Arsenal: Bruising Liverpool defeat shows the huge gulf Unai Emery's side still have to bridge

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Arsenal players look disconsolate after conceding a third goal against Liverpool
Arsenal have conceded 25 goals in their past seven visits to Anfield

Arsenal's scant consolation in losing to Liverpool is that they have got their annual visit to Anfield out of the way early - and this defeat was not quite as harrowing as some suffered in recent seasons.

The statistics after this 3-1 loss, which left Liverpool with the only 100% record in the Premier League, lay like rubble around the feet of manager Unai Emery and his side.

Arsenal have conceded 25 goals in their past seven visits to Anfield. Since Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool in October 2015 they have scored 26 goals in eight Premier League games against the Gunners - the most one side has against another in that period.

As a measure of Arsenal's progress and expectations this does not offer much optimism, despite it being an improvement on last season's 5-1 loss and the 4-0 defeat in Arsene Wenger's final season.

There were moments during the first half when Arsenal were actually in this game despite an inexplicable desire to play out from the back and into the numerous traps set by Liverpool.

The result was bad. The attitude and most of the performance was not.

Nicolas Pepe, Arsenal's impressive record signing at £72m, should have scored when he was straight through only to be denied by Adrian. He also curled an effort just wide and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang narrowly failed to capitalise on another failure with the feet from Liverpool's deputy goalkeeper.

And yet, for all that, Arsenal once again ended well beaten.

David Luiz
David Luiz joined Arsenal from Chelsea for £8m earlier in August

It is not much of a consolation to say things were not quite as bad as the other times and Arsenal's excuses are wiped out by the fact the most grievous wound of all was self-inflicted by one man.

The biggest clue in their £8m signing of David Luiz was Chelsea manager Frank Lampard's lack of inclination to keep the Brazilian despite being short of experienced resources in central defence. He did not exactly offer to drive the 32-year-old to Emirates Stadium but it did not sound too far off.

The haste with which Chelsea appeared to be willing to send Luiz across London may have had some clubs smelling a rat but Arsenal took a very high-risk gamble.

And there was a graphic, horrible, illustration of how big this gamble is in one moment of crass stupidity by Luiz that snuffed out Arsenal's chances in an instant.

Emery will have talked up Arsenal's hopes of recovery at half-time. One goal down. Chances created. Pace and threat from Pepe and Aubameyang. Oh - and no stupid mistakes.

Cue Luiz effectively ripping Emery's plans before his very eyes four minutes after the interval when he inexplicably chose to drag back Mohamed Salah in the area, the extended hand and the stretched red shirt visible to everyone inside Anfield.

Salah rammed home the penalty and then Luiz compounded the error by over-committing against the Egyptian at the start of a brilliant run that ended with him scoring Liverpool's third.

In his defence, the Brazilian defender called his actions "a reflex" and went on to say the yellow card that followed the award of Liverpool's penalty had prevented him from committing a "foul" on Salah nine minutes later.

No-one can say Arsenal did not know what they were getting when they acquired Luiz. For all the talent there is a giant streak of liability running straight through him. This was liability Luiz.

Arsenal forward Pepe
Arsenal forward Pepe produced more sprints than any other player (31) in the Gunners defeat at Anfield

All that came in a stunning 25 minutes at the start of the second half that underscored everything Arsenal must aspire to and the gap between Liverpool, Manchester City and the rest.

So where does all this leave Arsenal with the season still in its infancy?

They could be accused of a lack of courage in some recent Anfield defeats and they have a horrific record against so-called fellow 'big six' sides, failing to win any of their past 23 away league games, drawing eight, losing 15 and conceding 53 goals with only one clean sheet.

Arsenal did not give up the fight. No-one can accuse them of lacking courage. They were simply beaten by a far superior team. The Gunners actually showed a much better attitude than the carnage of recent years and finished strongly.

Emery will be encouraged by the performance of Pepe, a player of lightning pace, although he will want more end product. And if the Spaniard can somehow get Pepe, Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette working in tandem, few teams will have a more potent attack.

It was a tough day for 23-year-old Daniel Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid, as he found this Anfield experience all too much but he is an undoubted talent who will have better days than this against less testing opposition.

Ceballos is still growing into the Premier League and will improve.

It may be a case of horses for courses as the season unfolds but there is no question this Arsenal side will cause serious problems if they can get the young Spaniard and that potent attacking trio in the team.

Arsenal left Anfield disappointed once more, but scratch beneath the surface and there were improvements and reasons for optimism for Emery, even in defeat.

It is already evident, however, that Arsenal's task this season is to finish in the top four - not an insult, simply a statement of fact.

And it is already evident that a huge gulf still exists between them and champions Manchester City and Liverpool that will not be closed quickly.


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