phase of the play or the second phase, I’m not sure. But we were incredibly lucky not to have conceded the first goal there. Just minutes later, Liverpool gave us another scare when Virgil Van Dijk decided to be a striker and brought the ball down (quite brilliantly I must add..) from a Salah through ball and was 1 on 1 with the keeper, but Bernd Leno made himself very big and made the save, with Mustafi helping out by scrambling the ball away after the save was made. Whew!
But the chances did not stop there. Arsenal showed some great attacking football with Mkhitaryan flicking the ball beautifully into Aubameyangs path, only for him to mishit his shot. Xhaka and Özil also collaborated well to set up Lacazette moments later, but the Frenchman couldn’t get his angles right and blasted the ball across the face of the goal. We did, however, put the ball into the back of the net shortly after that, but the goal was once again disallowed for an offside call on Mustafi. Liverpool came extremely close on the stroke of half time, with Van Dijk beating Leno to a header which saw the ball bounce off of the upright, only for Torreira to clear it out. It wasn’t the greatest of goalkeeping decisions, but we got away with it in the end and went into half time scoreless on the back of what was quite an entertaining half of football to watch.
The second half started off pretty decently, but it wasn’t until the 60th minute before the game saw it’s first, non-disallowed, goal. Mané was played in behind our defence where he was required to use his pace to get onto the ball. He then whipped in a dangerous cross towards Salah but Leno dived to intercept the ball. The German goalkeeper should’ve caught it, and to some extent you can see he was trying to do just that, but instead parried it into a dangerous area where James Milner latched onto it and drilled it low and hard into our net. 1 – 0 to the Scousers and I was bitterly disappointed that we were behind after all our hard work. One thing we have to admire though is that not one single Arsenal players head dropped after conceding that goal. NOT ONE!
Arsenal pushed on and went in search of the equaliser and that’s something I really love about our team these days. Lucas Torreira had a chance but his effort was straight at Allison. Iwobi and Welbeck were also brought on to provide a different attacking dynamic and it was the former who made the most impact in the end. With just 9 min left to play on the clock, Iwobi found Lacazette’s run in the box. Allison came out but didn’t want to commit as the Frenchman took the ball away from him. Laca then turned, set himself up and curled the ball beautifully into the net… all while keeping his head down. It’s as if he just knows where the goal is, and doesn’t need to look twice to make sure. Absolutely outstanding!
The crowd erupted after that goal, and I haven’t heard an atmosphere in the Emirates like that for a very long time. Emery, despite it being his birthday on the day, has given us the gift of a united fan base again, restoring peace among the Arsenal faithful by delivering results along with some beautiful football. The managers passion on the touchline is most certainly admirable and quite beautiful to watch, actually. The game ended 1 – 1, which is probably a fair result, but if you think about it, our progress under Emery has been immense. 16 games this season and we’ve lost 2, drawn 2 and won 12. Also, Jurgen Klopp has had 3 seasons to rebuild his team, and has spent around 400 million on new players. Emery, on the other hand, has only been at this club for 6 months and is already showing that he can compete with the best. We’re not favourites to win the title, but we most certainly proved a point (literally) against a team that is.
I’m having a hard time deciding my MOTM. Every single player out there played their heart out on the day. We’ve extended our unbeaten run to 14 games and we can now look ahead to the Europa League on Thursday night against Sporting Lisbon again. I’m pretty sure the boys will be quite high on confidence and deliver another win for that one.
Come on you Gunners!