The season has started but it also kind of… hasn’t. While the new Premier League campaign starts properly on September 12th, there is the matter of the Community Shield to be played between the winners of the league last season and the winners of last season’s FA Cup — Liverpool and Arsenal respectively.
Some of the supporters, Arsenal and Liverpool both, at the bar yesterday kept calling it a pre-season friendly, anyway. Another domestic trophy that has lost its luster over the past few years, less of a distinguished win. You either win it, and it’s great, or you lose it and it doesn’t mean anything anyway.
Liverpool and Arsenal, though, are two teams with their own pedigrees. They want to win trophies, they should be winning trophies. They are historic clubs, Arsenal with their history on their away kits this year, with a wealth of silverware between them (although admittedly one club has a bit more than the other, ahem). Any trophy should be worth winning, especially for clubs like Arsenal and Liverpool.
That was maybe the difference on Saturday, that one team just wanted it more.
That’s what they say these matches come down to, isn’t it? Who wants it more.
Liverpool, fresh off winning their first league title in 30 years, or Arsenal adding another FA Cup to their cabinet.
It’s not always that easy, though, either.
That match was 90 minutes of battling, pushing and pulling, tug of war stuff. I am not a tactical writer and even I could come up with the ways that both teams tried to pull the other into exposing their weaknesses.
Liverpool’s weakness came in the form of Neco Williams, the young back up right back taking Trent Alexander-Arnold’s place as the latter suffered a small injury. There was also the matter of no Jordan Henderson using his vision to put the ball exactly where it can be used most efficiently, or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to muscle through his former club, instead James Milner steps in to join Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho. A whole lot of protection in the midfield, not a lot of useful movement of either body or ball.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang works well to exploit that first weakness, just getting on Williams’ wrong side and opening the scoring with a rocket past Alisson.
From there, Liverpool are unable to work their way through Arsenal’s defenses. While the game is enjoyable, as the Reds literally battle into Arsenal’s half, it’s frustrating. This is not the confident Liverpool that we know, and the absences of Henderson and Alexander-Arnold are noticeable. Much of Liverpool’s attack depends on their abilities to be both offensive and defensive, and even as Hendo’s absence at the end of the season didn’t help things, neither does Trent’s right now.
It takes two substitutions for Liverpool to find an equalizer, as Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita both came on in the second half. Minamino was one of the few bright spots of the match, as him connecting with a Mohamed Salah cross resulted in that all important tying goal.
Arsenal, to their credit, didn’t have a lot of weaknesses to exploit — or rather, Liverpool struggled to capitalize on them. Frustrating, again, as the match ended in the same way as last season’s match up. One all, straight to penalties.
Someone at the bar said it was a shame that we had taken off our best penalty taker before the end of full time, and they were right. Rhian Brewster, talented and young Rhian Brewster, is the one miss for Liverpool, as his shot hits the cross bar. Don’t wallow in the what ifs. Arsenal are able to put all 5 away. Alisson is easily faked, despite being one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and that is enough to show that maybe Arsenal did want it more.
Liverpool are left, the same as last year, applauding the winners from the touchline as they accept their medals and their trophy. Thankfully their captain did not attempt his own Hendo shuffle.
Liverpool, the same as last year, are left with the same result. One all, straight to pens, only this time it was Wijnaldum whose shot was saved, denying the Reds another trophy.
The kids, with so much riding on them and targets on their backs as the up and comers, were the difference. For better, and worse. Rhian Brewster is seen as the heir to the Liverpool striker throne. Williams is Alexander-Arnold’s understudy, ready and just a little bit more unprepared. The future is bright, but there is still work to be done to level up. Their inexperience in this match got the better of both of them.
We also know how the season ended, though, after that disappointing beginning. And there is little else that this Liverpool team likes more than to prove doubters wrong and take back whatever they have lost.
So maybe this time next year, they will want it more, because they’ve lost it twice in a row, and will be back at Anfield South to win it. That shiny shield can join the rest of Klopp’s trophies and we can add another number to the Wall of Champions. Until then, there is a whole other season to play and even less time than usual to do it in.
Time to shake off the rust and get back to business because Liverpool’s business is winning trophies.