Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Winners and Losers from Premier League Game
Arsenal and Liverpool played to a thrilling but ultimately scoreless draw Monday night in the final match of the Premier League's third weekend of the season.
Liverpool had the better chances in the first half and would have taken a lead into half-time if not for the heroics of Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech. The Gunners improved after the break but could not break through Liverpool's defense, which still has not conceded a goal this season.
Here, B/R selects winners and losers from the match.
Winners: Petr Cech and Simon Mignolet
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech earned man of the match honors for an impeccable display of top-class goalkeeping, especially in the first half. Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet also performed well and helped his side preserve a draw.
As Arsenal struggled to hold possession in the first half, Cech had to be at his best to keep out a rampant Liverpool attack. In the 39th minute, following one of several giveaways committed by the home side in the first half, Cech made an outstanding stop to deny Christian Benteke at close range.
It was one of the best saves of the young season, but Cech outdid himself just six minutes later. With the final seconds of the first half ticking away, Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho created space for himself on the left before curling a superb strike toward the top corner at the far post. The shot seemed destined for the back of the net, but Cech dived to get the slightest of touches on the ball, directing it onto the post.
Both saves were critical for Arsenal, who were second-best in the first half and couldn't score despite improving after the break. Had either of those shots gone in, the Gunners most likely would have lost for the second time in as many home matches this season.
Cech's career at the Emirates Stadium started on a sour note, as the goalkeeper performed beneath his high standards in a 2-0 loss to West Ham United earlier this month. But against Liverpool, the 33-year-old was the top-class goalkeeper Arsenal were expecting when he signed from Chelsea.
"When you start with your first game at a new club and everything goes wrong, you have to go back to work and bounce back," Cech told Sky Sports (h/t BBC Sport).
For his part, Mignolet made a fine stop to deny Olivier Giroud in the second half as Arsenal threatened to take the lead. With Cech earning the plaudits for a sterling display, Mignolet wasn't the star man in this game. But the Belgian will be delighted with his own performance and yet another clean sheet to start the season.
Loser: The Offside Decision That Wiped out an Aaron Ramsey Goal
The match ended scoreless but nearly played out so differently.
In the eighth minute, Santi Cazorla picked out Aaron Ramsey's run from the left flank with a clever pass through Liverpool's defense. Ramsey latched on to the ball and slipped a low shot past Mignolet at the near post. But after the linesman raised his flag for offside, referee Michael Oliver ruled out the goal.
Replays showed the decision was incorrect. Ramsey was level with Martin Skrtel when Cazorla released the pass. It was a bad call that cost Arsenal a goal and perhaps a victory.
But manager Arsene Wenger has more problems than a single offside decision. For the second time in as many home matches this season, Arsenal failed to score. Through three games, the Gunners have won only once, scored just twice and never fully impressed.
Dating back to last season, Wenger's men have failed to score in five of their last six home matches. That has to be a worry, as Jack Pitt-Brooke of the Independent noted:
This is a trend, not a fluke, and it speaks of a team who struggle to break down packed defences. Arsenal played with no width [Monday] and not enough drive or pace. Titles are built on home wins, and Arsenal will not stack up enough.
This season was supposed to represent a breakthrough for Arsenal, a chance for the Gunners to mount a serious title challenge. It could still happen, of course, but the early signs are worrying.
"We had chances, but we couldn't finish them off," Wenger told BBC Sport. "When you play at home and don't win, people always find problems.
"It is not the result or the complete performance, but we came back in the second half."
Arsenal did improve in the second half, but in a title challenge, only the results matter. Five points separate Arsenal from the top of the table after three matches, and that margin won't shrink unless the Gunners begin showing a more clinical edge in the attacking third.
Winner: Liverpool's Defense
In contrast to Arsenal, Liverpool will be delighted with the start of their season. Following narrow victories over Stoke City and Bournemouth, the Reds took a point away from the Emirates Stadium against a team that harbors ambitions of challenging for the title.
Liverpool fans might not have been quite as optimistic as that ahead of the season, but through three games, the Reds are unbeaten and have yet to concede. In addition, after facing tricky trips to Stoke and Arsenal, manager Brendan Rodgers' men trail early leaders Manchester City by just two points.
