And just like that, the Premier League has returned! So much has happened in the 91 days between the end the 2015/16 season and start of this new 2016/17 campaign, but nothing really satisfies the soccer like that start of a new odyssey. Here’s my list of Five Things We Learned from Arsenal vs Liverpool in the Premier League’s opening weekend.
- Liverpool are fun to watch
It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter who you support. There’s no denying the entertainment value of this Liverpool team. Recently, a Manchester based journalist and proud United supporter who (for the sake of his own integrity) I will not mention by name, said to me in the build up to the opening Premier League weekend, “I don’t think I’m going to miss a single Liverpool game this season. As a fan of football, I don’t think I can afford to ever do that.” The brilliant attacking flair of Coutinho is delicately balanced with the shocking defending of Alberto Moreno. The frenetic pace exhibited by the team is a product of symbiosis, an alternating current of energy that brings together the players on the pitch and the boisterous support in the stands, no matter if it’s home or away. The virtuoso individualism that we saw from the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino is just as vital to Liverpool’s success as the cohesive artistry we saw on the third goal at the Emirates, a masterclass in possession football against an Arsenal team that, for the last 20 years under Arsene Wenger, has always had some sort of copyright on that stuff. And it’s all tied together by a lovably psychotic, exuberant German who keeps finding new ways to get his glasses knocked off his head. That dorky genius is the one orchestrating this whole thing. It’s all so blissful, for the neutral as much as anyone.
- It’s the same old song in North London
A makeshift back line… Wilshere and Ramsey already nursing injuries… The success and failure of Theo Walcott serving as some over magnified microcosm of Arsenal’s problems… It’s all part of a tune we’ve heard for years now, and it just keeps on playing. It was just one game, but against Liverpool on Sunday, Arsenal seemed as spineless as the atmosphere (or lack thereof) provided by the home fans. Even in a semi-spirited comeback attempt in the second half after falling behind 4-1, the Gunners looked oh so typically soft. There was nothing fierce about the way they played. It felt like a tap dance. It was just, well, so Arsenal.
- Alright… Cut the damn piggy back rides!
There are few things more endearing in the footballing world than seeing players celebrate their biggest moments by embracing their manager. It’s not an everyday occurrence, and when it happens with the frequency that we see it with Jurgen Klopp (with Liverpool especially, but even going back to his days as a Bundesliga gaffer) it is clear to the world that these players love and respect the man they call their boss. With all this being said, Klopp and the boys may need to tone it down just a bit. The second Arsenal goal, which came less than a minute after Sadio Mane’s sensational goal that made the score 4-1 for Liverpool, was a product of a complete lapse in concentration. Take nothing away from Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, his quick thinking and sheer determination playing a major role in getting Arsenal right back into the contest, just when it looked like the rout was on. But Klopp himself even took the blame in a post-match interview, saying that he needs to be careful about how he celebrates with his players. It wasn’t just Mane getting a piggy back ride from Klopp. Just inches away, Adam Lallana found a Croatian Cruiser named Dejan Lovren, proceeding to jump on the central defender’s shoulders and go for a little ride. Liverpool’s right-back Nathaniel Clyne was there to hug everyone for good measure. Their smiling hearts were still beating as Arsenal got the game back underway. The Ox saw the situation and took full advantage, making the score 4-2 as Liverpool fans in the stadium and around the world were still celebrating. As Klopp said, Liverpool “still got the win”, but this type of thing could hurt the team in a crucial moment, not to mention leave some serious egg on the face of the manager.
- #WengerOut will continue until there is no more Wenger
In the category of “most simple cause-an- effect cases in the universe”, this one might crack the top 100. It stems from that same old Arsenal song. Blaming all of this on Arsene Wenger is becoming more of a commonality with every passing day. Season openers are the types of games that get blown out of proportion, but was what we saw from Arsenal really about just the day? How is this team going to improve defensively? Where will the physicality, which was clearly lacking against Liverpool, come from in the remaining 37 Premier League matches this season? What’s the deal with all the injuries? What’s the deal with all these questions we’ve been hearing since 2007? Is it time for the French Maestro to go? Will the day ever come? For every day that Wenger continues to hold his post at the Emirates, a hundred more #WengerOut tweets will find their way onto the internet. Chef Arsene needs to get cooking.
- Couts sure does love himself a season opener
In back to back Premier League seasons, Phillipe Coutinho has given Liverpool Football Club a man of the match performance, and at least one absolutely world class goal. After sinking Stoke City at the Britannia in August of 2015 with a stunning long-range strike in the dying moments of that opening weekend fixture giving the Brendan Rodgers led Reds a 1-0 win, the little Brazilian magician netted a classy brace at the Emirates on Sunday, his first goal tying the score, 1-1, late in the first half (a curling free-kick past a helpless Petr Cech and into the bin of goal of the year contenders), and his second finishing off the sublime team play from Liverpool to make the score 3-1. Despite a late hamstring scare that saw him forced to leave the game prematurely, the official news is that he is good to go for the next match. If he keeps playing the way he did against Arsenal on Sunday, this could be the last year of Phillipe Coutinho in a Liverpool kit. It’s just part and parcel for this modern industry of football, the sharks of Real Madrid, Barcelona, other Premier League sides, and the new age money magnet that is the Chinese Super League all circling around the Mersey waters. If that is the case, I’m sure there are plenty of Liverpool fans who are just fine with it all. If he keeps playing the way he did today, and the rest of the crew gives him the support he needs, Liverpool won’t just be fun to watch… they’ll be title contenders. Even WITH Moreno at left-back.