Did surprise package Ramsdale save Arsenal’s title hopes?
When the final whistle blows on Arsenal’s season at the Emirates on May 28 against Wolves we might just be looking back to the performance of Aaron Ramsdale at Anfield as the thing that clinched them the title.
The goalkeeper, whose signing was the subject of ridicule from some Arsenal fans when he was signed from Sheffield United for £30m in 2021, was named player of the match on Sunday after making three potentially title-defining saves in the final stages of the game.
First, he kept out Darwin Nunez’s effort when the substitute was through on goal (81), before a fingertip save to deny Mo Salah’s deflected curler (90+5), and he finished off with a last-ditch stop to prevent Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate scoring from point-blank range (90+6).
“I don’t think I’ve ever been proven more wrong by a player than Aaron Ramsdale,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher. “I watched him at times with different teams where he goes down and you see lots of goals go in and you think, ‘Could the goalkeeper do better there?’.
“When Arsenal buy him I was scratching my head. I couldn’t believe it when they bought him. But the role he has not just as a goalkeeper but he’s personality. The crowd feed off him.
“I can’t believe what I’ve seen from him this season and the role he’s played in this title charge.”
This is not the first time Arsenal have leant on their shot-stopper in a big game. Ramsdale was also player of the match in the 2-0 win over Tottenham in January – the first time the Gunners had beaten their local rivals away in the league for nine years.
Ramsdale’ heroics at Anfield have stretched Arsenal’s lead over champions Manchester City at the top of the table to six points having played a game more, leaving the race in the Gunners’ hands. Arsenal will hope their goalkeeper is decisive again when Arsenal go to the Etihad on April 26 for what could be a title showdown of epic proportions.
Midfield move doesn’t solve Alexander-Arnold dilemma
Trent Alexander-Arnold’s struggles in one-on-one situations defensively are no secret. They were on display on Sunday within two minutes, when Gabriel Martinelli beat him far too easily to set up an Arsenal chance.
But Jurgen Klopp had come up with an idea – perhaps inspired by the visitors’ use of Oleksandr Zinchenko – and Alexander-Arnold spent much of this game stepping in-field to form part of Liverpool’s midfield.
Playing as part of the defensive pairing in the box midfield with Fabinho, the plan was to take Alexander-Arnold away from the head-on collisions with Martinelli, even out the numerical balance in the centre of the pitch but still have him in positions to deliver his dangerous crosses from the right channel.
That renowned attacking prowess was evident on the cross for Roberto Firmino’s equaliser. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville had described him as a “sensation” going forwards earlier in the game and no player on the pitch created more chances. But his new position also left Liverpool looking out of sorts at the back. In the opening half hour, Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk looked badly exposed.
Interestingly, the two Arsenal goals came when Alexander-Arnold dropped back into a right-back position: He was unable to catch Martinelli for the first and had his body shape criticised by pundits for the ball over the top for the second.
Alexander-Arnold in midfield has been a long-mooted suggestion. If it’s something Klopp will persevere with, it is going to take some work on the training ground to build up the understanding for Alexander-Arnold and the defenders behind him. But the counter-suggestion from Jamie Carragher is if Liverpool are performing better as a team, Alexander-Arnold is less vulnerable.
After seeing him in midfield against Arsenal, the jury is still very much out on whether it is a long-term solution.
Xhaka ‘does an Arteta’ to shift momentum
It can pay to pick the right time and place for a scrap. Back in November 2021, it was Mikel Arteta’s decision to challenge Jurgen Klopp to a touchline dance on a misty night in Merseyside.
Arteta was angry after Sadio Mane caught Takehiro Tomiyasu with the game goalless after 32 minutes.
One of the prime aims for any side on a trip to Anfield is silencing the crowd, but it lifted the Kop. Liverpool went on to win 4-0 in the first of three defeats in four games for Arsenal.
On Sunday, they were in cruise control – leading 2-0 – until a flashpoint in the first half which saw Granit Xhaka involved in a coming together with Trent Alexander-Arnold.
“We’ve mentioned how the crowd gets involved here,” Micah Richards told Sky Sports. “As soon as Xhaka had that disagreement with Trent, Liverpool used that and they were brilliant in the second half.”
Alexander-Arnold said of the incident: “He runs into me and nudges me off the ball – and it’s a natural reaction to then go and do it back. It could have got the crowd going but then we matched it with the football and intensity as well.”
Jamie Carragher added: “What are you doing? It’s absolutely daft. The game’s in your hands, why do it? It riles the crowd up. Absolutely idiotic for Xhaka to do that.
“He’s had a huge influence on this team but that was going back to the old Xhaka. There was only one way Liverpool could get back into that game and that was with the help of the terraces.”
As Gary Neville said on commentary, when Liverpool are asleep, don’t poke the bear. It may not have led directly to the first of Liverpool’s goals, but this is a place that doesn’t require an additional jolt of electricity.
That one mistake didn’t help Liverpool create several chances in the second half, but the atmosphere certainly changed.
Hodgson getting the best out of Eze and Olise
“It’s a long time since we’ve been playing like this”, Eberechi Eze told Sky Sports after Crystal Palace thrashed Leeds 5-1 at Elland Road to equal their biggest away win in the Premier League
Roy Hodgson was the man in charge when they set that record, too. The returning Palace manager has brought a confidence and a fluidity back into this team as they march up the table.
Palace’s ball-carriers are being encouraged to play to their strengths and it’s paying dividends. With seven goals in Hodgson’s two games, Palace have now scored one more in that time than they had in their previous 15 league matches.
The visitors made 34 successful dribbles at Leeds on Sunday, the most by a team in a Premier League match since Opta records began in 2003/04. That was helped by the hard work of Eze, who completed nine successful dribbles playing in a more advanced central role as he did against Leicester.
Eze’s new position allows the midfielder to knit the play together when Palace are going forward and his proximity to Michael Olise helped the 21-year-old to flourish out on the right. That was plain to see when they linked up for Palace’s third goal – just one of three assists for Olise in the space of 16 minutes.
The return of Hodgson – often pigeon-holed as a safety-first coach – didn’t fill Palace fans with hope that he’d bring the best out of their two young stars, but on the evidence of his first two games he’s made the adjustments to do just that.
Just a freak result – or should Leeds be worried?
One game doesn’t define a season. And although a 5-1 defeat at home is bound to send huge warning signals out that relegation to the Championship is a strong possibility, it is only three points dropped. There are 24 points still to play for and Javi Gracia will have seen plenty in Leeds’ first-half performance to believe that they can still win games between now and the end of the season. Just look at West Ham. David Moyes’ side were spanked 5-1 at home by Newcastle but that result is now a distant memory having followed it up with a gritty but decisive 1-0 win at Fulham.
Leeds played with everything you expect to see from them at Elland Road in the first half. Energy, spark, desire and plenty of quality. It resulted in a goal from Patrick Bamford, one of seven shots Leeds fired on target – their most in a first half this season – as Palace goalkeeper Sam Johnstone was kept very busy. Had they got the second goal it would have been a different afternoon. The capitulation was hard to see coming. Gracia will be hoping it’s a freak result.