Despite what some people seem keen to suggest, Liverpool aren’t having a poor season. I’ve talked before about how Manchester City’s points haul is giving the impression that we’re well off the pace, yet in reality we’re certainly within touching distance of the other top four teams. If one referee doesn’t give the penalty for Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s clever dive in the Merseyside derby and another doesn’t invent a handball from Dominic Solanke against West Brom, we’re already five points clear of Arsenal heading into this game, level on points with Chelsea and just three off Manchester United. Of course football isn’t run on ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, so we are were we are. Doubtless fans of those clubs would also be quick to point out refereeing decisions that haven’t gone their way, too; though if they’re Manchester United fans then it would be a little bit rich to take seriously.
We’ve been really unlucky with some refereeing decisions going against us recently. Game changing ones no doubt, I agree with Hughes.
But they aren’t anywhere near the main reason we’re doing so poorly.
— Jon Owen (@Jon19861) December 21, 2017
Heading into this game we had a chance to put some genuine distance between us and the Gunners ahead of a busy couple of weeks. We were a point ahead of them and could have gone four points clear, meaning that it would have been extremely difficult for them to overhaul us for one of the top four spots heading into the last part of the season. It wasn’t a ‘must-win’ by any stretch of the imagination, but the Reds will have gone into this game brimming with confidence and feeling as though they had a real chance to pull clear of a rival. So what do you say about a game that you are in control of and should have scored four or five goals, only to end it being lucky to get back into it for a draw? The temptation is to lose your temper and throw the baby out with the bathwater, but it’s my job to be a bit more measured and try to look at the positives as well as the negatives in any given performance. Hard not to start with the negatives, though…
We’ll Never Win The Premier League With Simon Mignolet
I genuinely cannot believe that Jürgen Klopp thinks that Simon Mignolet is a good enough goalkeeper for Liverpool in the long-term. Whatever I think, though, the manager gave the Belgian a new contract and continues to play him in the league. Having said that, of course, he also plays Loris Karius in the Champions League games, so he obviously doesn’t trust him completely. Tonight showed exactly why the German needs to make a decision about his goalkeeper in the same sort of ruthless manner that Pep Guardiola has done at Manchester City. The Spaniard has got rid of both Joe Hart and Claudio Bravo because he realised that they weren’t good enough to push his team on to being one of the best in the country. Why hasn’t Klopp done the same?
Mignolet was actually trying to save Xhaka’s goal with one hand (also the wrong hand) 😭😭
— Enel. (@morristar_) December 22, 2017
When Manchester United turned up at The Emirates they allowed Arsenal thirty-three shots on goal. Of those, sixteen were on target. Yet the Red Devils won 3-1. Why? Because of the performance of David de Gea. He made the joint-most saves that a goalkeeper has made in the Premier League era to deny Arsene Wenger’s team any points whatsoever. Now I’m not suggesting that I want Simon Mignolet to be as good as de Gea, given that the Spaniard is one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Even so, I would like him to use both of his hands to save a shot that comes in at head height, especially if it’s got a bit of movement on it. Granit Xhaka’s goal was not a worldie, the Belgian just made it look like one. I don’t know if Karius will turn out to be better than him, but don’t know his ceiling. We know Mignolet’s ceiling and it isn’t anywhere near good enough for us to win trophies, so it’s time for him to be put out to pasture.
The Attack Are As Much To Blame For Dropped Points As The Defence
There’s a line in football that you shouldn’t score three goals away from home and end up dropping points. I understand it. It makes sense to say that if the attack scores three times then the defence should be able to do enough to see the game out. Yet Liverpool had fourteen shots and countless other opportunities when a shot didn’t materialise because of sloppiness from our players in the final third. Sadio Mané was our player of the year last time out, but he’s not been at the races during this campaign. Only he will know why he decided to have a shot on his weaker foot against Everton rather than square it for a tap-in during the Merseyside derby, for example. Nor will I be able to explain why he’s decided to go for the spectacular tonight rather than do any number of alternatives, including controlling it and passing it or heading it into a virtually empty net.
