Follow the Ball – Game 3: Liverpool vs Arsenal

 
13 days into the New Year and I have managed to stick with my resolution. Yes, I am patting myself on the back for that. I said I am going to watch a winning team for the entire 12 months – in a similar style to the much-loved I Am The Gloryhunter – and so far I am sticking to it.

Two games in and I’ve enjoyed two different competitions – the Premier League and the FA Cup. Game three is a return to the bread and butter of the league, and a clash between two teams that will play European ties in a few weeks. They are my links towards taking this thing international so I’m hoping to stay with this winner for a little while.

Game 1: Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United
Barclays Premier League, Saturday 2nd January 2016, Emirates Stadium

Game 2: Arsenal (c) 3-1 Sunderland
The Emirates FA Cup, Saturday 9th January 2016, Emirates Stadium

We’ve had two games at the Emirates Stadium and two expected wins for Arsenal. Now we get to take the show on road and head for Anfield.

Game 3: Liverpool vs Arsenal (c)
Barclays Premier League, Wednesday 13th January 2016, Anfield

The Skinny: Two teams that experienced slightly mixed fortunes over the Christmas period.

Since the beginning of December Arsenal have won seven of their eight matches with only the 0-4 blip against Southampton on Boxing Day counting against them, sit top of the Barclays Premier League table and are comfortably in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup.

Their last two matches have been reasonably convincing for slightly different reasons. Against Newcastle, they weathered the storm of the Magpies’ spirited performance and came away with all three points *cough*markofchampions*cough*. Against Sunderland, the squad was rotated and they kept the solid run going with a composed performance.

As for Liverpool, they are struggling slightly with the shiny glow of their new manager worn off. Jürgen Klopp is a very different manager to Brendan Rodgers, and he asks very different things of his players. Since the beginning of December they have played 10 times – two more than Arsenal – and their build up of fixtures will only continue after their younger players drew 2-2 with Exeter in the FA Cup, to go with their League Cup and Europa League commitments.

The recent spike in their injury numbers – Transfermarkt reports that six Liverpool players have been injured since the beginning of December – could be a sympton of Klopp’s training methods, the sheer number of games to be played, bad lucky or more likely, an unfortunate combination of all three. Either way it leaves Liverpool in a slightly sticky spot and looking weak ahead of a clash with the league leaders.

The Match: Well that was really good fun, wasn’t it? Liverpool played like a team with nothing to lose in the first half – as though they knew the fact that they were playing Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakh at centre-back would ensure they conceded some goals. Liverpool’s positive attitude encouraged Arsenal to open up and produced one of the most entertaining first halves of football I have enjoyed in the last few months. It was a really enjoyable game to watch.

At half-time I did ponder that were Petr Cech the goalkeeper for Liverpool, they probably would have gone in at half-time in front. The Gunners scored two goals that Simon Mignolet should have done better with. I don’t want to take away from Aaron Ramsey’s run to score Arsenal’s opener – he has developed a brilliant understanding of where to find space in the penalty area – but the Belgian should do better at his near post. As for Arsenal’s second goals, there is nothing more that I can say that you won’t have read elsewhere.

Luckily for the home team, Roberto Firmino was great. The Brazilian was a star in the Premier League and his performance on Wednesday was a glimpse of what he can achieve with Liverpool. Interestingly (may not be interesting but screw you, this is my blog), Firmino’s three goals and three assists in the Premier League this season have come against the current top three (Arsenal, Manchester City and Leicester City) and the reigning Champions (Chelsea).

For Arsenal I was once again impressed with Joel Campbell in his midfield role. The coverage I was watching of the game suggested that his inclusion in the starting line-up ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was contentious. I’m not sure that stacks up. Campbell had another strong game on Wednesday night – providing the pass for two of Arsenal’s three goals – to go along with a couple of good games so far in 2016. Given that ‘The Ox’ went through 2015 without scoring or assisting in the Premier League, I don’t understand how he can expect to get close to the first team for important matches such as the one on Wednesday night. It’s Campbell’s place to lose in my opinion.

Also – this touch. *fire emoji*

The Result: Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal

Arsenal carry on towards an invincible 2016 with a solid showing at Anfield. Olivier Giroud’s second goal on the night was a brilliant finish and worthy of winning any game; except when the Welsh Xavi/Pirlo is in town (aside – is he the Welsh Pirlo because of the beard?). Neither side will have accepted defeat in the game, especially with Liverpool having had the lead on two occasions so you can argue a draw sends everyone away happy.

A thoroughly entertaining game and hopefully a sign of things to come as I follow the ball through the year.

What’s next? Stoke City vs Arsenal in the Premier League