Fortify or forget about title

Fortify or forget about title
Football Football - Liverpool v Arsenal - Barclays Premier League - Anfield - 13/1/16 . Joe Allen scores the third goal for Liverpool.
PHOTO: Reuters

LIVERPOOL 3

(Roberto Firmino 10, 19, Joe Allen 90)

ARSENAL 3

(Aaron Ramsey 14, Olivier Giroud 25, 55)

Arsene Wenger must have thought all his Christmases had arrived at once.

As snow fell on Anfield yesterday morning (Singapore time), Arsenal finally appeared to be making cohesive strides towards a long-awaited English Premier League title.

They had done all the hard work; exposing the shortcomings of their defensively fragile hosts in a thrilling, high-scoring encounter against Liverpool.

But, like the festive season, their route to anticipated victory was over as quickly as it had begun.

And therein lies Arsenal's problem.

With a team finally capable of seeing a title challenge through to the end for the first time since the iconic 2003-04 season, all the ingredients are there.

Mental fortitude, however, remains very much a work in progress even at this stage of the campaign.

Resilience has come easy; they showed that with two swift first-half comeback strikes which placed the spotlight of scrutiny firmly back on Juergen Klopp's side. Consolidation is where they continue to fall short.

Anfield has become the place where the Gunners' title ambitions have regularly become tossed and blown.

It was there, two years ago, that they were sucker-punched off the EPL's summit.

This time, they were bloodied yet somehow remained standing.

That is more testament to the increased competition within the current league combined with the falterings of their closest contenders, with both Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur dropping points this week.

Only goal difference prevented Leicester City from stealing top spot.

Claudio Ranieri's players could teach their Arsenal counterparts a thing or two about seeing out games.

Such simplicity appears to be beyond a side that live and die by their all-or-nothing approach.

In the 35 minutes between Olivier Giroud's potential winner and Joe Allen's equaliser, they continue to push to extend their advantage rather than preserve it.

Guarding against the prospect of a last-minute goal should have been firmly on Wenger's agenda - there had been 16 previous ones in this fixture in the EPL era alone.

Alexis Sanchez's unavailability through injury posed further questions of what might have been.

So, too, did the continued absence of both Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in a lightweight midfield which recorded its lowest passing accuracy out of all 21 EPL games this season.

FRUSTRATION

Wenger implored his squad to channel the frustration of what could potentially prove a damaging negative in the long term into their motivation to maintain their previous upward trajectory, winning seven of their previous eight EPL fixtures.

But that is only half the battle for the north London side.

Defensively, they fared only marginally better than Liverpool's haphazard one; a fact typified by Hector Bellerin being the solitary member of the visitors' backline to make a successful tackle in the opening 45 minutes.

Aerial threats remain a greater Achilles' heel. When Klopp sent on Christian Benteke and defender Steven Caulker to form his attacking threat in the final stages, they were bamboozled.

It was a rude awakening of what may lie ahead, should Sunday's visit to Stoke City play out in a similar fashion.

Should it come to that, Arsenal must not be caught unawares again - it could be the difference between all and nothing by close of play on May 15.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on January 15, 2016.
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