Ian Doyle analyses Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal in the Premier League at their home ground on Saturday.
Klopp Progress Becomes Clear
With more than half of the season to play, this was never going to be an evening to determine the destiny of the Premier League title.
Instead, this was more an opportunity for this latest Jurgen Klopp side – Liverpool 2.0, Liverpool FC Reloaded, call it what you will – to judge their progress since the tactical tweak that was first introduced for last April’s visit of Arsenal.
And that the Reds will have departed Anfield with a sense of regret despite extending their subsequent run to just one defeat in 29 league matches is perhaps the greatest indicator they are firmly on the right track.
Once the disappointment at not beating Arsenal to claim the Christmas number one spot dissipates, Klopp will surely urge his players to embrace the positives.
Yes, a slow start to the game – which allowed Gabriel to head the Gunners into an early lead and effectively gifted the visitors the initiative – indicates just why Liverpool understandably remain a work in progress.
But that a side still missing a number of key players were within the width of the woodwork from beating a full-strength Londoners should inject more self-belief and confidence into Klopp’s squad.
It was apt that Trent Alexander-Arnold, the player who has benefited most from the change in Liverpool approach, was integral in the equaliser, his searching long pass teasing Oleksandr Zinchenko into thinking he’d seen off Mohamed Salah until the Egyptian claimed the ball, cut inside and thrashed beyond David Raya.
However, the right-back should have sealed another comeback triumph in the second half when, after a trademark Liverpool counter-attack, he thrashed against the crossbar from Salah’s pass.
Fortune had also favoured the Gunners in the first half when Martin Odegaard was somehow adjudged not to have handled in the area. Certainly, it’s unlikely Arsenal will be issuing any statements berating the standard of officiating over the next few days.
This was an absorbing an encounter as last weekend’s desperately dreary goalless stalemate with Manchester United was a shocker. Arsenal came to win, United came to not lose 7-0 again.
There will be a nagging concern that Liverpool again failed to defeat a team regarded as a chief rival, having now taken only four points in five games against the traditional big six this season. But one reality has become clear. The Reds aren’t going away in what is becoming one of the most intriguing title races of recent times.
Endo Worry Emerges
Liverpool and Arsenal had more in common this summer than plotting a way to knock Manchester City off their long-established perch. The next step for both clubs involved recruiting a defensive midfielder. But while the Gunners splashed out £100million on Declan Rice, a failure to bring in either Moises Caicedo or Romeo Lavia left Jurgen Klopp turning to unheralded £16.25m man Wataru Endo.
It would be unfair to directly compare the duo, not least given Rice, despite his relative youth compared to his 30-year-old opponent, has grown up playing in England. Indeed, this was only a sixth Premier League start for Endo. But with each appearance the Japan international continues to improve, here more than holding his own up against the Arsenal man.
While not alone in being swamped by the Gunners in the opening stages, Endo was integral in Liverpool gaining a foothold in the game and his high pressing allowed Klopp’s side to start dictating the tempo and pushed the visitors back towards their own goal.
He also doesn’t mind a Fabinhoesque tactical foul, more than happy to take a booking when stopping a dangerous Gabriel Martinelli shortly before half-time. Such game management was made all the more impressive by successfully negotiating the rest of the game on a yellow card.
The imminent departure of Salah to the Africa Cup on Nations has commanded much of the attention. But, increasingly, the absence of Endo, due at the Asia Cup in a fortnight, will also be felt.
Konate Steps Up
Ibrahima Konate would have been forgiven for being irked at the amount of times his injury-time miss in this fixture last season was replayed in the build-up. But whatever the reason, the Liverpool defender was on a mission here.
While the Reds wobbled horribly in the wake of Arsenal’s strong start, Konate set the tone with several bone-crunching challenges that further roused an already lively Anfield crown – no complaints about the atmosphere this time – and, more importantly, allowed the home side to settle.
And rarely did the France international allow his standards to dip, helping Liverpool maintain a high line when on the attack and producing a number of superb blocks when Arsenal started to belatedly probe in the closing stages.
When the visitors did manage to find a way into the penalty area, one chase and challenge on Gabriel Martinelli shortly after the interval drew further cheers.
Given the fine showing of Jarell Quansah in midweek, this was a pointed reminder of who remains first choice at centre-back alongside Virgil van Dijk.
Reds Shoulder Injuries
Losing one player to a serious shoulder injury can be considered somewhat unfortunate given the rarity of the issue. So the prospect of being without two senior players in the same position due to the problem will probably have Jurgen Klopp double-checking he hasn’t walked under any ladders recently.
Even the manner of the damage suffered by Kostas Tsimikas 10 minutes before half-time was freakish, taken out on the touchline by Bukayo Saka and sent flying into the nearby Klopp, resulting in the Reds boss tumbling to the turf.
But while Klopp picked himself up, Tsimikas wasn’t so lucky, suffering a broken collarbone. And with Andy Robertson expected to be out until nearer the end of January, Liverpool will now be without their two left-backs during a pivotal month in their campaign, even if Joe Gomez increasingly revelled as replacement for Tsimikas and helped shut down Saka.
Luis Diaz was another to depart early after a clash of knees with the seemingly omnipresent Saka, with fingers crossed any damage is only minor. Liverpool need as much Christmas presence as possible over the festive period.