About halfway through the match, the Liverpool Offside tweeted that they missed that period when every game against Arsenal was a 4-0 laugher. That was right around the time Opta realized that, at 226 minutes played together, Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips were Liverpool’s longest centerback pairing for the season. It had been another one of those matches where we utterly dominated the pitch, but had jack-all to show for it on the scoreline. And then, Diogo Jota was subbed on for Andy Robertson.
As every Liverpool fan knows, the other major storyline of recent weeks was about England manager, Gareth Southgate, dropping Trent Alexander-Arnold from his squad for the international break. Trent’s response was to have something close to his best game of the season and he really should have had two assists since he sent in another perfect lob for Sadio Mané late in the game that was, just like the one above, on a plate. Even without that one, Trent now has as many assists for Liverpool as did both Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen, both of whom needed over 200 games to reach that mark. Trent has done it in 121. As a right back. But, honestly, on the Southgate thing, I couldn’t possibly care less. Don’t want our superstar right back for your nationalist pride games this summer, ensuring that he gets a solid vacation and rest for next year’s PL season? Thanks. Thanks very much.
But neither that one nor Mo Salah’s goal occur without an excellent performance in midfield by one Henrique Tavares. In fact, he got the assist on the latter score:
So, let’s make this obvious: Fabinho is the best DM in the world and both his stats and the transformation of LFC’s play in the past few weeks confirm that. Despite Trent’s excellent play and Diogo’s brace, I still would’ve put my vote in for Fabinho as man-of-the-match, if only because he makes the rest of our team look so good. And, given that there are only eight matches left in the season and we basically need to win all of them to outrun Chelsea, West Ham, and the Bitters for one of the Champions League places, we’re going to need that superlative play from here on out. The one little regret we could have in this injury-ridden season is that Jürgen Klopp didn’t feel confident enough with the alternatives at CB to move Fabinho back to his natural position earlier, as it might’ve earned us a few more points over sides like Fulham.
Indeed, with their second consecutive PL clean sheet and fourth in a row, overall, it’s looking like we’ve found our starting back line for the rest of the season and can perhaps reconsider our options when it comes to summer spending. Every time a ball gets lofted past our midfield, I’m pretty confident that Nat will be there. The passing between he and Ozan and the rest of the squad has improved, markedly. Ozan also showed some pretty fancy moves against a late Arsenal attack in this match, coming out from between three red shirts and three attempted tackles with the ball that he then shipped away to James Milner, Robot Warrior. I don’t know that Ozan is quite worth the £18m that Schalke wants for him, but I wouldn’t be outraged if FSG decided to drop that coin to make sure that we don’t end up in the same situation that we suffered through this year.
So, yeah, in the end, it did end up as kind of a laugher against a clearly overmatched Arsenal squad. (Mikel Arteta, at 50 matches, now has a worse winning percentage than either Unai Emery or Arsene Wenger in the latter’s last 50 matches. Oops.) It was also our biggest league win at Arsenal since 1893. So while one can be forgiven for thinking that all of our recent matches against the Gunners have been walkovers, it’s also clearly an example of what this squad can be when all of our guns are firing. Let’s see what happens in Spain.
Arsenal 0 – 3 Liverpool
The lineup shouldn’t have been a surprise, given that Roberto Firmino has only been toiling at Kirkby for the past three weeks, while Diogo was running his ass off for Portugal (and scoring for them. 21 goals/assists for club and country this season in only 18 matches.) I also wasn’t surprised to see Milner on as captain in the midfield, because customary starter, Gini Wijnaldum, had also been running (and scoring) for the Netherlands. Jürgen likely wanted to save both of them for the Tuesday match against Los Blancos (sadly now shorn of goon and vengeance inspiration, Sergio Ramos, for both legs of the tie.) But it was also likely that he wanted Millie’s loud voice on the pitch to get everyone back in the frame of mind of how Liverpool plays football. Mission accomplished. (And, to be honest, I’m not sure whom would be captain without Jordan Henderson, Millie, Virgil Van Dijk, and Gini on the pitch.)
I can also see the logic behind taking Robbo off for the last half hour and putting Diogo on. With Millie able to move to left back, it gives Robbo a chance to rest for Tuesday and unleashes the beast with Diogo coming on, which is exactly what happened. It also shifted our formation closer to a 4-2-3-1, which matched Arsenal’s setup. (Is there a better DM pairing in the world than Fabinho and Thiago Alcântara?) That made Bob the #10 and allowed Sadio, Diogo, and Mo Salah to rotate at the point. Again, we used that formation frequently in the past two seasons and I’m not sure why Jürgen drifted away from it, since it not only provides better cover for a back line that has had problems adjusting without its CBs, but also gets all four of our star attackers on the pitch at the same time. I’m sure Kloppo had a good reason. I’m just not sure what it is, which is why I’m the invisible blogger and he’s the best manager in the world. Also, a small note about Mo’s goal, as it really was a thing of beauty. Running past a desperate tackle attempt by Gabriel Magalhâes, staying on his feet, and then slotting it into Bernd Leno’s 5-hole is some pretty awesome striker work and leaves him leading the PL golden boot race. Again.
Also also, I admit to being mildly mystified at Arteta’s approach to the game. While I know Arsenal has some injury problems among their offensive guys, playing the 4-2-3-1 with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang anywhere but the point seems like a mistake to me. They had him lining up on the left side of the front line, which means that he was tasked with covering the wide channels against Trent and filling the space in the middle third to screen Kieran Tierney. Having followed his career since Dortmund, I can tell you that that kind of responsibility is not something that he excels at; being far superior in as forward a position as you can get him. Now, Alexandre Lacazette is no better in that role, so if that’s what Arteta had to work with, then, there it is. Been there, done that, yo.
Something else to keep in mind about Diogo is that he’s remarkably good in the air. That cross from Trent could not have been placed better, but Diogo still outjumped two CBs to put it home. That’s part of the reason that he makes a good substitute for Bob, who is also really good in the air; in addition to Diogo having great speed, aggression, and instinct for the goal, as he showed on his second score.
Seriously: Best DM in the world. 100% tackle rate and won both challenges in the air? 89% passing? I wish I could find a progressive passing rate for this match for both him and Thiago, because I’m betting it’s just as good as the overall. I know we bought two brilliant players in the 2018 window (Fab and Alisson Becker) and two halves (Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri), but it’s hard to not think that Fabinho was the crown jewel of that class. Speaking of class…
Something about permanent while form is temporary, blahblahblah… Again, I don’t really care about what England does or doesn’t do. International football other than the World Cup isn’t even secondary to me, compared to Liverpool. It’s about 15 rungs down whatever stepladder you’d care to imagine. But I’m with Kloppo on this one: How Southgate didn’t even call him up and then mentioned his “recent play”, which has been better than the three guys he did call, to explain why not…? Whatevs. It may have lit a fire under Trent’s ass or it may just be Trent being Trent, as we know him, week in and week out.
Tuesday. Real Madrid. At their practice field, which is only slightly worse than an empty Bernabeu. Also the day before I get my second dose of the microchips. See you all at Magee’s soon.