Football Features

Diogo Jota the gamechanger as Liverpool beat a toothless Arsenal to close gap on fourth

By Harry Edwards

Arsenal 0-3 Liverpool: Diogo Jota is the gamechanger

Published: 22:22, 3 April 2021

Liverpool won consecutive Premier League games for the first time since January, beating Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates.

A Diogo Jota brace either side of Mohamed Salah’s goal gave Liverpool the deserved win, but what did we learn from the match?

1. Diogo Jota is THE gamechanger

Liverpool dominated the first half, making the most of Arsenal’s gameplan (more on that in a bit) but they just couldn’t find a way through.

It was a similar case in the opening stages of the second half, which caused Jurgen Klopp to make a very attacking change in the 61st minute. Off went Andrew Robertson, with James Milner dropping to left-back, and on came Diogo Jota, fresh from his good performances with the Portuguese national team.

Three minutes later, Liverpool were ahead. And can you guess who scored? Yep, Jota.

It was a really simple goal on the face of it, a cross into the box for Jota to head in, but the Portuguese forward made the run that his Liverpool team-mates hadn’t been making in the first half.

Jota wasn’t done there, as he put the gloss on the win with a late run into the box, unmarked to score his second as Liverpool turned the ball over high up the pitch, exploiting Arsenal’s slopping passing from the back.

Speaking after the game, Jota said: “It doesn’t matter if you start or are on the bench, you have to be ready to make an impact. That’s what I tried to do today and always. I wasn’t expecting as much possession from an Arsenal team but in the end we controlled the game with the ball.”

The attacking trio of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino work so well, but Jota is staking his claim to replace one of the three, or make it a four.

2. Half a performance from Arsenal

Arsenal went into the international break in decent form, winning two of their past four games, with the victories coming against Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Given the form Liverpool were in, you could be forgiven for thinking Arsenal would be taking the game to their visitors to compound the misery.

In his pre-match press conference, Arteta hinted that this might not be the case, knowing what Liverpool are capable of.

“I think sometimes you have to adapt to the opponent because they’re just better than you and sometimes you can make the opponent adapt,” he said.

“We’ll see, depending on what they are able to do and what we are able to do as well. Obviously the intention and the game we want to propose is different to the one that we played last year.

“When you play against top-quality sides, sometimes you have to be able to adapt your game to get the results that you need.”

For the first couple of minutes in the game, Arsenal pressed Liverpool high but then their plan became clear: Frustrate and shut out the opposition attack.

In the opening 45 minutes particularly, Arsenal deployed a very compact XI, sat mostly inside their own half. It was a team effort, with wingers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe effectively wing-backs and Martin Odegaard the only Gunner whose average position was in the Liverpool half.

But it came at a price and, even when Arsenal did eventually step things up in attack, it was too late.

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3. A counter-attacking plan without the counter-attack

Before we get into slating the Arsenal performance, it’s worth remembering that they were without the likes of Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe from their midfield/attacking outlet.

Those absentees could have been the main factors for Arsenal playing a more defensive game, looking to catch Liverpool on the counter-attack. But that only works if you actually counter.

When Arsenal did manage to get possession off Liverpool in front of their own box, there was no movement from the players up the pitch, no out ball. With Aubameyang and Pepe so deep, they needed time to get into the dangerous attacking positions, but Liverpool did not allow Arsenal time.

In the opening 25 minutes, Arsenal’s players had just one touch inside the Liverpool box, a total that only increased to four by the end of the first half.

It was the same story after half-time and Arsenal ended the game with just three shots, posting an Expected Goals total of 0.12 – in other words, they were never really going to score.

4. Fabinho is back

Guess who’s back. Back again. Fabinho’s back. Tell a friend.

How refreshing is it to see Fabinho playing as a midfielder? The Brazilian is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world right now and, sadly, it’s a position we have seen him in all too rarely this season. Of Fabinho’s 32 appearances for Liverpool across all competitions, just 10 have brought the Brazilian in midfield, with the remaining 22 coming at centre-back to cover for his side’s injury problems.

But the 3-0 win over Arsenal was Fabinho’s second consecutive league start in the midfield holding role, and he was fabulous.

The Brazilian made everything tick for Liverpool and his presence in the midfield trio allowed Thiago to have more of a free role, dropping back to receive the ball or pushing high up to try and create. In front of his own area there wasn’t actually much for Fabinho to do, given the way Arsenal played, but that’s because he was proactive in his work winning the ball in midfield, cutting out passing lanes, really smothering the opposition.

Fabinho made a game-high six tackles and won 78.6% of his total duels, a higher success rate than any of his Liverpool team-mates.

People talk about Virgil van Dijk’s injury, but what might have happened to Liverpool’s season if they were able to play Fabinho in midfield for more than 10 matches?

5. Alexander-Arnold and Liverpool make a joint-statement

Aside from World Cup qualifiers and friendlies, the international break brought discussions about England’s squad for the recent games and the European Championships this summer. And the biggest point of discussion was the inclusion, or potential lack of inclusion of Trent Alexander-Arnold.

There’s no denying the 22-year-old hasn’t had the best season, but that’s because his standards were so high over the past few campaigns. He is still one of the top right-backs in the league and should absolutely be on the plane (if England get to the stage where they don’t play at Wembley).

It wasn’t just the assist, which was a gorgeous one, or the chances created, but Alexander-Arnold also put in a strong defensive performance, helping to pin back Aubameyang, Tierney and Cedric when the latter came on.

Alexander-Arnold wasn’t the only one to make a statement though, with Liverpool now just two points off the Premier League top four as things stand and well in the running for a Champions League place, something many had deemed improbable not too long ago.