Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool (Kiwior OG 80′, Diaz 90+4′)
EMIRATES STADIUM — Mikel Arteta dropped his strongest hint yet that Arsenal may not buy an elusive finisher this month after seeing his side fail to score for the second consecutive home game during Sunday’s FA Cup defeat to Liverpool.
The Gunners have had a combined 48 shots on goal without scoring in their last two matches at the Emirates and this defeat had the same scoreline and followed a similar pattern to the 2-0 loss to West Ham at the end of December.
While the FA Cup will have been third on Arsenal’s list of priorities, defeat to Liverpool, their third in a row in all competitions, added to the sense that this season is in danger of slipping unsatisfyingly away.
Arteta’s side created numerous chances to win, didn’t take any of them and were inevitably punished in the end. They have now won just once in their last seven games. The dreaded C-word isn’t being uttered yet, but fail to overcome Crystal Palace in their next fixture on 20 January and it will certainly feel like a crisis.
“One thing is what we need and another is what we can do,” Arteta said cryptically when asked whether the manner of the loss would encourage the club to enter the transfer market.
“I beg the supporters to be behind the team. In difficult moments stick with the ones that we have, they are incredibly good. If not, they wouldn’t do what they have done today and at Anfield [in December]. Stick with them. It is exactly what they need, [to know] that we are behind them and they feel important and supported because with their attitude they don’t deserve anything different.”
A meeting between two clubs synonymous with red featured alternative coloured shirts. For the first time in their history, Arsenal wore a white kit in a home game to raise awareness for No More Red, a joint initiative with Adidas that aims to end knife crime. Unfortunately, they were plain in appearance and off colour in the penalty area. Liverpool, meanwhile, played in lilac in a show of support.
It was fitting in a way that Arsenal’s Jakub Kiwior got the final touch to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s wicked delivery 10 minutes from the end of normal time, given Liverpool had matched their hosts’ profligacy. By the time Luis Diaz rattled in the second, Arsenal were an incongruent mess.
They spurned so many opportunities. Aaron Ramsdale, displaced by David Raya in part due to concerns over his distribution, almost registered an assist within three minutes of his first home appearance in over three months with a searching long ball over the top of the Liverpool defence, that was wasted by Reiss Nelson. The winger’s hesitancy was a sign of things to come.
Arsenal’s lack of goals has prompted speculation that Arteta may seek January reinforcements and with Gabriel Jesus out injured – his third knee complaint in 13 months – and Eddie Nketiah out of form, Kai Havertz led the line for only the second time in his Arsenal career. The demand for Ivan Toney or Victor Osimhen or another renowned goal-getter will only intensify after this.
Two frequent criticisms of Havertz are that he is too peripheral and not ruthless enough. Only one applied here.
Havertz was involved in everything but in real terms at least, contributed nothing. He lacked conviction when attacking the ball at the back post and too often took four touches when two sufficed, scuffing one attempt off one foot and onto the other after a particularly convoluted journey into a shooting position.
Player of the match: Ibrahima Konate
A colossal performance from the imposing Frenchman, who also marshalled the inexperienced Quansah through the game expertly.
The German had the best chances of the first half but not the best moments. Martin Odegaard and Alexander-Arnold both had a go at seeing who could strike the ball more purely, each leaving the woodwork in a state of distress with ferocious efforts off the bar.
Match of the Kai continued after the break. Bukayo Saka misjudged a Havertz cutback on the volley before Alisson scuttled back to divert a deflected cross from Arsenal’s No 29 away from the top corner.
At the other end, Darwin Nunez was making a nuisance of himself, whistling a shot wide from an acute angle and spurning a two-on-one with a slack pass across to Diaz. Nunez is similarly unconvincing in front of goal as Havertz, but his intensity is a welcome contrast to the Arsenal man’s laboured movements.
Liverpool had lacked the absent Mohamed Salah’s sharpness, but Jurgen Klopp will have been encouraged by how his front three combined towards the end. Nunez won a header, Diogo Jota picked up the pieces and fed Diaz whose shot was superbly saved by Ramsdale at full stretch. All three will have to step up while Salah is away at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Klopp acknowledged that Liverpool struggled to handle Arsenal in the first half and admitted that he had not foreseen Arteta’s ploy to use a “double 10” with Odegaard operating close to Havertz.
They were much better in the second, he insisted, while Ibrahima Konate and Jarell Quansah earned praise for standing firm in Virgil van Dijk’s absence, as the Dutchman missed out due to illness.
“It’s difficult for Virgil to look s**t but he did so we sent him home,” Klopp quipped.
As much as the result, Klopp will have been delighted to avoid a replay. Liverpool had the quality and composure to tip a tie that looked destined to end goalless in their favour. A majestic Alexander-Arnold free-kick and surgically executed counter saw them safely through. It might just have provided a psychological blow to their title rivals too.