Speaking before the season started Kevin de Bruyne suggested that winning titles can change teams for better or for worse. ‘We will see,’ said the Manchester City midfielder more in hope than in expectation.
Well, in terms of Liverpool, we have seen already. There is clearly going to be no lessening of the hunger, no mental deterioration that can sometimes take the competitive edge from those teams seeking to defend a title.
We are only three games in to Liverpool’s championship defence and the first of those yielded a rather scattergun 4-3 defeat of newly promoted Leeds. Nevertheless, we have seen what we needed to see. If Liverpool are to lose grip of their trophy this season then somebody will have to brave enough and good enough to take it from them.
Liverpool have already shown that their hunger and competitive nature still remains this year
The Premier League champions beat Arsenal at Anfield and were better than their opponents
At Anfield there were chinks of light, of vague hope, for those looking for weakness. Liverpool’s clear desire to play a high defensive line this season will clearly undo them from time to time. Three times Arsenal earned one-on-one chances. Had the opportunities fallen to Pierre Emerick Aubameyang rather than the less clinical Alexandre Lacazette then Mikel Arteta’s team may have threatened something extraordinary.
But Aubameyang’s inability to find his way in this game was a worry for Arsenal. Having just told the world that he could have gone to Barcelona before deciding to sign a new contract, he will have to do an awful lot more than this if he is to really expect anybody to believe him.
Nevertheless, in terms of the energy of Jurgen Klopp’s players and the hunger with which they harassed and shut down an improving Arsenal team, Liverpool were faultless and already that feels telling.
The hunger with which Liverpool harassed and shut down an improving Arsenal was telling
The Liverpool of the last two seasons was very much in evidence here both in style, substance and indeed outcome. Liverpool were better than Arsenal all over the field and also ran harder and with more purpose. Klopp’s team clearly intend to continue to improve and it will be intriguing to see if anybody has the capacity to go with them.
Arsenal were not embarrassed at Anfield like they have been in the past. They are growing under Arteta, even if they remain two or three players short. But this was still a hard night for them, a night when they could not get enough of the ball and, when they did it, they too often found it recycled by the swirling, whirling Liverpool tumble dryer.
There was a time under Arteta’s predecessor Unai Emery when Arsenal’s attempts to play the ball out from the back was best watched with hands over eyes. Goalkeeper Petr Cech – now busy recruiting players for Chelsea – often looked particularly uncomfortable.
Andy Robertson (above), Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota sealed the handsome win for the hosts
There were shades of that once again at Anfield on Monday night but this time it was Liverpool’s energetic relentlessness that troubled Arsenal rather than any inherent inability to be able to carry out their coach’s instructions.
If you are going to beat Liverpool you have to be very brave. Only occasionally will you get lucky. Arsenal did ride their luck to down Klopp’s team in London towards the end of last season but may have to wait a while to be so fortuitous again. So yes, you have to brave.
The only way is to try and bring Klopp’s players on to you and then break hard. Leicester did it to Manchester City on Sunday but currently Liverpool’s structure is stronger and more reliable than City’s. If you are going to find a way through the red wall you had better make sure you take your chances when they do arrive.
Arsenal did that here, at least initially. Their goal in the 25th minute came from just about their first foray up field. But subsequently they were not clinical enough. Ainsley Maitland Niles and then Lacazette erred when clear and, those moments apart, this was just hard work for Arsenal.
Alexandre Lacazette’s opening goal in the first half had needed a strange error from Robertson
But aside from their goal, it was hard work for Arsenal in their first defeat of the new season
There is probably just about nothing in football that hasn’t been done before – apart from the recent changes to the handball rule. Good teams have often pressed hard when the opposition have the ball. Manchester United’s treble winners did it in 1999. Barcelona did it. City do it.
Even so, it is hard to imagine what it must be like to take possession of the ball in your own penalty area and see four red shirts assemble in front of you like a bank of security guards outside a night club. At one time or another in the first hour of this game, most of Arsenal’s back four and midfield were mugged of possession.
Arteta’s team did gain a firmer foothold in the second half and over the latter stages of the contest Liverpool’s intensity levels did drop a little. That, however, is unlikely to be indicative of what lies ahead.
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