Liverpool scored four times in quick succession either side of half time to stun their hosts, with Philippe Coutinho getting two goals, before a late fightback almost earned Arsenal a point in a thrilling game
Premier League Final score Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
It was an afternoon when Jurgen Klopp and everybody else inside the Emirates Stadium could rub their eyes in disbelief. Liverpool were irresistible for a golden period after the interval, which climaxed in Sadio Mané, the £30m signing from Southampton, fizzing home their fourth goal. Klopp was central to the celebrations on the touchline, allowing Mané to clamber on to his back. He would later say that he regretted that. The game was not over, even if it felt like it was.
Arsenal started brightly and they were the better team in a first half during which Theo Walcott missed a penalty and then scored the opening goal. But it was shocking to see how sharply the tide turned and, yet again, there could be questions about the team’s mental fortitude.
Liverpool allowed Arsenal too much space in the first half and, apart from the 40th-minute counter, when Roberto Firmino and Coutinho worked a shooting opportunity for Wijnaldum, which Petr Cech kept out, they had not hinted at an equaliser. Coutinho’s execution was a “genius” moment, according to Klopp. Holding had conceded the free-kick when he nibbled into the back of Coutinho.
Liverpool were vibrant and clinical, with their other expensive new boy, Gini Wijnaldum – the £23m purchase from Newcastle United – also prominent. Then, there was Philippe Coutinho who, not for the first time at this venue, was a joy to watch. He had equalised for 1-1 in first-half stoppage time with a scintillating 30-yard free-kick while he also scored his team’s third goal.
It was some game to open the season in north London but it was enjoyable only for Liverpool, where it feels that something is stirring. Klopp restored belief and unity last season and, after a full pre-season in which to hammer home his high-intensity methods and play the transfer market, he has talked of this as being his team. There were defensive glitches on display but the optimism could surge.
For Arsenal, there was bitter frustration and the same old questions, despite a gallant attempt to bounce back off the canvas after Mané’s goal for 4-1. The substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored a fine solo goal and when Calum Chambers flicked home a header for 4-3, there could be thoughts of the crazy 4-4 draw between the teams at Anfield in 2009.
An Arsenal equaliser, however, never looked like materialising and, instead, there was the familiar sound of a chorus of boos from the home crowd at full-time. Arsène Wenger had been without seven players because of fitness issues and his makeshift central-defensive pairing of Chambers and Rob Holding, the new signing from Bolton Wanderers, was left exposed, although he did not blame them.
Wenger lamented the timing of Coutinho’s equaliser while he also referenced the lack of experience in his team and how, physically, they had not been ready, which felt like an indictment. He can now count another couple of injuries, after Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey were forced off with muscular problems around the hour and there will surely be renewed calls for Wenger to reinforce the squad with one or more signings.
Wenger had chosen to leave his one big-money purchase, Granit Xhaka, on the substitutes’ bench until the 67th minute while his decision to start Walcott ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right had been another surprise. Walcott showed his character to fashion the breakthrough, because the penalty miss had come moments earlier. From Iwobi’s pass, his instincts took over and the low finish flashed into the far corner.
Klopp would complain about the penalty award, claiming Alberto Moreno played the ball rather than Walcott but it did not matter when Simon Mignolet went the right way to beat away the kick. Moreno’s challenge was clumsy, at the very least. It was the first penalty Walcott had taken in 10-and-a-half years as an Arsenal player.