It must’ve been, surely.
Following Chelsea’s loss to Newcastle United, when Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers oversaw their teams walk out on the Emirates pitch, it was literally a top of the table clash.
Table toppers at home, clear by 2 points, and flying high since that shocking opening day home defeat to Aston Villa.
The away side – the pleasant surprise package this season, with a few convincing wins (and some not so much), some great attacking play displayed in glimpses, cancelled out by some clumsy defending at times.
And when the defending held up its own, the midfield looked more than happy to oblige with a few shockers of its own.
You don’t win the league with performances like that. Neither do you hope for much after the body language displayed on the pitch this Saturday.
Was it nerves? Or perhaps even over excitement, and a sense of heightened expectations, coupled with feverish anticipation?
On the one hand (despite Brendan Rodgers’ best attempts at playing down its significance) this was the match of the season, so far.
The last two words are extremely important here – so far. The way the table has seen teams jump up and shift down like the authenticity of a ghost writer, anything can still happen and no one has anywhere near won anything just yet.
Plus, it might have been an attempt by Rodgers of taking the pressure off his players by saying a defeat won’t derail the campaign.
A sort of reverse psychology of lowering the players’ expectations so they feel like they have nothing to lose, which in turn eliminates any fear that might have held back their confidence levels.
But if that statement was meant to have much effect on his players, and if it did, then the Northern Irishman might have overplayed his hand a tad on this occasion.
Because the Liverpool players seemed at their lackadaisical worst as if they were up against relegation with just the one match to go and 3 points required just for a mathematical chance of survival.
Such was the mediocrity against an extremely fluid side, who had been scoring goals for fun, and with silky moves and smooth passes making up most of their build-up.
This was a side (still is for that matter) who are once again passing the ball for fun, making space for double the pleasure, and not to mention scoring – at times – almost at will.
This was there to be seen again from the Gunners over the weekend.
Liverpool on the other hand, weren’t just erratic with possession, but quite clumsy with their first touches as well. It might have been nerves, if not among individual players then certainly a collective sputter or two for the entire group.
There was no purpose visible whenever the Reds got the ball. Some years ago it might have been fair to say they’d have gotten away with against a lower or a less prolific side. But the way the game’s standard has increased today, almost any team would’ve taken advantage of Liverpool’s inability to compose themselves with the ball before imposing with it.
That’s what it was.
Whenever, whoever had the ball, they seemed to be rushing without much of a clue regarding their next direction. It was haphazard, and certainly not the way even a top 8 side would be expected to play, forget top 4 and certainly do us all a favour and wipe away any mentions of a certain ‘L’ word from the phenomenon called ‘hope’.
Not based on Saturday’s performance, not a flying chance if it was between that and monkeys flying to the moon.
Now, as said before, this doesn’t make that big a dent. Matches have been lost to Arsenal away in the past and it is possible to recover. The big question though, is how many comebacks can Liverpool afford?
The answer surely must be: Not many.
Judging by some of the inconsistencies seen among the Liverpool players in some of their basic professional footballing skills, the picture does get a bit scary.
Jon Flanagan did well, considering his age and lack of experience. He seemed to have raised his game for the occasion, but given it must be well below the more established players in the squad to begin with, what the youngster managed to raise for the table fell short against the opponents.
Mamadou Sakho did not look much of anything on the pitch and Steven Gerrard looks extremely weathered down this season. Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge meanwhile, quite simply had an off day. Perhaps the timing of all that ‘SAS’ talk wasn’t chosen to perfection, but neither of the two looked beaten by the Arsenal defence as much as they looked off it on their own.
That happens. As hard as it may be to accept, players have an off day. Trouble here, was that while the two men up front weren’t at their best, the midfielders also chose the same match, to possibly be at their worst.
The ball was perennially in Arsenal’s possession, and well, they made it count.
And it could so very easily, have been so much more.
The only thing they can do now is clear their heads, and approach the home game against Fulham as a fresh one.
Forget The Emirates, forget Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey’s unstoppable shots, and while they’re at it, most certainly forget the bulk of their own match as well.
It’s time to go back to the basics, and do them well. Pass, move in to space, pass again, find some more space. And if the blatantly obvious needs to be stated here, do try and bring the ball under your control as soon as possible, and then pass it to one of your own.
Just as Arsenal did on Saturday.
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