I confess to having expected Mikel Arteta’s men to slip to defeat at Liverpool on Saturday, and I don’t think I was alone in that pessimistic prediction.
What I did expect, however, was a slightly more resilient and composed-looking Arsenal side that, while probably defeated, could at least emerge with its head held high.
In fairness, the first half was a solid if unspectacular showing from the young Gunners, with the emphasis quite clearly on shape and tactical discipline. For the most part, that approach worked, with Liverpool restricted to just a few fleeting glimpses of goal.
But for a quite silly and needless foul from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, we may even have made it into the half-time break on level terms, albeit without much to show from an attacking sense.
Where some consistency was needed in the second-half, however, we were served up chaos instead. Nuno Tavres’ inexplicable concession of possession in such a dangerous area blew the door wide open for the hosts, a side that requires little invitation at the best of times.
That crucial second goal simultaneously galvanised Jurgen Klopp’s side and shattered Arteta’s. There followed a capitulation that saw two more goals run-in before the day was done. The manner of the three second-half goals was, frankly, disappointing.
For a side that has made such demonstrable defensive improvements this season, they were silly and cheap goals to give away, albeit not aided by the only partially present midfield in front of them.
It was as callow a performance from the Gunners as we have yet seen. While our relative youth and exuberance has proven something of an asset in our recent 10-game unbeaten run, its limitations were exposed against a side of Liverpool’s calibre.
Tavres, Lokonga, Smith Rowe and Saka are all young men and it showed. Sure, at 2-0 down, the game plan goes out of the window as you start to chase a way back into the game but it was still far too easy for Liverpool to break down our weak attacks and counter with pace and frightening precision.
Bad as it was, it’s worth remembering, though, that this isn’t the end of the world. Days like these will be plentiful as this team goes about building its form and experience and our squad of young players will be well served by the odd chastening.
We remain well placed in the league and have the chance to bounce back quickly when Newcastle visit the Emirates next weekend. There is no doubt that this group will be better then and, hopefully, emerge with a positive result. I suspect we may also see a few more familiar faces back in the team too.
Tavres is a swashbckling, energetic full back but he is raw and his recent run will probably come to an end, at least for now. Kieran Tierney, with a few more weeks under his belt on the training ground, should make his way back into the side.
I suspect Ainsley Maitland-Niles will also find himself back in contention for a starting berth at the expense of Lokonga, who was a little overawed against the relentlessness of the Liverpool midfield.
Both Nuno and Sambi will be back, of that I’m sure, but sometimes inexperience can stray into callow and that was very much the case at Anfield.
If there is anything to be taken from the experience at all its that these young guys have much more work to do in order to get us where we want to go. You can’t rest on your laurels in the Premier League now because almost every team is capable of making you look silly.
I don’t doubt that Arteta will have been driving that message home to his young charges but this result will, if naught else, help to crystallise his point.