Does this mean Liverpool will sustain a title challenge? Not necessarily. But it should give manger, players and fans hope for a strong season ahead.
The team's defensive record is worthy of praise, but Liverpool's attackers also showed sparks against Arsenal. Roberto Firmino, starting his first Premier League match since his summer move from Hoffenheim, turned in a solid performance over 63 minutes. Benteke dominated Arsenal's centre-backs throughout the first half, winning 11 aerial duels before half-time, per Squawka. And Coutinho struck the woodwork twice, the second only after Cech made a miraculous intervention to deny a certain goal.
"I thought we were outstanding; we showed everything," Rodgers told Sky Sports (h/t BBC Sport). "You heard Petr Cech getting a round of applause for the saves he made.
"Overall, we kept a good clean sheet but disappointed we didn't win. It is about keeping really well organised."
Loser: Arsenal's Poise in the 1st Half
Arsenal received bad news ahead of kickoff, as both starting centre-backs missed out on selection. Per Mertesacker was unable to play because of an illness, while Laurent Koscielny sat out with a back injury.
It was the first time in 1,225 days that the Gunners had lined up without at least one of those two in the lineup, per Squawka, and it showed. Gabriel Paulista and Calum Chambers slotted into the center of defense, and, especially in the first half, Liverpool took advantage of the unfamiliar pairing.
Chambers was the obvious weak link. His poor positioning and decision-making nearly cost Arsenal a goal on multiple occasions. Gabriel had some scary moments as well, struggling to deal with Benteke's physicality—though many Premier League defenders will have the same problem this season.
But while the two inexperienced centre-backs deserved some blame for Arsenal's substandard performance in the first half, they had little help from their team-mates. As Michael Cox of ESPN FC explained:
To be frank, they weren't capable, especially weren't helped by full-backs Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal pushing forward into extremely advanced positions, leaving space in the channels. ...
Still, both are perfectly good defenders—still young and developing—and the reality is that Arsenal should have protected them better. Francis Coquelin made some typically dramatic interventions on the edge of his own box, but the two full-backs could have sat deeper, minimised the space on the outside and made sure the centre-backs had less responsibility.
Left exposed by Arsenal's approach to the game, Chambers and Gabriel endured a difficult first half. The two recovered in the second half, but by half-time, Liverpool might have been two or three goals ahead if not for Cech's excellent goalkeeping.
Without Koscielny and Mertesacker in the lineup, it wasn't all that surprising to see Arsenal struggle defensively. Yet, with so much talent in the squad, the Gunners should have shown more composure on the ball.
This graphic, from Squawka, illustrates just how much Arsenal struggled to maintain possession (and that was only the first half). Chambers and Gabriel were responsible for some of those giveaways, but the entire team needed to do better.
Winner: Francis Coquelin
While many Arsenal players struggled against Liverpool, Francis Coquelin excelled. The 24-year-old French midfielder provided coverage for the back four, bailed out his side frequently with crucial interceptions and covered large swaths of the pitch with incessant running.
According to Squawka, Coquelin finished the night with some impressive stats: 91 percent passing accuracy, two blocks, five tackles won and—probably most importantly—six interceptions. Apart from the outstanding Cech, Coquelin was Arsenal's star performer on the night.
Wenger (so far, at least) decided against signing another defensive midfielder in the transfer window this summer, and nights like these show why he rates his countryman so highly. Wenger might want to reconsider at some point, if only to give his side more depth, but Coquelin is fast becoming one of Arsenal's most important players.
Loser: Arsenal's Alleged Pursuit of Karim Benzema
Shortly before kickoff, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema took to social media with a message that left many an Arsenal fan disappointed.
"For all those clowns who want to make believe things at my fans. Here, this is my home!" he tweeted, attaching a picture of himself in the Real Madrid dressing room.
What does this have to do with Arsenal? Previously, a rather fanciful report by Italian writer Emanuele Giulianelli of Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Daily Star) insisted that the London club would sign Benzema and unveil him before Monday's game.
It obviously didn't happen, and Arsenal will have to look elsewhere if they are to sign another striker before the window closes. As for the report, and summer transfer sagas in general, Benzema's tweet only underlined the absurdity of football's silliest season.