Why defend well when you can just defend badly and rely on your opponent doing exactly the same? Such appears to have been the mantra ringing in the ears of Arsenal and Liverpool’s players as they went into their Premier League clash on Friday night.
They duly put on a show that will have thrilled those who enjoy football, but not those who enjoy high-quality football. The two teams seemed utterly determined to one-up each other in the sh**ness stakes, compiling a litany of defensive errors that would have embarrassed a Sunday League back four who’d spent the previous night synchronised swimming in a pool of Blue WKD.
For the first half-hour it was fairly turgid stuff, while the ensuing 30 minutes made about as much sense as a tinfoil condom. Initially, Arsenal were terrible. Then Liverpool were terrible. Then Arsenal were terrible again, before eventually both sides just embraced their mutual terribleness and threw competence to the wind.
Were it not for Sadio Mané electing to acrobatically bicycle-kick the ball over the bar from ten yards out, when he could have simply taken it down, composed a 50-stanza beat poem about the play of winter sunlight on the towers of the Liver Building and then poked it into the net, the Gunners should have been two goals down at half-time.
As it was it took Liverpool until seven minutes into the second half to reach that most dangerous of scorelines, 2-0. At which point the Merseysiders entered Charity Comeback Mode, a thoughtful custom they have adopted as an apology to the football world for the sins of Istanbul in 2005.
It was all thoroughly wonderful to watch. But not, of course, if you were a manager of either side. By the 58th-minute, when Mesut Ozil put Arsenal 3-2 up, Jurgen Klopp’s face was as puce as Max Mosley’s arse after a late-night session with Dirty Dagmar the Dresden Dominatrix. Klopp will have gone to bed that night pondering the best way to convince Djimi Traore and Pegguy Arphexad to come out of retirement and shore up his team’s defence.
For the Reds, Joe Gomez showed the same sensitivity to danger as Neville Chamberlain in a Berchtesgaden meeting room, while Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan displayed all the firefighting ability of a can of Lynx Africa.
Simon Mignolet, as he has proven on countless occasions in the past, is as flappy as a nylon windsock in a Force 10 gale.
Still, it’s not as if their opposition were any better. For some reason, Arsène Wenger chose a 20-year-old right-footed central midfielder at left-back, having identified Ainsley Maitland-Niles as the man to neutralise Europe’s most lethal and on-form right-winger, Mohamed Salah.
To be fair to AMN, however, he was far from the shakiest of Arsenal’s defenders. That honour was reserved for the normally reliable Laurent Koscielny, who did absolutely everything in his power to make things easier for Liverpool’s quartet of pacy, skillful attackers by repeatedly giving them the ball directly to feet as close to goal as he could manage. Petr Cech, meanwhile, must have left his good set of wrists at home on the mantelpiece.
After 90 minutes of hilarity, the match ended 3-3. But for some Heskeyesque finishing from both sides, it could have been 5-4 either way, and if this game is anything to go by, these two teams are going nowhere fast.
They are deeply flawed, yet somehow beautiful, a bittersweet concoction of utterly crap defenders and mediocre midfielders mixed in with a sprinkling of genuinely world-class attacking talent.
Liverpool have Philippe Coutinho, but they also have Ragnar Klavan. Arsenal have Mesut Ozil, but they also have Granit Xhaka.
There’s no long-term future at the top-table for either of these sides until they invest in significant reinforcements in all areas except the final third.
If Klopp and Wenger want to achieve anything worthwhile this season, they’ll need to start wining and dining their club’s accountants come the end of January.