Why Liverpool's defeat to Arsenal really isn't the end of the world

A loss at any stage of the season when competing against a side as relentless as Manchester City feels like a huge blow to any title aspirations.

A defeat against rivals in early February, handing the advantage in the title race to City, feels like the end of the world.

Despite losing just their second game of the Premier League campaign on Sunday afternoon, the narrative seems to be that the 3-1 loss to Arsenal has all but ended Liverpool’s unlikely title challenge.

People love to be overdramatic, don’t they?

The Reds, who lead the Premier League by two points right now, weren’t at their best at the Emirates. Virgil van Dijk was talking specifically about the mix-up between himself and Alisson when he said there are no excuses for it, but I think the same could be said about the Liverpool performance in general.

However, I do think important context is being overlooked by, well, most of the media.

For starters, Liverpool had to make three late changes to their starting XI.

Believe it or not, Conor Bradley was set to start. A combination of him being brilliant and Trent Alexander-Arnold being eased back into things following his injury meant the No. 84 was going to continue at right-back. Personal matters meant he missed the game and he should take as long as he needs.

Dominik Szoboszlai, who scored in the 4-1 win over Chelsea in mid-week, trained on Friday but then felt something in his hamstring. Klopp said the No. 8 couldn’t be risked in this game and further assessment was required, so the Hungary midfield was forced to miss out on the top-of-the-table clash.

Darwin Nuñez would’ve likely started had he not injured his foot in the win over Chelsea. While Klopp said the decision to start Cody Gakpo was a tactical one, it felt as though the German manager was forced into it due to his No. 9 not being fit enough to start the game.

Bournemouth v Liverpool Premier League 21/01/2024. Darwin Nunez 9 of Liverpool warming up ahead of the Premier League match between Bournemouth and Liverpool at the Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth, England on 21 January 2024. Bournemouth Vitality Stadium Dorset England Editorial use only DataCo restrictions apply See www.football-dataco.com , Copyright: xGrahamxHuntx PSI-18861-0250

All of this no doubt disrupted their plans.

Add to that the Reds are still without Mohamed Salah and Wataru Endo while Andrew Robertson, Thiago and Alexander-Arnold are still finding their feet following injuries and it kind of forced Klopp’s hand.

Gakpo, as the only other fit senior attacker, had to start alongside Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota. Ryan Gravenberch got the nod ahead of Harvey Elliott, likely because of his physicality. Arsenal are a danger from set pieces so you want as much height in the team as possible. Klopp could’ve started Joe Gomez at right-back and used Robertson at left-back from minute one but that would’ve meant two changes to the back four when one (Alexander-Arnold in for Bradley) would’ve been sufficient.

So, three late changes with limited solutions. It might explain why the tactics looked a little strange in the first half with Gomez inverting and the No. 6 hugging the touchline. They had been working on a plan with certain players in key roles only for this to be changed late on.

While Gravenberch isn’t Szoboszlai, Gakpo isn’t Darwin and Alexander-Arnold isn’t Bradley, the trio had to do their best to fit into a gameplan. It didn’t work, but it was always going to be impossible for these changes to be seamless.

So there’s all of that and that is before we’ve even looked at what happened during the game. Sometimes, the ball just doesn’t bounce your way — literally and metaphorically.

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League - Emirates Stadium Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reacts during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday February 4, 2024. EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or live services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUKxIRL Copyright: xJohnxWaltonx 75245722

Klopp said as much in his post-match interview too: "A lot of things were against of us today. This referee gave me a red card against Man City for wrestling situation between Bernardo Silva and Mo Salah. Today same situation with Jota but didn't get a red card. It is unbelievable, then the holding of Havertz on Konate for the first yellow card. Then Havertz goes down and the referee gives Konate a yellow card. Gabriel does the same to Nunez and no yellow card."

The German boss had a point. Whereas Konate was sent off for two bookable offences, Gabriel managed to avoid the same fate when he, already on a caution, hauled down Darwin Nunez. In fact,  Darwin’s reaction saw him booked for dissent. This might not have changed the outcome but who knows what might’ve happened in the final stages had it been 10v10.

Then we have the big moments.

Firstly, Alisson makes a top save to thwart Kai Havertz. The ball could’ve bounced anywhere but it fell perfectly for Bukayo Saka who fired into the unguarded goal. For the Arsenal second, Van Dijk should never have let the ball bounce but then he’s nudged into his goalkeeper by Martinelli and the ball falls to the Arsenal forward to, once again, tap the ball into an empty net. Their third goal is fortunate too with Leandro Trossard’s shot deflecting off of Van Dijk and between the legs of Alisson.

Everything that could go against the Reds in their defensive third did. And you just can’t legislate for that.

As brilliant as Arsenal may have been, they had all of the luck against a Liverpool side limited by their many, many absentees. They needed all of that to go their way for those three points.

It really isn’t as bad as it might seem for Liverpool. They just need to brush themselves down and go again.

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