Tuesday 23 October 2018

Milner urges Liverpool to be 'more boring' after Reds blow two-goal lead at Emirates

Arsenal 3  Liverpool 3

Mo Salah celebrates scoring Liverpool’s second goal in front of a disappointed Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech during the Premier League clash at The Emirates. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Mo Salah celebrates scoring Liverpool’s second goal in front of a disappointed Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech during the Premier League clash at The Emirates. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Christmas is supposed to be a time for miracles and, from a sporting perspective at least, the five second-half minutes that Arsenal produced to rescue this game was something close. They had been comprehensively outplayed, out-run and outfought by Liverpool for almost an hour and were flattered by the 2-0 deficit.

Then, up stepped Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil and the mutiny that was unmistakably in the air turned inexplicably to ecstasy. Liverpool did still recover to fashion a deserved equaliser through Roberto Firmino but, having been so dominant for so long, surely felt most aggrieved by a 3-3 draw.

It was arguably the game of the season and fabulous attacking entertainment for the neutral, even if familiar defensive errors on both sides underlined why these teams are probably locked in a battle to finish fourth.

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Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Liverpool’s Emre Can battle for possession at the Emirates last night. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez and Liverpool’s Emre Can battle for possession at the Emirates last night. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

James Milner said Liverpool had to recognise when it was appropriate to play "more boring" football after yet another collapse.

"When you are in a position like that at this level you've got to see the game out. We have got to become more boring," he said.

"There are times in the game when you've got to tighten up and not make those mistakes for five minutes. All the goals were our fault really and that's something we have to learn from.

"We play such good football going forward and maybe sometimes we need to switch that off for five or 10 minutes."

Arsene Wenger might have retained faith with the team that had beaten Newcastle United in the Premier League last week following 11 changes in the midweek League Cup win against West Ham United but his selections still rightly raised eyebrows.

It was one thing to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation against more limited opposition but this was the first time he had again dared take that risk against a team of Liverpool's potency. The suspicion that Arsenal would be defensively vulnerable was compounded by the continuation of Xhaka and Jack Wilshere in midfield while gambling on Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left-back against the league's top scorer in Mo Salah.

Roberto Firmino celebrates with Philippe Coutinho after scoring Liverpool’s equaliser. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Roberto Firmino celebrates with Philippe Coutinho after scoring Liverpool’s equaliser. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Klopp was similarly offensive in his selections. The 'Fab Four' of Salah, Philippe Coutinho, Firmino and Sadio Mane all started. Liverpool immediately took hold of possession and predictably tried to target Arsenal's left-back area but Maitland-Niles was content not to drift forward and initially held firm.

Xhaka was being asked to screen the area in front of the defence but his passing under pressure was wayward and Arsenal were being relentlessly pinned back under Liverpool's high press.

Counter-attacks were just about their only threat and the need to quickly chase one hopeful ball forward in the direction of Mesut Ozil was enough to end Jordan Henderson's game with what looked like a hamstring injury.

Milner replaced him and the basic pattern of the game was unchanged.

Liverpool's first clear chance arose when Andrew Robertson's deep back-post cross found Firmino unmarked, only for Petr Cech, on his 100th Arsenal appearance, to block his header.

A goal already felt inevitable and, following the breakdown of a rare Arsenal attack, Salah was released by Milner down the right into space that had been vacated by Maitland-Niles.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere in action with Liverpool's Sadio Mane during the Premier League clash at The Emirates last night. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere in action with Liverpool's Sadio Mane during the Premier League clash at The Emirates last night. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters

Liverpool were fortuitous in how his cross cannoned up off Laurent Koscielny and towards Coutinho, but his glancing header over Cech was brilliantly executed.

The very simple tactic of aerial balls into Arsenal's left-back position remained profitable for Liverpool, with Dejan Lovren then running onto a free-kick from Coutinho and spurning an excellent chance.

Arsenal continued to ride their luck when Koscielny slipped and inadvertently played Salah clear on goal. Cech blocked Salah's attempted finish and the ball bobbled back over Mane, whose acrobatic volley sailed over.

Arsenal departed for half-time with boos ringing out but Wenger's only change was of personnel rather than formation.

Nacho Monreal was replaced at centre-back by Shkodran Mustafi and he surprisingly retained faith with all six players further forward who had barely influenced the game.

His team duly continued to ride their luck. A quick break by Salah and Mane again left Wilshere and Xhaka unable to respond but Arsenal were again saved by Cech, who got down well to gather Salah's low shot.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring his side's third goal at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: John Walton/PA
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil celebrates scoring his side's third goal at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: John Walton/PA

Liverpool could not keep wasting their chances and Salah did punish them.

There was again some luck about the finish, however, with the Egypt winger's 21st goal already this season deflecting off Mustafi and past Cech.

The Emirates was turning but then, totally against the run of play, everything changed.

Bellerin had curled his cross along the six-yard box and, with Joe Gomez hesitating, Sanchez darted in front of him to head past Simon Mignolet.

Stunned

Liverpool were visibly stunned and, having stood off Arsenal for the first time all evening, Xhaka was allowed to shoot from 30 yards. His shot was actually aimed straight at Mignolet but its sheer power and movement deceived the Liverpool goalkeeper sufficiently for it to nestle just beneath the crossbar.

The momentum was now fully with Arsenal and a one-two between Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette then quite brilliantly dissected Liverpool, with the German applying a superb deft lob above Mignolet.

The match remained wide open and, having missed chances to even extend their improbable lead, Arsenal did again succumb.

Emre Can found Firmino completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and, although Cech did get both hands to his shot, it squirmed high into the air behind him before dropping into an empty net.

Either team might have won it in the closing minutes, but Liverpool went closest when Salah slammed one final chance into the side-netting. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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