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Arsenal’s summer has been largely dominated by Alexis Sanchez’s future – and will continue to be until Thursday’s transfer deadline has passed – but Sunday’s demoralising defeat at Liverpool showed there are bigger issues to deal with.
In losing 4-0 at Anfield, Arsenal showed tactically they are nowhere near their rivals for a top-four place in the Premier League. More worryingly, they lacked hunger and they don’t look like a team.
I genuinely don’t know what Arsene Wenger is saying to them on the training ground. It is unbelievable what we watched against Liverpool. They are making such basic mistakes.
Were there any positives for Arsenal? No. Absolutely none. Before the start of the season I predicted Arsenal would finish outside of the top four. Obviously I haven’t changed my mind.
It was a just a shambles from a team which wants to develop after missing out on Champions League football for the first time in 20 years. It is the same old Arsenal, the same old problems.
If they let Sanchez go they’re in a world of trouble. They’re in a world of trouble anyway.
Sanchez looks like he wants to go
Sanchez was playing for the first time this season after a summer of speculation about his future. He started off all right against Liverpool, playing on the left side of a front three with Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil, and he was the only real threat. But it was tough for him because Arsenal weren’t getting the ball very much.
He worked hard enough but as the game went away from Arsenal you could see him getting frustrated. His body language wasn’t good when he came off – in fact before he came off you could tell he was despondent.
But he still had a go and didn’t look like someone who was not trying.
Some Gunners fans might be annoyed by a camera picking out Sanchez appearing to smile as he was sitting on the bench, but that’s not a big issue for me. We don’t know what he was looking at – there could have been a policeman in front of him fall over or anything.
It was a little quick smile; he soon went back to looking as miserable as sin. No-one can accuse Sanchez of not caring. Over the past couple of seasons he has put in more effort than anybody.
But does he want to be there now? I don’t think so. With speculation linking him to Manchester City, I can see him going before Thursday.
Arsenal’s biggest area of concern was the midfield
Arsenal set up with a 3-4-3 in effect and that’s fine if everyone knows the system and knows what they are doing – but they didn’t.
Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey were in a midfield two, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin as wing-backs, and the central midfielders really lack the athleticism to help out their defensive players.
Liverpool kept picking the ball up in midfield and had huge spaces in front of them. There were at least half a dozen times in the first half where Liverpool were running at their backline and there was no midfielder in view – and we’re talking 50- or 60-yard gaps between centre-halves and midfielders.
Arsenal’s problems in this area are not about the personnel in their squad because they have got legs there – Francis Coquelin came on for Ramsey at half-time and made a difference. Arsenal changed the shape and looked more solid.
OK, they conceded two more goals but that’s because they were trying to get back into the game.
Whether Arsenal have one or two holding midfielders, Arsene Wenger must tell them they have got to hold. Do not move.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson isn’t a holding midfielder but he runs more than anyone in the Premier League, is a talker and a good passer. He’s had to take away his runs forward but he has embraced it because that’s what the manager wants him to do.
The team benefits because he’s playing that role.
Mousa Dembele, my old team-mate at Fulham, was never a central midfielder until he came to us – now he is one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League, if not the best.
Like Henderson, he’s embraced it and the coach has helped him reach that level by telling him what to do. Dele Alli looks like a world beater because (a) he is a world beater and (b) he knows he has got two guys on his back, whereas Ozil, if he is playing in the number 10 role, has two creative players behind him. The tenacity is not there.
If Ozil was playing ahead of Victor Wanyama and Dembele, for example, he would look a whole lot better.
The buck lies with Wenger and his coaching staff
In this 3-4-3, Arsenal’s players didn’t know if the wing-backs were marking Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane or if the wide centre-halves were marking them.
Part of Arsenal’s problem is that there are few leaders on the pitch who are taking responsibility and telling people who to pick up.
You need that because if the system is going wrong then you can demand that off your team-mates.
But the manager creates the system and the discipline within the system. If there is no discipline and no work on it day in, day out, then players are not going to be able to fix that during a game.
So what can they do? Change the manager? It sounds drastic because Wenger has done so much for this club and the English game. We know what he has done. But all good things must come to an end.
I don’t think he knew what to do as Arsenal were being overrun or what was wrong. That’s the crime in it. It’s not making the mistake, it’s not knowing what it is.
The performance in the FA Cup final victory against Chelsea was everything you want Arsenal to be – but it was one performance. They looked liked a bunch of players who wanted to prove people wrong.
It shows they can do it – why don’t they do it more often? The responsibility always falls with the manager and the coaches.
‘Klopp outwitted Wenger – but it wasn’t hard’
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp got one over on Wenger tactically – but it wasn’t difficult to do. He knows his players work for him; every one of the Liverpool players runs back as soon as they lose possession.
Then they just kept hitting them on the break with their pace.
Liverpool were very well drilled in what they were doing and they actually dropped off early in the game. It was a surprise that they didn’t press and let Arsenal have the ball.
When Arsenal had possession and Liverpool needed a breather they just dropped off and got everyone back in their half really deep. They just waited. And waited. They got their breath and then broke quickly.
But the reason they did that was because they knew when Arsenal threw numbers forward, the pace of Salah and Mane on the counter-attack would cause all sorts of problems. That’s exactly what happened.
No matter what tactics they did or didn’t use, they ran more, wanted it more and played with more passion and desire. First and foremost you need that.
Liverpool showing they can cope without Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho was missing for Liverpool again with a back injury as Barcelona continue to be linked with a move for him before the transfer window closes.
Again, Liverpool have shown they can cope without him in terms of scoring goals.
Salah, Mane and Roberto Firmino were electric against Arsenal, just like they were against Hoffenheim in the Champions League play-off on Wednesday, rotating positions, showing willingness to run in behind without the ball.
I think Adam Lallana will score more when he comes back from injury, and Daniel Sturridge seems to be staying fit which is a big bonus.
But of course they will be better with Coutinho than without him.
The choices they have with him keeps people on their toes and everyone competing for places. He can open up a team and he can score wonder goals.
If you are talking about a £120m fee the big question is who do you bring in? Can they bring in one or two in who make them stronger as a squad or as a team. It is difficult.
But if they keep forward players fit they will always cause problems because they have so much pace and creativity.
Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko
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