The newly crowned Premier League champions took on the FA Cup champions on Saturday, with quite an evenly matched clash resulting in a second consecutive Charity Shield loss for the Redmen of Merseyside on penalties.
Liverpool failed to impress me in the first half. Despite playing a near strength full side, Liverpool did not look like scoring once. The offside goal from Virgil Van Dijk was the closest that Liverpool got, but when looking at the margin that Virgil was offside, you will understand why I hardly class that as a chance at goal. They did manage to keep the majority of possession throughout the game, but it was Arsenal in the first half that made the most of their share of possession.
It was therefore only a matter of time before Arsenal capitalized on their opponent’s weaknesses, and a fine goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put Arsenal into a very comfortable position in the first half, with a very fitting and touching Black Panther celebration. Neco Williams for me was partly at fault for the Arsenal goal. I understand that he is young and thus inexperienced, but when you're assigned to man mark an established marksman like Aubameyang, you stick to him like glue, regardless of how young and inexperienced you are. This was something that Williams failed to do on quite a few occasions, and it was therefore no surprise that Klopp decided to take him off in the second half.
Liverpool came out in the second half much the same as the first, with Arsenal taking a defensive stance in their tactics.
There was a very close chance early on for Sadio Mane, but the Arsenal shot-stopper Martinez managed to deny him from close range.
It looked like the game was done and dusted, with neither side really managing to look threatening enough in each other’s 18 yard box, but in the 73rd minute Takumi Minamino managed to finish from close range, to bring the game to a stalemate. The most frustrating part of the game for me was the ten minutes after this goal was scored, because Liverpool looked 100x brighter going forward during those ten minutes than the 70 minutes that had gone before. There was a point in those ten minutes where I believed that the Reds were going to capitalise on this momentum and go 2-1 up, but an equally awakened defensive performance from Arsenal managed to keep the stalemate intact.
The changes that Klopp made before full time made me doubt what our intentions were, going into the penalty shootout. Firmino made way for young midfielder Curtis Jones and Wijnaldum made way for the untested Rhian Brewster. Nevertheless, the full time whistle blew, and penalties were going to decide who was crowned victorious.
I hate penalty shootouts. I cannot stand the tension. I went into that penalty shootout expecting to lose. That makes me sound like the most pessimistic football fan ever (after 10 years following Tranmere, can you blame me?), but after the final from last year, and with all the other silverware we have managed to win, there were too many odds stacked against us. Four fantastic penalties from Salah, Jones, Minamino and Fabinho helped to pile pressure on Arsenal, who seemed unphased and completed their 5 penalties with great speed and accuracy.
Rhian Brewster’s penalty defines exactly what I dislike about some penalty takers. The run-ups that seem like a choreographed dance routine just sets the taker up to fail. Seemingly gone are the days when a Leighton Baines or a Steven Gerrard would stand four or five feet away from the ball, two big strides up to the ball and batter it into the corner like your life depended on it. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for trying to put the keeper off, but this can be achieved in ways that don’t actually affect the penalty taker themselves, like looking in a certain direction, or simply just putting your boot through the ball so hard that the keeper still has no chance.
All in all, it was a test for both sides, a performance that had many positives for Arsenal as well as another piece of silverware. For Liverpool there was an important and not too costly reminder that there is still work to be done this season, if they are to be crowned victorious at the end of the 2020-21 Premier League season.