Arteta issues apology after shameful Liverpool defeat on Rocastle anniversary
'It's my fault', admits manager after 12th league defeat of the season
03 April, 2021 — By Tom Foot
FA Premier League
LIVERPOOL 3 (Jota 64 & 82, Salah 64)
“ABSOLUTELY ABJECT” was how commentator Brian Moore famously described the stricken Liverpool players after that dreamy ‘Up For Grabs Now’ victory at Anfield in 1989.
Abject – literally, “something bad to the maximum degree” – also perfectly summarises Arsenal’s performance tonight against Jurgen Klopp’s Reds.
The visitors scored three in the second half, but of greater concern was the characterless, dull and insipid football played throughout the 90 that led to manager Mikel Arteta issuing an apology to the fans after the match.
“It’s my fault,” he admitted.
This was supposed to be a night to remember David Rocastle. That brilliant bustling playmaker and winger who shone throughout his long Arsenal career and played in that famous 1989 match. He died aged 33 20 years ago this week from non-Hodgkins Lymphona.
On 7 minutes, presumably to a nod to Rocastle’s shirt number, fake fan chanting of “Rocky Rocky Rocky, Rocastle” was pumped into the Emirates Stadium.
Not a bad idea, but the sound quality was feeble and trailed off awkwardly in a way that seemed appropriate to the play.
Rather than rousing the players with the memory of a club great, it no doubt went unnoticed.
And this is a side – after 12 defeats from 30 league games – that is in desperate need of rousing.
Barring Bukayo Saka, Keiran Tierney, Emile Smith Rowe and Thomas Partey there is an uncomfortable, unhappy and journeyman feel to the rest of the players who are led by manager who is not unlikable, but then again not likeable either.
There is no identity. Certainly no style or skill on show to get the pulse racing.
The formation may be the one Arteta wants to use, and saw succeed at Manchester City – but it doesn’t work with these players.
Accommodating Alexandre Lacazette means playing Pierre Emerick Aubameyang out on the left, but the “captain” appears incapable or unwanting of tracking back and pressing the full-backs as well.
He now cuts a similar jib to Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in appearing to want a swift retirement from north London. It it is plainly ridiculous that he is captain when his performances have throughout the season been so lacklustre.
Nicolas Pepe is so ineffective it has become almost laughable.
The match was by no means a title decider, but there was still pride to play for – and for the beancounters a chance of getting back into the Europa League next year.
But the home side started in an aimless fashion. Arteta was screaming almost hopelessly at Aubameyang to pressure Trent Alexander Arnold as soon he received the ball.
Liverpool – incredibly, just four points ahead of Arsenal before the match – did not play brilliantly in the first half.
They huffed and puffed, but were largely repelled by Arsenal’s defence, which was mopping-up the danger fairly consistently. In midfield, Partey was showing some encouraging swivels and touches. But any hint “attack” broke down almost as soon as the ball made it to the final third.
It’s fair to say Arteta is a manager more interested in disrupting and blocking opponents rather than working out ways to cut through them. Arsenal’s attack often feels like an after thought.
Pepe did register a goal attempt, a header that was more like a back pass to Allison.
Lacazette again charged about and seemed to get fouled a lot. But he didn’t have a shot and you wonder if his teammates are confident he would have finished were he to fashion a decent one.
The real blow came in the first half when Tierney trudged off very slowly with an injury.
He seemed to be welling up as he gingerly walked down the tunnel as the announcer called out the name of his replacement, Cedric Soares.
Soares looks a decent player and actually had Arsenal’s only meaningful shot, at least forcing a save out of Allison.
With the score still at 0-0 Gabriel had Mo Salah bearing down on him. He stepped in to steal the ball like Bobby Moore against Pele, but this great piece of defending will be long forgotten.
He too had a terrible game overall and was at fault for the last goal, where Salah cheekily nutmegged Bernd Leno.
Diojo Jota came off the bench to nod in from a brilliant Alexander Arnold cross on 64 minutes. A small man, he somehow got between Rob Holding and Calum Chambers.
After the Salah nutmeg, Jota made it 3-0 by smashing in after a Sadio Mane mis-control fell perfectly to him in the box.
The only saving grace was that Willian did not get a game.
After the match, an abject Arteta said: “Liverpool completely deserved to win the game, probably with a much bigger margin. They were much better than us in every single department and we were really poor today.
“We want to apologise, to our people and our fans. This is nowhere near what we want and we have to do better.”
He added: “We completely deserved to lose the game. They deserved to win the game by that margin or more. It’s my fault. I have to set the team to play in a different way.”
ARSENAL: Leno, Tierney (Soares 45), Gabriel, Holding, Chambers, Partey, Ceballos (Elneny 58), Odegaard, Pepe, Aubameyang (Martinelli 77), Lacazette.
SUBS NOT USED: Bellerin, Willian, Ryan, Mari, Nelson, Nketiah.
LIVERPOOL: Allison, Robertson, Arnold, Phillips, Kabak (Williams 84), Robertson (Jota 61), Thiago, Fabinho, Milner, Salah, Mane, Firmino.
SUBS NOT USED: Wijnaldum, Keita, Adrian, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Tsimikas, Shaquiri.