The pressure continued to mount on Arsene Wenger as Liverpool handed a 3-1 loss to Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday to leapfrog them into the top 4

Arsenal visited Anfield to take on Liverpool on Saturday evening when a place inside the Top 4 in the Premier League table was on the line. However, a largely underwhelming performance resulted in another embarrassing 3-1 defeat for Arsene Wenger’s men to lose their Top 4 status to the Reds.

A one-sided first half saw Liverpool completely overrun Arsenal. It was Roberto Firmino who broke the deadlock just nine minutes into the match before Sadio Mane made it two late into the first period and take a vital advantage into the break.

Arsenal emerged as a much better side in the second half as Arsene Wenger introduced Alexis Sanchez at half-time, who hugely impacted the game and set up a goal for Danny Welbeck.

The visitors went in desperate search for victory for the remainder of the half, but ended up conceding the match winner in the dying stages of the match as Georginio Wijnaldum rounded off the win deep into injury time.

The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at what turned out to be another disappointing outing for Arsene Wenger’s side as they lost out 3-1 to Liverpool on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger’s Baffling Decision To Bench Sanchez

This was always going to be the biggest talking point to emerge out of the match regardless of the result on Saturday. That was because Arsene Wenger sent shock waves across England and beyond by dropping the player who has been his team’s talisman all through the season.

Alexis Sanchez was found being relegated to the bench when the teams were announced prior to the start of the match. Here was a player who has scored the most number of goals for Arsenal this season, who had provided the most assists for his side as well but was left out of the starting eleven in one of the most crunch encounter’s for the Gunners this season.

Needless to say Sanchez’s absence was dearly felt in the first half as Arsenal were barely in the game for much of the first 45 minutes. The enormous failure of the decision was further enforced in the second half with Sanchez being at the centre of Arsenal’s attempt to come back into the match.

The Chilean was introduced as a half-time substitute and he almost immediately affected the game by sending in a dangerous cross towards Welbeck. He then set up Welbeck’s goal before creating a chance for Olivier Giroud.

It was certain that Sanchez was going to be the catalyst of a possible comeback in the second half before Wijnaldum dashed all Arsenal hopes at the end of the match. In the end, it’s just a case of what could have been for Arsenal fans, with Sanchez the most dangerous player for their side in just 45 minutes of action.

Where Was The Directness?

Arsene Wenger’s decision to leave Sanchez out of the side on Saturday was baffling. But the Arsenal manager’s reasoning for dropping his side’s talisman was the need to be more direct and have a strong presence in the air against a Liverpool side that has looked suspect against those tactics this season.

However, that was also a plan that failed miserably in a first half that was disastrous to say the least for the Gunners. The numbers tell a sorry tale for them in that regards: 2 shots throughout the first 45 minutes, and zero chances created against 9 and 7 respectively from their opponents.

Arsenal provided absolutely no service from the wings, with Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal having their hands full with defensive duties rather than having the chance to bomb forward. Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain failed to get the better of James Milner, with Welbeck also failing to impact the game on the opposite wing.

Olivier Giroud had the fewest touches on the ball of all the players on the field in the first half – including the two goalkeepers. The ironic part about Wenger’s statement was that the most direct player in his team was in fact sitting on the bench, and he was the one who gave Arsenal the slim chance of getting anything out of that match eventually.

Shattered Confidence Leaving Defence In Shambles

The last month has been a disaster of epic proportions for Arsenal, and the season has well and truly unraveled for them since February 1. Prior to Saturday’s match the Gunners had played six times since the start of February and in those run of games they had lost thrice.

These have included heavy defeats away at Chelsea and Bayern Munich, and it is not hard to notice that Arsenal have looked short of confidence of late. As a result, their performances have been uncharacteristically below par.

Defence, in particular, has been poor in the last month and it was more of the same on Saturday as well, with the Arsenal defensive line guilty of making unacceptable errors, starting with their central midfielders. Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin gave the Liverpool midfielders too much space to exploit which only made life better for the attack.

Coming to the back four, one need not look further than the errors in the first two goals to see what’s going wrong for the defence, with both Firmino and Mane being afforded the necessary space and time to take a touch on the ball, set themselves up and finish the goal easily past Petr Cech. Errors that are not expected out of a top side.

Francis Coquelin – Not Good Enough

Francis Coquelin’s emergence in the Arsenal midfield was sudden. He had been drafted into the side midway through the 2014/15 season having been recalled into the squad from Charlton and the Frenchman was a revelation in the centre of the park to say the least.

Coquelin wasn’t a glamour player and he didn’t bring a lot to the table, but he was effective as a hard tackling, no nonsense defensive midfielder to provide a solid cover to his back four, while doing very little with the ball at his feet.

However, one of the symbols for Arsenal’s failures this season has centred around the ineffectiveness of Coquelin in midfield. That is because he is consistently failing to do what’s his primary job in the Arsenal side – running around the centre of the park and tackling any player who threatened his defence.

The errors in his game have been repetitive and Saturday was more of a Deja Vu of the horror shows against Chelsea and Bayern Munich, with Coquelin committing 2 fouls, not winning a single tackle and managing zero interceptions in the match. It goes without saying that he is one player whose place in the starting lineup has never been more in question at the Emirates.

Arsene Wenger And Top 4 – A Love Affair Ends This Season?

The last twelve seasons have seen Arsenal win just two trophies, with none of them being the Premier League. In that time, the Gunners have been the subject of constant internet trolling, with the club flattering to deceive for large parts of the season before eventually finishing in the Top 4.

They have also been guilty of losing their grip on the Premier League title in two of these campaigns, and had struggled with financial problems in many of the twelve seasons. Amidst all this, a Top 4 finish has been a constant for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal.

To his credit, Arsene Wenger has never failed to qualify for the Champions League during his twenty-year managerial reign at the Emirates Stadium, even though many Arsenal fans have desired more from their club.

However, this season could finally see Wenger lose that proud record – and it could well be the final nail in his coffin at Arsenal. The North London club currently sit two points outside the Top 4, with Manchester United just a point behind them in sixth.

Arsenal still have tough games against Tottenham Hotspur (away), Manchester City and Manchester United (both at home) to come. And keeping their abysmal record against their Top 6 counterparts in mind, Arsene Wenger’s side could have a tough time getting back into the Top 4 in the remaining 12 games.

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