A draw was a surprising result after that first half, Liverpool being so wasteful before the break the only reason it wasn’t a defeat. Not sure poor defending is a great idea but it makes an entertaining match for the neutrals.
— Jason Wilson (@WhizzoUK) December 22, 2017
Mohamed Salah is the player of the year this season and it’s difficult to criticise him when he’s scored twenty-one goals in all competitions after tonight. Yet he had enough chances to win the game on his own, let alone needing any of the other players to get involved. He was wasteful again tonight and it’s not unreasonable to ask him to have scored more than one of the other chances he was presented with. Tonight was another game in which the Fab Four delivered the goals but were also quite disappointing when presented with a number of really big opportunities. Philippe Coutinho had another poor game, if you take the goal out of it. I accept that it’s odd to say ‘if you take the goal out of it’, but the Brazilian should have been pulling the strings and wasn’t. The frustrating thing is that the chances we had weren’t poor ones, they weren’t us being lucky to get into space. They were really big chances that a clinical team takes. Arsenal were clinical, we were not.
The Defence Is Still Much Improved
I know the temptation after a game like tonight is to declare that Liverpool’s defence is abysmal and everyone should be sacked. The desire from some supporters will be to declare that everyone is terrible and we need to replace the entire backline. Yet in three halves of football against Arsenal so far this season, we limited them to zero shots on target. Think about that for a second: an ‘awful’ defence containing the ‘abysmal’ Dejan Lovren and ‘dreadful’ Ragnar Klavan stopped Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette from having a shot on target over one hundred and forty-three minutes. The problem is that when we got to minute one hundred and forty-fourth minute there was no one there to dig the defence out of trouble.
3 halves of football against this Liverpool defence so far this season. 0 shots on target. #toptopquality #ARSLIV
— Ed Herman (@shenque) December 22, 2017
I wrote an entire piece on the Liverpool defence earlier this week, so I’m not going to go over the same ground here. What I will say, though, is that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. This is only the eighth time in twenty-five games that we’ve conceded more than one goal. That’s the same number of times that tonight’s opponents have conceded more than two goals and only two more games than Spurs, who the press rave about from a defensive point of view. Jürgen Klopp’s system is actually very, very good and limits opposition teams to few shots on targets. The problem isn’t the way we set up, it’s the limitations of individual players. I’m not going to lay into Mignolet again, despite how much I’d like to, but I do think Joe Gomez showed his naivety when he failed to simply head the ball away for Alexis Sanchez’s goal. He’s young, though, and a really good prospect. A couple of signings, including between the sticks, and we’ll be fine moving forward.
There Was A Lack Of Pace In The Middle
Perhaps tonight will make some of Jordan Henderson’s critics sit up and notice exactly what it is that he brings to the side. I doubt it, of course, given that they’ll actually have been celebrating the captain going off injured. But the reality is that we lost his pace and dynamism when he was substituted and didn’t replace it. I actually thought James Milner played quite well, but he was still caught out a couple of times because he’s just too slow to cope in a game moving at that sort of speed. Likewise Emre Can was up to his old tricks of taking four touches when one would have done, meaning that even slow players like Jack Wilshere and Granit Xhaka could get back into the game and control the middle of the park. We were far too slow at times when a quick transition would have put Arsenal on the back foot and maybe killed them off.
So, i can conclude Jordan Henderson(by far) the best DM at liverpool football club
— J-Hendo (@homelesshendo) December 22, 2017
Given that we lacked any kind of pace or dynamism in the midfield, why didn’t we make any effort to slow the game down at any point? We were just as guilty as Arsenal of making it a game of basketball when taking some of the pace out of the match, especially as 2-0 up, would have been the right thing to do. I’m also not sure why Klopp didn’t trust Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain enough to replace Henderson with him early on, especially given the former Arsenal man’s excellent performance against Bournemouth last weekend. Even if the manager wanted the experience of Milner, which would have been understandable, it was clear that Mané was struggling much earlier than the manager took him off.
Likewise it was obvious that Coutinho was out of energy much earlier than he was removed from the line-up. Should the German not have given the player he spent more than thirty million on a chance to prove his worth against his former club? You’d take a draw before the game, but from 2-0 up that’s another draw that feels more like a loss.