The festive season got off to an incredible start at the Emirates Stadium on Friday as Arsenal and Liverpool went hell for leather and delivered an early Christmas present.
Liverpool were 2-0 up after 52 minutes with goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah and it looked like they’d be heading for a routine away win.
Then the craziest five minutes the Emirates has ever seen arrived with Alexis Sanchez pulling one back, Granit Xhaka hammering home from distance when Simon Mignolet should’ve done better, and then Mesut Ozil dinking home to create pandemonium and make it 3-2.
Roberto Firmino made it 3-3 with less than 20 minutes to go and that’s how it would finish despite chances for both teams to win it late on.
Here’s what we learned from an encapsulating encounter at the Emirates.
DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES GALORE
Both Arsenal and Liverpool had conceded the highest number of goals in the top seven going into this game. Yep. We can all see why.
Performances littered with defensive mistakes from both teams show exactly why they’re so far behind leaders Manchester City.
This game could have easily finished 5-5 and Liverpool will be ruing their missed opportunities, especially Salah, as they should have been at least 4-0 up at half time.
Yet Arsenal hung in there, probably knowing that a Liverpool defensive collapse was coming. They didn’t have to wait long. With three goals in five minutes, Arsenal turned the game on its head as Joe Gomez was caught sleeping, Mignolet made a hash of a long-range effort and then Ozil breezed through the heart of Liverpool’s defense.
For Arsenal, they were too slow to track Coutinho’s run for his header and Wilshere was guilty of failing to follow Salah’s run when he put Liverpool 2-0 up.
Both clubs prefer to attack. We get it. But so many basic defensive errors were on show to remind us of their weaknesses.
This performance highlighted exactly why both of these teams will not be challenging for the title this season and why they deserve to be in a top four battle.
WILSHERE CONTINUES TO SHAKE OFF RUST
The mutiny at Arsenal was in full flow once again as the half time whistle approached.
Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the Gunners’ two wantaway stars, were being called every name under the sun by their supporters for not trying hard enough and Arsene Wenger had abuse hurled at him readily.
After the break things changed rapidly in that crazy five minute spell and one player who received plenty of praise from the fans was Wilshere.
Optics can be deceiving with Wilshere running hard, trying to shut down Liverpool’s midfield but he struggled to cope with the power of Can and the trickery of Firmino, Coutinho and Salah dropping deeper.
Wilshere did dig in and win the ball back on multiple occasions, but he was also guilty of giving the ball away cheaply and being caught in possession.
As the game wore on Wilshere improved and after a lengthy spell on the sidelines he is starting to shake off the rust.
He isn’t back to his best but he’s getting there.
COUTINHO ON ANOTHER PLANET
Philippe Coutinho played a different game to the other players on the pitch on Friday.
The Brazilian is in simply irresistible form as he smashed a shot just wide, then whipped in two delicious crosses before heading in the opener in the first half and dictated the tempo of Liverpool’s attacks all night long.
Coutinho, 25, is untouchable as he speeds up and slows down the entire game at will.
He gave Arsenal’s defense a torrid time and in this kind of form it is easy to understand why Barcelona will push so hard to sign him in the next two transfer windows.