Mikel Arteta faced his first major test of the season on Monday night.
None other than a trip to Anfield against reigning champions Liverpool. But it was Jurgen Klopp’s side who were victorious once again, reminding us all of the gulf in class that remains between the the Reds and Arsenal.
After wins in their previous two meetings, Monday’s match was a reality check for Arteta’s men. The home side were at their blistering best, overloading the flanks with their marauding full-backs and effectively pressing Arsenal high up the pitch.
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The Gunners sat deep and struggled to cause the hosts too many problems, but they did look far more structured and organized than they have in past trips to Merseyside.
There were perhaps a few slight surprises in the team selection, most notably in midfield as Mohammed Elneny started over Dani Ceballos. Elsewhere, the more experienced David Luiz was preferred over new signing Gabriel, while Willian remained in the starting XI ahead of the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka.
Here is what we learned from Arsenal’s first defeat of the season.
There’s Still A LOT of Work to be Done, On & Off the Pitch
After three wins on the trot to begin the new season, this was an early wake-up call to the squad, the fans, and hopefully the club’s executives. First and foremost, it should serve as a reminder of the two clubs’ different ambitions; Arsenal are fighting for a top four spot, while Liverpool are aiming to repeat as champions. That may be a tough pill to swallow for some, but it remains the reality.
Bearing this in mind, perhaps we shouldn’t overreact to this result. However, Liverpool also exposed many of our weaknesses, particularly in the middle of the pitch, where we still lack quality and dynamism. It’s also very telling that Arsenal surrendered yet another first-half lead, with this one lasting just two minutes.
Yes, Arteta has already worked wonders with limited resources, but how much more can we realistically expect without some substantial investment? As Jamie Carragher commented on Sky Sports: “I don’t think it’s possible for him as a manager to get any more out of the group he’s got. I don’t think that’s a top four group. But the way he is organizing them, what he’s doing, when I watch Arsenal, they could get into the top four with his management.”
With less than a week remaining in the transfer window, the club must work quickly to offload some fringe squad players and bring in the likes of Houssem Aouar or Thomas Partey. It could end up being the difference between Champions League qualification or another year in the Europa League.
Liverpool Are Still the Team to Beat
After a weekend where Manchester City were smashed 5-2 at home while Chelsea, Manchester United, and Tottenham all looked unconvincing, Liverpool reminded everyone that they are still the league’s best side. While captain Jordan Henderson and new signing Thiago were both missing in action, Liverpool’s midfield hardly missed a beat, as Naby Keita was instrumental in their high press.
Ever since lifting the trophy in July, questions have been raised as to whether this Liverpool side may suffer from mental or physical fatigue after a few exhausting seasons. But they looked as energetic and ruthless as ever on Monday night, and there’s a reason they haven’t lost at Anfield in the Premier League in over three years. No matter how much money some other clubs have spent this summer in an effort to improve, Klopp’s side are already the finished article.
Dani Ceballos is a Must-Start
At this point, Arteta is essentially rotating the trio of Ceballos, Elneny, and Granit Xhaka in the two central midfield spots. Elneny got the nod over Ceballos today, and while he is a tidy and dependable player, he is nowhere near the Spaniard in terms of technical quality.
Ceballos replaced Xhaka at the hour-mark, and we instantly looked more threatening. He was excellent in breaking Liverpool’s press and created the game’s best chance with a through ball to Alexandre Lacazette, who was one-on-one with Alisson and should have scored to make it 2-2.
While Elneny can be a useful squad player, he should not be starting matches like this. Ceballos has the control and vision to really make a difference, and he should be a nailed-on starter for the foreseeable future unless a new signing arrives.
We Can at Least Compete With Them Now
In recent years we’ve been absolutely hammered at Anfield on more occasions than I can count, but this time we were at least able to stay in the game until the very end.
If Lacazette capitalizes on a golden opportunity in the second half, then it would’ve been 2-2 with less than a half hour remaining. You simply cannot miss those chances against a team like Liverpool and hope to come away with points.
As Arteta pointed out after the match: “They’ve been together five years, we’re in a different moment of our journey. They weren’t able to do that three or four years ago or two years ago. But you can see, these are the standards, this is what we have to reach.”
There’s a long way to go, but Arsenal fans can at least take some comfort in knowing that they have a man with a plan in charge.