The definition of domination is the exertion of power or influence over someone or something. It is the complete control of the opponent you find yourself up against and being able to attack them at will. Teams will visit Anfield this season and be dominated in such a way that they will be sent packing with their tales between their legs. These will most likely be the ‘lesser’ teams. When Arsenal showed up yesterday, nobody expected them to be treated in such a manner.
Liverpool’s domination of Arsenal looked even less likely when the teams were announced prior to kick off. In a surprise move, Loris Karius replaced Simon Mignolet in goal. Mignolet didn’t even make the squad with Danny Ward being preferred to deputise his German superior. Trent Alexander-Arnold was marginally more fortunate than Mignolet, being dropped only to the bench instead of the stand and being replaced by Joe Gomez at right-back. The speculation regarding the future of Divock Origi did nothing to aid his case of a starting berth. The Belgian forward is apparently unhappy at the playing time he has received under Jurgen Klopp but again found himself in the stand yesterday. Arsenal sprang some selection surprises of their own. Wantaway Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez returned to the starting XI along with Liverpool target Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal recently paid £53 million for Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon but the French striker started this game on his team’s bench, as Danny Welbeck was instead chosen to lead the line. Shkodran Mustafi was also left out of the team amid persistent rumours regarding his immediate future in North London.
It was clear from the kick off in this game that Liverpool were out for blood. The Reds were aiming to capitalise on any hesitancy in the Arsenal ranks, harrying and hustling the opposition at every opportunity. The constant pressure, particularly from Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Emre Can, was unsettling for the visitors and was forcing mistakes. They were struggling to get into the Liverpool half and started to concede early chances. An Alberto Moreno cross from the left was headed wide by Emre Can within the first ten minutes and, a couple of minutes later, Mo Salah missed a sitter. After some neat interplay down the Liverpool left, Can, who was clearly high on confidence throughout this game, slid the ball across the 6-yard box. The cross was so good that it evaded all of the Arsenal defenders and Petr Cech, and arrived at the back post at the feet of the onrushing Salah. It should have been a formality for the Egyptian to roll the ball into an empty net from four yards out but Cech had recovered brilliantly to deny him on the line. Arsenal scrambled the ball to safety and survived that scare. Seven minutes later, however, they would cave.
Georginio Wijnaldum hit a ball a little too long which was collected by Cech. The Czech ‘keeper bowled the ball out to Nacho Monreal on the Arsenal left and his pass to Hector Bellerin was swooped upon by Joe Gomez. Gomez’s interception fell back to Wijnaldum, whom immediately laid it back to Gomez on Liverpool’s right wing. Gomez cut back on his left foot and swung a tempting cross into the Arsenal area which was flicked into the Anfield Road End net by Roberto Firmino. If ever a player deserved a goal it was Firmino. The work the Brazilian forward has put in over the past couple of games has earned him this moment and it was no more than the team, as a whole, deserved at this point in the game.
You would think that Arsenal would try to impose themselves on the game a little more after going behind, but no resurgence came. Liverpool persisted to overpower their opponents and control the match. Two minutes after the goal Jordan Henderson picked the pocket of Rob Holding by the centre circle. The loose ball fell to Firmino who slid in Henderson after the captain had continued his run into the Arsenal area. Henderson’s toe reached the ball just before Cech and lifted the ball over the ‘keeper, but there was insufficient power for the ball to better anything other than a dribble which was going wide anyway before Laurent Koscielny swept up the danger. Arsenal’s midfield were simply overpowered. They were allowed no time on the ball and were not helped by the fact they looked disjointed, disorganised and unbalanced. On the contrary, Liverpool were the complete opposite. They were efficient, well drilled and everybody seemed to understand exactly what had been asked of them. Emre Can, in particular, excelled, bossing his opposite numbers with consummate ease throughout the game. But Georginio Wijnaldum was equally impressive. His energy and retention of the ball surprised Arsenal. They clearly didn’t expect his hold up play to be so good and hadn’t prepared for the Dutchman as well as they should have.
Liverpool’s control of the game was bordering on the farcical from an Arsenal point of view. The side from the capital were showing no aggression or desire to get back into the game, whereas Liverpool seemed to be merciless in their pursuit of goals. Five minutes before half time their pursuit paid off. Joel Matip intercepted an attempted through ball into the Liverpool area by Sanchez and the loose ball came to Wijnaldum. He turned and gave it to Can deep in the Liverpool half, who surprisingly had enough space to turn, take two touches and pass to Roberto Firmino on the halfway line. Arsenal were not getting back into their shape quickly enough and were now in real trouble. Firmino, with just as much of a surprising amount of space, turned and played in Mane down the left wing. Mane was now one-on-one with Holding and had the young centre half backing off towards his own goal. Holding should’ve shown Mane down the line but instead allowed him to cut inside and curl a beautiful finish into Petr Cech’s bottom corner. Liverpool were now in complete control of the game against an Arsenal side who were proverbially waving the white flag.
