Soooo… yeah. That’s a complete sweep for December, folks. 8 games. 8 wins. Outscored the opposition, 23-3. Get rekt. That’s the most wins in a single month for the club in its history. The 8 goals conceded in 20 games is also a record, one better than the ’78-’79 side. And for a single year record, that’s 88 points from 37 league games in 2018; also the best ever for the club. I think they’re doing OK.
Having ended up trailing in the league for only the second time this season, it’s fair to say that Arsenal both woke the dragon and LFC played that role to the hilt as, in the next five minutes, Firmino scored two goals within a 90 second span and Liverpool were on their way. With a third goal from a killer pass sequence from Robertson-to-Salah-to-Mané following a failed corner and then two penalties (having waited over 14 months to get a penalty call at Anfield, Liverpool has now been given three in four days), the Gunners found themselves having put their collective foot right in the trap and wishing they hadn’t. In short, they pressed us hard until we pressed them harder and then they gave up. The opening couple minutes of the second half also included two brilliant chances by Mané and Salah that Leno earned his paycheck by stopping, plus a spectacular pass from Salah that Fabinho was unable to convert:
Granted (Granit?), despite their pedigree and history, Arsenal do not present an overwhelming challenge for a team with an offense like Liverpool. That back line is questionable, to say the least. LFC legend John Barnes warned what might happen if Emery tried to a) play a back three, b) put Granit Xhaka in there as part of a back three, and c) keep playing Lichtsteiner (OK. He didn’t really say that last bit, but he should have.) Arsenal, like Emery’s Sevilla teams, are best when they play an open, attacking style. Doing so invites doom in most games against Liverpool. Doing so with a back three, including one player who has never been and will never be a CB like Xhaka is, well, ridiculous.
The team. The team. The team. To borrow a phrase from one of my other fading interests, Klopp cited a couple things about the overall group’s attitude that speaks highly of the atmosphere among the players and in the club, overall. He mentioned that the players had heard about Wolves’ 3-1 defeat of Tottenham, but that it had basically no impact on the team’s demeanor. They were focused and the game against Arsenal proved it. He also pointed out what a great gesture it was for Salah to give up his second penalty chance, a successful one of which would have put him back in the league lead for goals scored, to Bob so that the latter could rack up his first EPL hat trick. This is a team, not just an assembled group of the best talent we could secure.
Play our way, prepare to pay. The key thing about Klopp’s team in his first couple seasons here was the ruthlessness of the attack. The key element since we acquired Van Dijk is that we can still be that ruthless while still containing a game. Other than the one sterling chance that Arsenal converted (great cross, great score on the volley), they got bupkis for the rest of the game. There were a few mutterings when Iwobi would go charging up the left side in the second half, but Trent or Lovren or Virg were always there to defuse the situation. This is a great team that virtually demands that opponents come out and run with us, because they’ll never score if they don’t and the Reds will get through at some point. When they do come out to play, the end result looks like the above. Lose 2-0 or lose 5-1. It’s all the same to us, at this point. (Other than the +2 GD; ours currently sits at +40.) Even with a couple uncharacteristic errors by Fabinho in the midfield, we were able to control every attack except the single goal.
Speaking of the midfield… I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it has to be cited again. Gav Jones’ tweet above isolates it perfectly. As the other half of the double pivot with Fabinho today, Gini did the same thing he’s been doing all season in that role: controlled the game. Arsenal would try to tear through the middle third and he’d just claim the ball, control it, and move it to our back line or to someone on the wings. You almost can’t play the role better and we have three guys who can do that.
On that whole trade window thing. Klopp has said that he doesn’t see much point in splashing money around in January. He’s right. There isn’t anything significant that this side needs unless we run into a real injury crisis OR Gomez and Matip run into trouble in their recoveries, as we’re still down to two first-team CBs without them and Virg could really use a rest. On the other side of the ledger, Palace still wants Solanke. If The Hodgson gets that 4-4-2 twinkle in his eye, OK. Go be a 22-year-old in London. Clyne is also emerging into the outgoing rumors, which would be a real blow to our fullback depth, since Moreno is also talking about being unhappy with Klopp, unlike the rest of the football world. The Pulisic rumors continue to dance, but an excellent post on Reddit should put the lie to any of the urgency about his departure from Dortmund. In short, he’s great, but he’s still not much more than the best American.
Now comes the final step. When we were 14 points behind City, I mentioned that I’d basically accepted the fact that they would win another title, no matter how well we were performing. It didn’t seem like they would slow down or that we would compete with what seemed to be their matchless pace. We’re now 9 points ahead of second place and 10 points ahead of City. If we can beat them at the Etihad, we’re well on our way to our first league title in 29 years. If we don’t, we’re still in the drivers’ seat. Not a bad spot to be.
My only wish for January is depth at LB. we are one injury to Andy from being in real trouble since both Moreno and Milner have been hurt lately.
That’s a good point. Clyne can fill in at LB like he did today, but if he wants out, too, then it looks rough for the second half. The only solution is really to retain Clyne, despite his wishes, or hope that Milner, Robot Warrior comes back online.