Football Features

“Sadio was The Man(é)” – Five things learned as Liverpool annihilate Arsenal at Anfield

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:34, 28 September 2020 | Updated: 9:47, 30 March 2021

In a one-sided night of football, Liverpool came from behind to beat Arsenal 3-1 at Anfield.

The win puts the Reds to the top of the table and saw Jurgen Klopp’s men absolutely dominate their opponents. What did we learn?

1. The Man(é)

After his heroics last week against Chelsea, one could have forgiven Sadio Mané for taking the evening off and maybe letting one of his other star strikers take their moment in the sun. But no, that’s not how The Man(é) gets down.

Mané came flying out of the blocks with a ferocious energy, snapping into tackles perhaps a bit too aggressively. Well, definitely too aggressively when he thrust his arm out and smacked Kieran Tierney in the face. VAR had a look at the incident and it was adjudged to only be worth a yellow card, which is an absurd decision on reflection. It’s hard to imagine why the referees declined to mete out the correct punishment, but it’s good for Liverpool that they didn’t.

Because when Arsenal went 0-1 up, and Salah responded with a slalom run and shot that stung the palms of Leno, who do you think showed up to tap home the rebound? That’s right, The Man(é). Who probably shouldn’t have been on the pitch. Mané carried on playing superbly as Liverpool took the lead, all the way up to him being substituted (much to his chagrin) late on. But even there The Man(é) stayed relevant as it was his replacement, Diogo Jota, that scored the final goal of the game.

As always: Sadio was The Man(é).

2. Arteta will learn not to compromise

Arsenal began this key match against Arsenal with a half-fit Kieran Tierney rushed back into the XI and with their best midfielder Dani Ceballos on the bench. The idea in midfield was obviously to be more defensive with Mohamed Elneny, and at the back perhaps not to expose a young tent to the hurricane that is Liverpool’s attack.

Both ideas backfired. Tierney was absolutely devoured by Mohamed Salah for Liverpool’s equaliser in a way that he wouldn’t have been were he fully fit (or were he the imposing frame of Gabriel). Meanwhile in midfield the duo of Elneny and Xhaka looked lost in terms of creativity and without Ceballos’ dynamism Xhaka really suffered.

And of course once Ceballos came onto the field, Arsenal suddenly looked much sharper in possession. The Spaniard even sent Alexandre Lacazette 1v1 with the pass of the game, bisecting the Liverpool defence. It was a majestic bit of play and should reaffirm to Arteta why it’s always best to stick to your principles rather than try and compromise to deal with opponents.

3. A full-back feast

Liverpool’s games are usually defined by their full-backs but tonight’s win over Arsenal was a particularly emphatic example of just how important Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are to the Reds.

As usual their crosses were dangerous from the start, creating enormous pressure on the Arsenal goal. One Alexander-Arnold centre really should have been converted by Mané but all in all they were devouring Arsenal; but then their influence was flipped to be negative.

A simple cross from Ainsley Maitland-Niles, from an area Alexander-Arnold should be defending, reached Robertson and should have been easily cleared. But the Scot messed up the clearance and touched it back for Alexandre Lacazette to score and give the Gunners a shock lead.

But they continued to drive the Reds forward and after Mané had drawn Liverpool level (with Salah all too easily driving by Arsenal’s own Scottish left-back Kieran Tierney in the build-up) another excellent Alexander-Arnold cross was converted… by Robertson! Full-back to full-back put Liverpool into the lead. A true thing of beauty.

4. The Fine Margins

Arsenal have lost this season and Nicolas Pépé couldn’t beat the first man with a corner. They were dominated from start to finish and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t scored since signing his new contract. Haha Arsenlol amirite?

Well, here’s the thing: if Alexandre Lacazette takes his chance and makes the game 2-2, what then? Momentum swings are palpable in sport and without the Anfield crowd to roar them on what would have happened to Liverpool? Moreover what would have happened to Arsenal, buoyed by a second goal at Anfield, especially with Ceballos now on the pitch?

We’ll never know, but given the Reds didn’t make it 3-1 until very late…we have to recognise that these are the fine margins in the game. Even Jurgen Klopp admitted it post-match despite being effusive in praise for his side’s performance admitted that maybe Arsenal could have scored and drawn level.

“No I was not frustrated, not disappointed, not at all,” Klopp said, but still acknowledged there were moments when it could have gone against his side, insisting that it was a calculated risk to press high knowing that they might give up chances.

“They are at a different point of their journey,” said Arteta, of Liverpool’s dominance over Arsenal despite his own side playing well. But even with that difference, Mikel Arteta was one good Lacazette finish away from being hailed as a genius, but instead he’s been humbled by the dominant Premier League champions who have now won three out of three games. The fine margins, indeed!

5. The Machine vs. Thiago

“This Liverpool side, they’re like a machine” said Roy Keane after the match. And he’s right. The main reason for Liverpool’s dominance in this game was that the side slipped back into that machine-like system where the midfield and attack was a hurricane of pressing and all the creativity came from the wide areas. It was their brutal Big Match Mode that they used last season to devastate sides.

“Imagine what happens when they add Thiago” was the cry on social media, which is obviously a fair point given that if you take this incredible side and then add one of the world’s best midfielders, the resulting cocktail will be unstoppable, right?

Well, not necessarily.

Thiago is a world-class midfield playmaker who dominates the ball, we saw this last week when he completed 75 passes in just 45 minutes. But when he plays, the ball flows through him, and the pace and focus of play is more central. With Liverpool’s “machine” mode, things flow out wide and that’s where the creativity comes.

So when you plug Thiago into this side, either Thiago sublimates himself into becoming a Deluxe Wijnaldum, or he dominates the game and we don’t see Liverpool enter their brutal “machine” mode. It’s a great problem for Jurgen Klopp to have, and in the end does mean that Liverpool just have more ways to win, but it shows that not everything is that simple.