ANFIELD — As the ball is delivered into the area, there is danger. There always is at Anfield, when Liverpool’s front three are passing and moving and Liverpool grooving. At their best, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané exist as one mass, a whirl of touches, feints and sprints. Firmino has the ball on the edge of the box, and Salah is already moving. Of course there is danger.
Meanwhile, David Luiz is in trouble. Not only has he allowed Salah to move a yard away from him in the penalty area, he has done so before he has even turned to face his opponent. Turning round, Luiz is left with two choices: try to stop the ball if he shoots, or try to stop Salah.
These split-second decisions are why Luiz has been signed. The one defining negative of Arsenal’s last three years has been defensive incompetence founded on poor decision-making. Dive in or stand up; attack the ball or stay put; play short or get rid; try to stop the ball or try to stop the shot; these are the things they get wrong.
Luiz had won titles at Chelsea, never quite escaping his reputation for inconsistency but doing more than enough to suggest he would improve Arsenal, force Shkodran Mustafi out of the team, help those around him to make better decisions. That now sounds like the punchline to a joke at Arsenal’s expense. If Luiz does indeed possess the propensity for defensive calamity, moving to this club only risks exposing it further.
Nightmare at Anfield
So as Salah wriggles clear in the box, Luiz chooses to keep the striker within his grasp. Literally. The foul was obvious enough to have been a braindead act even in the era before VAR.
If there’s one thing more frustrating than a defender’s catastrophic error of judgement, it’s that same player playing on emotion rather than logic in an attempt to atone for it. Ten minutes after the penalty, Salah broke clear with the ball out wide and Luiz charged out from his defensive line. He dashed not in expectation of getting the ball or even vague hope, but because he had been flustered by his own mistake.
Salah escaped Luiz as if he were the Road Runner dancing around Wile E Coyote to pile on further embarrassment.
You know the ending by now. Luiz looked forlorn 30 yards from his goal as Salah ran away to receive Anfield’s adoration. All that was missing were the cartoon stars spinning around his head.
Huge gap between clubs
This was not a poor Arsenal performance; not really. They came with a high-risk defensive plan: a low defensive block in the first half as they allowed Liverpool to attack and a clogged central midfield in an invitation for Jürgen Klopp’s side to use the channels. It might have paid off had Arsenal been more exact at both ends of the pitch. But then in a sense that only makes it worse.
These two clubs weren’t far apart not too long ago, holding the same intentions and expectations. Now one of them can play pretty well and still get their annual away-day thumping, the other can play pretty well and extend their unbeaten home league run to 42. Klopp used his programme notes to call Arsenal “one of Europe’s best”. As Unai Emery watched Luiz commit two cardinal defensive sins in 10 minutes, he might have questioned the sanity of his opposite number.
That’s the inherent problem about this club’s search for progress and with those who hastily declared them winners of the summer transfer window. They have lacked defensive reliability for years, and they still do. Signing David Luiz specifically to cut out moments of brainless defending is like employing Adam Sandler as director because you’re worried your films are getting a little puerile. In the clutch moments of clutch fixtures, Arsenal will still let you down.