Can Liverpool write off a bad day – or did Arsenal defeat reveal critical flaws?

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With three minutes of the seven added on left to play, Alisson Becker wafted a pass out to the left flank. There was no purple shirt there and the ball drifted out aimlessly for a throw-in. As a moment it was nothing; as a moment of football it was everything. The home support cheered and jeered it in equal measure, as Liverpool were left to rue how it simply summed up their day of ineptitude.

Arsenal may not want to hear it, but they and their points tally are very much secondary concerns for Sunday’s visitors when it comes to the Premier League title fight. An eventual 3-1 win for the Gunners means the gap is down to two points between the pair. But that number matters less than another: the gap between whoever is top, and Manchester City.

Regardless of which of these teams ends up running the reigning champions closest, or indeed lifting the trophy, the likelihood - nearly the certainty - is that only one of them at most will be finishing ahead of the Cityzens. As such, for Jurgen Klopp and co the ambition isn’t staying ahead of Arsenal, which they still are, it’s staying clear of Pep Guardiola’s team.

And, after this result, the immediate issue for Liverpool is that this is no longer the case: winning two games in hand, City can go a point clear at the top.

Just a few short days after perhaps their performance of the season to thrash Chelsea, this display from the Reds was everything that one was not: sluggish, error-strewn, lacking in final-third penetration and certainly any kind of cutting edge once there.

The goal they scored was beyond a parody, but after the first half they endured, it was perhaps fitting that Liverpool’s equaliser arrived in the most ludicrous manner it did.

Luis Diaz showed fight, sure, but on his own and not controlling the ball, and not facing the goal, and surrounded by three defenders and the goalkeeper, the ball simply should never have found its way into the net - especially via Gabriel’s hand.

Luis Diaz forced the ball in off the hand of Gabriel (Getty Images)
Luis Diaz forced the ball in off the hand of Gabriel (Getty Images)

And yet, if that goal was bordering on joke territory, it didn’t hold a candle to their defensive efforts on the day.

So the question for Jurgen Klopp is: Was this a blip, a bad day on the worst day for it? Or something more which speaks of a little missing depth, a few too many players involved who haven’t yet had to face the relentless rigours of a Premier League title fight?

After a week of headline-making by both No.9s, neither were in the starting lineups: Darwin Nunez only fit enough for the Liverpool bench, Gabriel Jesus missing entirely from Arsenal’s matchday 20. Dominik Szoboszlai was similarly nowhere to be seen, while another surprise came in the form of Thiago Alcantara returning the visitors’ bench.

And so the right flank for Klopp which had been so impressive against the Blues - Conor Bradley, Szoboszlai, Diogo Jota - was stripped and rejigged with one player returning from injury in Trent Alexander-Arnold and two starting ahead of him who have been, if we’re kind, inconsistent this season.

There is no coincidence in the first and third goals coming down that flank of underperformance, and yet the visitors’ undercooked performance was far from limited to the wing.

Ibrahima Konate dropping too deep and yet not central enough to see off Kai Havertz led to the opening goal, with Virgil van Dijk and Alisson inexplicably erring in both communication and timing when it came to Gabriel Martinelli’s all-important go-ahead effort after the break. Add in Alexander-Arnold - clearly some way off the pace on his first start back - gifting possession in dangerous areas, Konate’s late red card and a real no-show from the restored Ryan Gravenberch and Cody Gakpo, and this was a very rare, but very bad, day in north London for the Merseysiders.

Alisson and Van Dijk allowed Martinelli to score (Getty Images)
Alisson and Van Dijk allowed Martinelli to score (Getty Images)

For Arsenal, they’ll have no such concerns: the focus will be on why this big performance - and it was, in the first half at least they were miles clear of their rivals - can be replicated upon request and keep pushing them back in front in the title race.

Perhaps they won’t be able to rely on an opponent being quite so accommodating next time, but that is of little relevance. They were presented with opportunities and took them, and in truth even if the defensive mix-ups had not been quite as absurd as they were, they were still the better team on the day and created far more openings of note.

Manchester City might be heartened, Arsenal joyous, but for Liverpool a quick reset is needed.