Clinical finishing from Arsenal coupled with awful defending from the Reds has closed the door on Liverpool’s Top 4 hopes for the season. The Reds have now left themselves with too high a mountain to climb. More of the same problems that were visible during the defeat at home to Manchester United were ruthlessly exploited at the Emirates Stadium in what was a hugely damaging defeat for Liverpool.
Clinical finishing makes all the difference
Liverpool may have entered the half time break 3 goals down, but the manner in which they had accumulated that kind of a deficit is disturbingly similar to the 5-1 defeat they themselves inflicted on the Gunners last February. True, a large portion of the blame needs to go to Kolo Toure and the rest of the defence, but those were 3 extremely well taken goals that were borne out of fine finishing. Right back Hector Bellerin’s finish nearly looked like that of a striker – Liverpool left back Alberto Moreno showed him on his weaker side, but the Spanish right back simply cut inside on his left foot to put his shot beyond the Simon Mignolet in goal. Mignolet’s position may have been less than perfect for Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez’s goals thereafter, but those are the kind of flaws that make a huge difference when world class players like them two take shots on goal.
Contrast this with Lazar Markovic bearing down on David Ospina in goal with the score still at 0-0 and electing to pass (and really terribly) to Raheem Sterling rather than opt for the finish. Whether Sterling is really worth GBP 180,000 a week or not is for another conversation altogether, but Markovic has shown himself to be a capable player not more than two months ago, and needs to be taking those chances if he is to prove himself to be the player Liverpool hopes he would be. A goal to Liverpool at that point in the game would have made all the difference, especially since the scores were still level at that time.
Poor game management from Rodgers
The term “game management” is often misused by managers and critics alike, but Brendan Rodgers did not have a good day in the office by any yardstick. To be fair, his hand was forced by suspensions of Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel, as well as injuries to Adam Lallana and Jordan Ibe, but he made many mistakes in selections before the game even began. There are many reasons why Jordan Henderson is considered as a Liverpool captain in waiting, but bombing down the right flank as a wing back is not one of them. Lucas only returned to training a fortnight ago, and throwing him straight into the cauldron of the Emirates was not helpful to the Brazilian at all. Dejan Lovren may have turned in an equally terrible performance as Kolo Toure did on the day, but taking off Lazar Markovic, who besides that horrifying pass to Sterling, showed enough energy and invention, was not the right decision.
Moreover, there are question marks over Daniel Sturridge’s fitness, given the rumours that he was to be out for a month due to a hip injury, but risking another injury with Liverpool 3-0 down at half time was not sensible at all.
Can Arsenal really catch Chelsea?
Arsenal finished the game against Liverpool 4 points behind Chelsea, and still have to play Chelsea at home in 3 weeks time. The Blues are on their way to their first league title in 5 seasons, but the Gunners have hit a run of form similar to the run of victories they often put together in recent years when it comes down to nailing that Top 4 spot.
Question marks will always be there on Arsenal’s defence. David Ospina, on Szcezceny’s best day, is at best a second choice goalkeeper at Arsenal, while Per Mertesacker was partially to blame for that awful display at home to Monaco in February. The likes of Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers may turn into fantastic players in the long term, but have not been tested at the highest level.
It is Arsenal’s attacking players that may drive them towards a title challenge this time, just like Liverpool’s one season ago. Mesut Ozil is recovering the spark that made Arsene Wenger spend more than GBP40m in the first place, while Alexis Sanchez is starting to recover that early season form that was on display at the Emirates. Arsenal have often been powerless against other top sides, but victories over both Manchester United and Liverpool recently have shown that they have got what it takes in games like this. Doing the same against Chelsea is a different matter, but Arsene Wenger will not have a better opportunity to put his winless record against Jose Mourinho to rest.