Liverpool's 3-1 win over Arsenal on Monday Night Football made it nine points from nine to start their Premier League title defence. The early evidence suggests Jurgen Klopp's side will take some stopping this season...
Tuesday 29 September 2020 15:52, UK
Liverpool's chaotic 4-3 win over Leeds on the opening day of the season offered some encouragement to their Premier League rivals. Mohamed Salah looked more lethal than ever, but the solidity that underpinned their title charge was absent. Was it a sign of slipping standards?
It was certainly a tantalising thought for the sides seeking to close the gap to the top of the table in the new campaign, but fast forward two games and their hopes of a Liverpool drop-off look fanciful at best. Two of those sides, first Chelsea and now Arsenal, have found that out for themselves.
On Monday Night Football, Jurgen Klopp's side followed up last weekend's 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge with a similarly impressive show of force at Anfield. Mikel Arteta's side had beaten them twice in the previous four months. A third consecutive upset, however, never looked likely.
That is not to say there were not awkward moments for them.
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But Arsenal's lead, following Alexandre Lacazette's freakish opening goal, lasted only 147 seconds and it was a minor miracle that they were still in the game at all when Diogo Jota struck Liverpool's third in the closing stages.
By the end, Jurgen Klopp's men had attempted 21 shots to Arsenal's four and the numbers were similar against both Leeds and Chelsea. As well as taking maximum points from their first three games, Liverpool have attempted the most shots in the Premier League and faced the fewest.
It is a small sample size, of course, but the numbers show their dominance nonetheless. "They are like a machine," said Roy Keane in the Monday Night Football studio. Jamie Carragher, meanwhile, said they had sent out a message: "Liverpool are going to take some stopping."
Klopp, rejecting Keane's comments that they were defensively sloppy "on one or two occasions", described his side's display as "absolutely exceptional" and in truth nobody was arguing otherwise.
Their first-half performance had everything.
There was the ferocious off-the-ball work that makes this side such a nightmare to play against. "The pressing, the connection with each other, the anticipation of where the ball is going to go, it's absolutely brilliant," said Gary Neville as Liverpool pinned Arsenal back in their own half.
Arteta's side did manage to play through Liverpool's press for Lacazette's opener, but it was an isolated occurrence. They barely had time to breathe otherwise and the statistics showed it. At the interval, the Gunners had only completed 24 passes in the opposition half and five in the final third.
Liverpool's starting line-up was no different from last season's - Jota was only on the bench while Thiago Alcantara missed out altogether - but the players who led their title charge look just as hungry and dangerous now and that's bad news for their rivals.
There was the familiar sight of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ripping into the opposition. There was even another full-back combination for the second goal, with Andy Robertson finishing from Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross.
All the features of this side's previous successes were there to be seen again and while Arsenal offered more attacking threat as they pushed further up the pitch in the second half, that in turn allowed Liverpool to provide a reminder of their counter-attacking potency. It was only due to some wasteful finishing that they did not kill the game earlier.
Arsenal were able to get in behind Liverpool's defence on occasion, with Lacazette denied by Alisson midway through the second half, but the high line is what enabled them to suffocate Arteta's side for so much of the game and for Klopp the rewards outweigh the risks. "If you are that high, of course there is a risk," he said. "We had to be brave ourselves to cause them problems."
Few sides will be able to cope with them if they continue in the same way in the weeks and months ahead and their fast start to the season is all the more ominous for the rest given the circumstances elsewhere.
Chelsea and Arsenal remain works in progress under Frank Lampard and Arteta, as the last two games have shown, while Manchester City and Manchester United appear beset by problems, neither club helped by their reduced preparation time for an already tight turnaround.
"I think Liverpool have had an advantage in that [Manchester City and Manchester United] were in Europe," said Carragher. "I always felt Liverpool would have an advantage in that they knew when their season was finished. The teams in Europe could go out the next day or stay for another week to get to a semi-final or final."
Liverpool have certainly made that advantage count, judging by the completeness of their performance against Arsenal on Monday Night Football. Defending the Premier League crown is not easy, but it appears the Liverpool "machine" is operating at full speed again. It is down to the rest to find a way to keep up.