Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
- Goals: Alexandre Lacazette (£9.2m), Reiss Nelson (£5.3m) | Sadio Mane (£12.2m)
- Assists: Lacazette | Andy Robertson (£7.0m)
- Bonus: Lacazette x3, Mane x2, Robertson x1
A classic smash-and-grab raid by Arsenal ensured Liverpool will not be breaking the Premier League points record this season.
Jurgen Klopp’s side needed to win their last three matches to eclipse Manchester City’s 100-point tally from two campaigns ago but came away with nothing from last night’s trip to the Emirates.
That they did was down to uncharacteristic sloppiness from key players and an Arsenal team that seems to be relishing the chance to showcase their more gritty side these days.
Liverpool dominated the match, scoring first when Roberto Firmino (£9.3m) released Andy Robertson (£7.0m) down the left flank and his smart cut-back was swept home by Sadio Mane (£12.2m).
The Reds then went on to have 24 attempts to the home side’s three.
The only problem was that Arsenal scored from two of those rare opportunities and, if truth be told, they should probably have netted from the other one too, Joe Willock (£4.7m) fluffing a big chance when set up by fellow substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (£10.9m) late on.
Mikel Arteta’s men were level after 32 minutes when Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m) dallied in possession long enough for Reiss Nelson (£5.3m) – preferred up front to Aubameyang – to nick the ball off him.
It fell to Alexandre Lacazette (£9.2m), who rounded Alisson (£6.2m) and rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
Van Dijk’s claim that Nelson had fouled him was as half-hearted as his initial resistance to the challenge, almost like Liverpool had won the title five Gameweeks ago.
That is increasingly the issue for those Fantasy managers still clinging on to their high-value, but low-returning, defensive assets from the champions.
Since winning the league in Gameweek 31+, the 43.4%-owned van Dijk has produced just 12 points in Fantasy Premier League (FPL). His even more costly teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold (£7.7m and 40.7%) has scored a mere nine points.
At least the 17.7%-owned Robertson has delivered more points – 25 – on his own than the much-vaunted pair have managed together, thanks to attacking returns in each of his last three appearances.
Liverpool have clearly lost their defensive swagger in recent weeks, leaving huge swathes of managers with players offering all the buck with none of the bang. Even the previously reliable Alexander-Arnold has lost his way, the last of his 14 assists coming in Gameweek 27.
The right-back lost over 100,000 owners heading into the Arsenal match and he’s in the top five for Gameweek 37+ sales as more and more people realise £7.8m gets them a Burnley or Sheffield United defender and a hefty slice of change to spend elsewhere.
And it could have been worse for those who stuck by their man last night as he was lucky not to be shown a red card for a high challenge on Willock that went straight into the ‘I’ve seen them given’ category of co-commentator cliches.
At least he wasn’t at fault for either goal, with Lacazette turning provider for the winner when he intercepted Alisson’s casual pass out to the flank and moved the ball quickly onto Nelson, who scored with a precise finish.
The goal confirmed the theme of the night – highly-owned players failed, less popular ones excelled.
While the 21.6%-owned Aubameyang was given only a 32-minute run-out, Lacazette (2.0%) scored, assisted and was awarded maximum bonus to produce an 11-point haul – only his second double-digit return of the season.
More pertinently for most Fantasy managers, the duel between goalscorer Mane (20.5%) and Mohamed Salah (£12.5m and 34.5%) went to the former, although the Egyptian did have his moments.
The Arsenal meme factory might have churned out countless variations on the excellent Kieran Tierney (£5.3m) keeping Salah in his pocket, but the Liverpool man could have had a couple of goals anyway.
He produced a glorious drag-back that put David Luiz (£5.7m) on his backside, only for his stabbed shot to be tipped over the bar by Emiliano Martinez (£4.3m) – the pick of the eight saves the Arsenal keeper made on the night.
And Salah should have beaten Martinez when presented with a free header at the far post, only to nod the ball weakly into the Argentine’s arms.
Overall, Mane out-performed his attacking partner for attempts, chances created and, crucially, points on the night.
Since lockdown was eased, Salah has outscored Mane by 41 points to 35 – and from one appearance fewer. But with just two matches to go, the prospects of neither are looking that clever, particularly with a Chelsea side desperate to secure a Champions League place up next.
Klopp’s post-match comments, or at least the first few words, could have been an accurate summary of many Fantasy managers’ night:
I’m disappointed and angry about a few things but the game was good, the attitude was good, but we took a break and that is why we lost the game. Today we made some human errors, which is not so nice but not completely surprising that it can happen whenever. Tonight it happened.
And while ‘it’ might not happen again this season, many Free Hitters who went without Liverpool assets for the Gameweek dodged a bullet. They might even be tempted to sell on their expensive Reds stars – most notably their defenders – on a more permanent basis now.
Defence has not been a thing at Arsenal for a while now, but under Arteta there’s no doubt that a backbone is returning.
The Spaniard said after full-time:
It’s our way. You can see how they go into every duel, into every action, how intense they are, everybody’s willing to do that and if you press the pass you’ll force mistakes from the opponent. I am extremely happy. Mostly for the players because it was a big blow when we lost against Spurs, the way we played. But today they came back again.
They rode their luck against Liverpool, but they also did the dirty work – the top four players for clearances, blocks and interceptions (CBI) were Arsenal players, including a star defensive turn from the previously-maligned Granit Xhaka (£5.1m).
Rob Holding (£4.4m), handed a third start since football returned, also impressed and, should he keep his place for the final two fixtures, offers a cut-price way into a defence that might well add to its post-lockdown tally of three clean sheets in the remaining two fixtures, against Aston Villa and Watford.
The bargain basement delights of Martinez, unlucky not to earn any bonus after a busy night, shouldn’t be overlooked either, although using transfers on keepers at this late stage of the season is likely to be the preserve of only those with their Free Hit chip still to play.
Arsenal XI (3-4-3): Martínez; Tierney, Holding, D Luiz; Cédric (Maitland-Niles 76), Xhaka, Torreira (Ceballos 57), Saka (Kolasinac 85); Nelson (Aubameyang 58), Lacazette (Willock 57), Pépé.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Robertson, van Dijk, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold; Fabinho, Wijnaldum (Shaqiri 83), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Keita 61); Mané, Firmino (Minamino 61), Salah (Origi 83).
FPL Lessons Learned From Gameweek 36+
- Chelsea 1-0 Norwich City
- Burnley 1-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- Manchester City 2-1 Bournemouth
- Newcastle United 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
- Everton 1-1 Aston Villa
- Leicester City 2-0 Sheffield United
- Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester United
- Southampton 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion
- West Ham United 3-1 Watford
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