Liverpool roll with the punches to overcome Arsenal

Arsenal 0 Liverpool 2

Liverpool took their chance and, in doing so, showed Arsenal what happens when you fail to do exactly that. While the door to a title race had been left ajar for them on Monday there was always the knowledge in Jürgen Klopp’s mind that winning at the Emirates is a tall order nowadays.

That was evident during the first half, when Arsenal were the better side, but the game turned after Martin Odegaard missed the hosts’ best chance of the night. Within eight minutes Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino had made him regret it and Mikel Arteta was left to reflect on the margins that, as he had warned pre-match, still exist between his team and those at the summit. For Liverpool, who were not at their best, a single-point gap to the lead looks deliciously surmountable.

The energy that has spurred Arsenal’s rise from basket case to top-four favourites was encapsulated in the 20th minute when Gabriel Martinelli, sprinting from his wide attacking berth to the midway point in his own half, slid in to stop Trent Alexander-Arnold advancing on the home penalty area. Arsenal are quick starters here and, in heavy rain that only augmented an excitable atmosphere, they set out with intent yet again.

There could have been the temptation to regard this as a free hit, given their position would look favourable regardless, but that was never a credible state of mind for Arteta. His side showed when outplaying Manchester City on New Year’s Day that, minus the old niggles that resurfaced to deny them, they can finally compete with the best; turning that level of performance into a victory would hammer home the point that their momentum is becoming irresistible.

Arsenal press with a ferocity Klopp would admire and, as a result, Liverpool were smothered for most of the first half. For a few minutes it had not seemed especially likely to be that way: the visitors knew what the prize was and won three corners in the first two minutes, the third coming about after Aaron Ramsdale made a plunging low save from Virgil van Dijk’s free header. Mohamed Salah was not risked from the start after picking up a foot injury at Brighton; that was good news for Arsenal on the face of things but his replacement, Jota, tends to enjoy facing them and scored both goals here in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg two months ago.

Jota was peripheral as Arsenal, for whom Thomas Partey worked tirelessly to deny Fabinho his usual level of control in this fixture, denied Liverpool any meaningful pressure thereafter. This was snappy, knife-edge fare that must have been brutal on the ears of Andrew Madley, the fourth official, as both technical areas cried foul over every remotely contentious challenge. Arsenal might not have created any clear chances before the interval but they could feel happier. Martinelli, a blur of industry, scuffed a half-opening at the far post and then saw a fizzed centre towards Alexandre Lacazette cleared desperately. Bukayo Saka, the first port of call for searching balls from midfield, might have been in on goal had Granit Xhaka not overcooked one pass.

Yet Liverpool are only ever one flourish from applying a decisive blow and, with the half’s last action, Sadio Mane could have inflicted one when he lifted over after controlling a long pass.

Arsenal should have gone ahead soon after the restart when Lacazette, beating Alisson to Thiago Alcantara’s undercooked backpass, teed up Odegaard. The finishing touch is Odegaard’s only evident weakness these days and he allowed Alisson to recover, deflecting over.

Arteta leapt up and down along the touchline. Opportunities such as that come along scarcely and perhaps he had foreseen what followed. Sure enough, Thiago got his bearings right within moments: this time he slid Jota through the inside-left channel and, in a mystifying amount of space, the forward drilled inside Ramsdale’s near post. Liverpool were off the hook but it did not spare Jota the chop: Salah had already been stationed to replace him and the substitution proceeded as planned.

Roberto Firmino mobbed by Liverpool fans after sealing victory at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Roberto Firmino mobbed by Liverpool fans after sealing victory at the Emirates Stadium. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

So did Liverpool’s other change. Firmino took over from the quiet Luis Diaz and, just after the hour, settled things. Robertson charged down a Saka clearance and centred from near the byline; the Brazilian did the rest with a nudged finish and Arteta saw further evidence of the level his players must reach.

The game was over, much as Arsenal perspired in search of a way back. Klopp, a visibly anxious figure all night, can smell a return to domestic supremacy. – Guardian

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