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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rattled, panicked and overwhelmed: How inexperienced Arsenal were schooled by Liverpool

Anfield is a beast on nights like these, and Arteta woke it up. In an instant, a mild evening had become a manic one. Roared on by the supporters, Liverpool reached a new level of intensity. They found the net a few minutes later and did not slow down again until the scoreboard read four and Arsenal’s faces had been pushed firmly into the mud.

It was primarily in midfield where Liverpool exerted their dominance, with the snarling Fabinho doing more than anyone to wreck Arsenal’s game-plan. He had done the same at the Emirates last season, cutting off every counter-attack and winning every loose ball, and Arsenal once again found him to be an insurmountable hurdle on Saturday.

No Liverpool player regained possession more times than the Brazilian, who at one stage was able to tackle Lacazette twice in the space of eight seconds. He was the nastiest kid in the playground, offering an aggression and a physicality which Arsenal could not match. Thomas Partey, his opposite number, could only watch and take notes.

For Arsenal, it was a gruelling night but not an occasion that should derail their season. The result does not erase their recent progress, and in truth it did not tell Arteta anything new about his team, the youngest in the division. They are not at Liverpool’s level, and they knew that before arriving at Anfield. They will know they need to be more mature in moments of high pressure, but they also know that these things come with time and experience rather than in an instant.

The gulf in experience between the two sides was striking: only one of Liverpool’s starting eleven was under the age of 24. Arsenal had seven players under the age of 24. Between them, the Liverpool players who started have racked up a total of 3,796 senior club appearances in their careers. Arsenal’s players, by contrast, have made a combined total of just 2,270 — and almost half of those come from just two players, Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Lokonga, Tavares and Takehiro Tomiyasu are in their first Premier League campaigns. Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes are in their second. These players have never before experienced a high-energy Liverpool in a high-energy Anfield, and it showed. It is on them, and indeed Arteta, to learn from this and stop it happening again.

For Klopp, the nature of the performance will have erased some of the pain of their defeat at West Ham United before the international break. When the system functions as effectively as it did for long spells on Saturday, there are few teams who can live with Liverpool. Arsenal’s long-term plan is to be capable of coping with the best in the world. Evidently, they are not there yet.

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