When the referee blew for half time five minutes later, Arsene Wenger will have been foaming at the mouth with anger. His team had shown no desire, no passion and no fight in the first period. They were being completely outplayed and outfought in every area, not one player could walk off with his head held high. In contrast, Jurgen Klopp will have been delighted with what he had seen. His side had executed their gameplan to perfection and exploited every possible weakness Arsenal had shown. The speed of their counter attack froze Arsenal every time the red shirts swarmed forward and the manager will have been hoping the visitors would turn in another desolate display in the second half.
At the beginning of the second period, Arsenal brought on Francis Coquelin in a bid to anchor the midfield and gain some control of the ball. They abandoned their 3-4-2-1 by taking off Aaron Ramsey and switched to a more familiar 4-2-3-1, looking to get more bodies forward. It momentarily worked as Arsenal forged ahead in search of a goal that may spark a comeback. They were getting Alexis Sanchez on the ball and playing well in tight spaces. But it was obvious that if Liverpool could just see out the first fifteen minutes of the half, then they could take the wind out of Arsenal’s sails and reassumed their position on top. In the fifty-seventh minute though, the game was killed as a contest.
Arsenal gained a corner on their right and the ball was cleared as far as Hector Bellerin, who was the furthest man back for his team – he was thirty yards from the Liverpool goal. Before the ball reached him, Mo Salah nipped in and headed the bouncing ball off his toe. Salah was now clean through on goal with a good eighty yards of pitch to eat up. He set off and looked for support but there was none forthcoming. Salah continued to sprint towards goal before finishing low into Petr Cech’s near post from the edge of the box. It was game over with over half an hour to go. Not only had Liverpool rip down the Arsenal sails, they had sunk the whole ship.
On the hour mark, Arsenal brought on Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette to give themselves options up front. They were replacements for Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sanchez, who may have both just played their last game in an Arsenal shirt. They started to get wide and try to find Giroud aerially, with the hope that any scraps would fall to his countryman alongside him. But their plan was just that – hopeful. Any problems Liverpool had from crosses and set pieces against Watford two weeks ago now look to have been rectified. Every cross was met by the head of either Joel Matip or Dejan Lovren, and, if they weren’t headed away, then it was a red shirt picking up the second ball. Usually, the attainment of the second ball meant a Liverpool counter and The Reds continued to threaten Petr Cech. Sadio Mane found his way into the Arsenal area and lifted the ball towards the Kop end goal, but Bellerin had the pace to clear the trickling ball off the goal line. Thirteen minutes before the end, Liverpool had the cherry on top of this goal-filled cake.
Roberto Firmino gained possession in the right back position and fed the ball to Emre Can, who turned poor Rob Holding and motored away from him in the midfield. He got as far as the corner of the Arsenal area before passing to Mo Salah. He looked up and picked out Daniel Sturridge, on as a sub for Mane, at the back post. The England centre forward had the simple task of diving to head into an empty net in order to claim his first goal of the season. The ease with which the goal was scored will draw inquests from everyone of an Arsenal persuasion, but the ease with which Liverpool scythed through the heart of their opponents should not be underplayed. Liverpool slowed the pace towards the end of the game, managing the result and safeguarding a much deserved clean sheet, before the referee eventually blew for full time. A huge roar of approval went up from the Kop as Liverpool’s opponents trudged off visibly upset with their performance. After the game, Jurgen Klopp was obviously delighted with his team’s display and more so with the clean sheet. He shrugged off questions over the exclusion of Simon Mignolet, guaranteeing the Belgian would return to the starting line up for the game against Manchester City on 9th September.
Questions were rightly asked about Jurgen Klopp in the build up to this game having taken such a massive decision. Mignolet had not done much wrong in his previous three competitive games, although he had made glaring errors which could have been punished. Klopp has always said though that he sees Mignolet and Karius as equals and that he is still not sure on his number one. Karius will have done Klopp no favours in helping make up his mind, with three hairy moments when he had the ball at his feet. It was imperative that Karius kept a clean sheet today for his own sake and his manager’s. The opposition were helpful in his mission by not registering a shot on target all game but Karius will be pleased with his overall performance nonetheless, carrying out his basic duties with minimal fuss when called upon.
A lot will be made about Arsenal’s performance in the aftermath of this game and rightly so. After all, not many people will be able to suggest a worse performance in Premier League history. But, as the old saying goes, you can only beat what is put in front of you. Liverpool were able to execute their own game plan and exploit the additional weaknesses Arsenal showed in this game. We counter attacked with frightening speed and smothered the opposition until they froze with fear. We won every battle in every area of the pitch and every Liverpool player was better than their opposite number. I think that would be a long winded definition of domination.