For Arsenal, it was a near thrilling comeback from the comfortable position they found themselves just before half-time. For Liverpool, it was a second-half demolition of a side they nearly revived through complacency and kindness.
This wasn’t your typical first game of the season as proven by the seven fixtures on Saturday where matches were tight and contained no more than three goals each. The seven goals at The Emirates were unexpectedly expected given the home side’s injury crisis in central defence and the fact Liverpool had conceded 50, 48 and 50 goals in their last three seasons. Oh, and they started Alberto Moreno at left-back.
Lambasting an individual brings no one joy unless you’re those bullies from New Zealand’s X-Factor, but it’s hard to ignore calls for Moreno to be replaced by a genuine left-back and not the versatile James Milner.
The most loyal and patient Liverpool fans will now find it difficult to defend a Spaniard who struggles to…well defend. His challenge that led to Theo Walcott’s saved penalty – Simon Mignolet’s fifth from 11 during his Liverpool career – was reckless and unnecessary. However, determined to scold the linesman instead of preventing Walcott from enjoying the kind of space found between Moreno’s ears led to an inevitable opener for The Gunners.
Difference of Two Halves
With a little over half an hour played, Arsenal was ahead as Liverpool appeared disjointed and nervous. Jurgen Klopp’s side attempted four times as many clearances than their opponents prior to the opening goal. A result of Arsene Wenger’s men enforcing the high press, which is often associated with Liverpool’s German manager.
The Gunners struggled to bounce back from Phillipe Coutinho’s 46th minute free-kick that would have evaded a wall of Peter Crouches. Their ball recoveries dropped by 50% from 30 in the first half to 15 in the second as the home side appeared deflated by the Brazilian’s wonder strike.
Klopp’s players came out for the second half and started playing the way they were expected to. They pressed and harried their opponents, retaining possession with purpose and confidence while delivering a pretty devastating 20-minutes of football that resulted in three brilliantly worked goals.
Before the 50th minute, they took the lead via a move triggered by Coutinho’s delicate flick. Debutant Georginio Wijnaldum then chipped a pass to Adam Lallana’s chest. The former Southampton player, who appears to be far better suited to a more central role, took the ball in his stride before slotting past Petr Cech.
Less than ten minutes later, Liverpool doubled their advantage when Coutinho – who had been quiet up until his goal – finished off a 19-pass move from close range. The home side was chasing shadows as the pre-match fears of defensive vulnerability came to light.
How good was this Liverpool compared to a year ago?
Despite Liverpool’s second-half performance, they actually created more chances during an impressive opening 45-minutes in last season’s stalemate. A combination of brilliant goalkeeping by Cech and wasteful finishing thwarted the Reds back then but they managed to capitalise on their dominance this time around.
Boos to Cheers
Just after the hour mark, it was four. Summer signing, Sadio Mane – who won the most tackles and suffered the most fouls – used his pace to get on the end of Lallana’s ball down the right. The Senegalese winger then drove inside the area, beat Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal before letting fly with his left-foot. Cech had no chance as the ball sailed into the top corner and the boos began to resonate.
But it only took a minute for those boos to turn into a mixture of ironic and hopeful cheers. Second half substitute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, dribbled past three players before beating Mignolet at his near post with a slightly deflected effort. The 23 year-old took just five minutes to equal last season’s league goal tally.
By the 67th minute, Wenger had made all three substitutions, two of which were forced by injuries to both Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey. The third and final sub was the club’s only big money signing, Granit Xhaka. The Albanian born, Swiss international wasted little time in making his mark on proceedings as he ended the match joint top for fouls committed (4).
Southampton 5-2 Liverpool/Arsenal
More pride was restored for the home fans when Chambers flicked Santi Cazorla’s brilliant cross into the far corner to convert a stadium from fearing a rout to believing in a famous recovery.
Chambers’ header meant five of the six goalscorers were former Southampton players, of which four came through their famed academy system.
Hard to score without shooting
Liverpool fans suddenly saw a brilliant second half performance crumble before their very eyes with 20 minutes (including injury time) remaining. But indicative of Arsenal’s limp display, they failed to muster a single attempt on goal as they went in blind search of an unlikely and undeserved equaliser.
EPL Results (Gameweek 1):
Hull City 2-1 Leicester City
Burnley 0-1 Swansea
Crystal Palace 0-1 West Brom
Everton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Middlesbrough 1-1 Stoke City
Southampton 1-1 Watford
Man City 2-1 Sunderland
Bournemouth 1-3 Man Utd
Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
Chelsea 2-1 West Ham