It was Forrest Gump’s Momma that said “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get”. She could actually have been talking about Liverpool; such is the unpredictability of Jürgen Klopp’s side. Who else could go from insipidly losing at Hull to convincingly beating an in-form Tottenham, to then shambolically losing to a down and out Leicester City, only to respond by beating fellow top four hopefuls Arsenal?
Liverpool under Klopp are still the box of chocolates that Forrest Gump’s Momma spoke of and if the Hull and Leicester games were coffee creams, the performances against Spurs and Arsenal were certainly more like hazelnut whirls.
The curious caveat for Liverpool against Arsenal was Alexis Sanchez being left on the bench by Arsene Wenger. It was a move that understandably raised more than a few eyebrows and even more questions. Wenger attempted to pass it off as tactical, but unless there was an injury (which doesn’t appear to be the case), quite why you omit your best and most effective player in a tough away match against a direct rival certainly beggars belief from the outside. In the aftermath of the match, rumours have surfaced that his benching was an internal disciplinary matter and whilst Wenger should be applauded for demonstrating that no player is above the law, Sanchez’s frustrations have been evident recently. If there is any truth in the rumours that Sanchez stormed out of training and exchanged angry words with team mates, then on the face of it, you could understand him being dropped. Wenger has since publicly denounced the reports, though that is unlikely to make them go away.
Whilst ill-discipline cannot be condoned, there can sometimes be mitigating circumstances. Sanchez is a winner and a fighter with a passion and desire that is obvious to any onlooker, perhaps a little too obvious at times. The Chilean has been a shining light in an otherwise unilluminating season for the Gunners and his apparent frustration with team mates boiled over in the Champions League first leg humbling at Bayern Munich. He is an outstanding footballer and rightly wants to win trophies, but his demeanour of late suggests his faith in those around him to help deliver those ambitions has faltered.
Coincidentally, that would reflect the views of many Arsenal fans, who perhaps see their own frustrations being demonstrated by their best player.
It’s a curious situation for Arsenal, with their season teetering ahead of yet another exit from the Champions League at the first knockout stage and the FA Cup the only remaining realistic prospect of a trophy. An up-turn in form would surely take the focus away from reports of Sanchez looking to depart this summer and Wenger feeling the squeeze on his position as manager more than ever before. Arsenal’s performance and tactical approach at Anfield almost played into the hands of the hosts and the early goal only served to open Arsenal up further.
The introduction of Sanchez at half-time changed the game and begged the question of what if he had started? However, it turned out to be too little, too late and Liverpool got the victory they deserved in a match that didn’t really answer any more questions of Liverpool under Klopp because their record against the top sides this season was already excellent. The win was doubtless a welcome boost for Klopp, his team and the Liverpool fans, but upcoming games against the likes of Burnley and Crystal Palace will say more about Liverpool’s shortcomings this season.
For Arsenal though, rising to the occasion has long been an issue and Wenger was found wanting without Sanchez and Özil in his starting line-up and with the futures of both players still up in the air, Gooners will be hoping it is not a sign of the future. If Wenger’s selection was part of a tactical plan to counter Liverpool, it certainly didn’t work and served only to further increase the pressure he is currently under.
So, whilst Liverpool will strive to move beyond being that unpredictable box of milk chocolates, the uncomfortable questions raised in the 3-1 defeat will leave Arsene Wenger and Arsenal trying to ensure the milk does not turn completely sour on their season.