There will be no 100-point gloss for the champions. Arsenal produced a stirring display of deep rearguard defence, leavened by two moments of slapstick from the Liverpool backline. It was enough to inflict a third league defeat on Jürgen Klopp’s team, and to provide a most unexpected twist after another piece of defensive frailty had left the red and white shirts a goal down after 20 minutes, and looking once again like a porous unit.
All three first-half goals in this 2-1 Arsenal victory had come from defensive errors triggered by energetic, well-drilled forward pressing. The fact that the two most decisive came from Virgil van Dijk and Alisson was both a surprise and a tribute to the sustained defensive concentration of Mikel Arteta’s team, who will take great heart from this show of resilience.
By the end Liverpool had taken 24 shots at goal to Arsenal’s three and spent the second half playing a violently compressed game of all-out attack against desperate but dogged defence.
But Klopp will still be troubled by this defeat. The season may be almost done, a queer zombified thing going through the midsummer motions and Liverpool may have flattened the rest of the field.
But sport never rests, and right now Klopp’s side have lost six and won five of their past 13 games in all competitions, keeping only three clean sheets in the process. The final, final whistle can’t come quickly enough.
Arteta made five changes here, including three to the defensive heart of the team, although as ever with this Arsenal incarnation, the word ‘defensive’ came with a string of shrill advisories as the teams kicked off. Klopp played his best available XI, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain given the most delicate of returns in this empty north London megabowl.
It was a muggy, slow, slightly frantic start from both teams. There is something particularly draining about the larger grounds right now. The Emirates is a vast, swooping cantilevered thing, host in these lockdown days to a glut of empty air. Early on Arsenal struggled to find any rhythm through midfield, pressed by that hungry black-shirted double line.