LONDON: Philippe Coutinho matched the general sporting focus on Brazil by scoring two fine goals as Liverpool, after an explosive spell of three goals in 14 minutes, clung on desperately to overcome Arsenal 4-3 in front of their own fans in north London.
Victory was as satisfying for Jurgen Klopp, rewarding his positive approach in terms of team selection and tactics, as it was irritating for opposite number Arsene Wenger and home fans angry at their club’s inactivity in the transfer market.
Adam Lallana and debutant Sadio Mane scored Liverpool’s other goals with Arsenal kicking off the drama with both an early penalty miss then a goal from Theo Walcott plus late but insufficient strikes from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Calum Chambers.
Klopp partly blamed himself for contributing to the closing drama by celebrating too soon. He said: “I played a big part in the excitement of the last half-hour, because it’s not allowed to celebrate the fourth goal like this with 35 minutes to go. At this moment, we switched off the machines. The game was not over. Nothing is sure until the final whistle.
“Over the whole of the 90 minutes it was a deserved win. We can always score goals and we can defend much better. It’s the Premier League and nothing should be easy in this league. Nothing is easy.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said: “We lacked experience at the back and we were physically short. Liverpool did well and we were for 15 minutes completely shocked. We pushed players today like Aaron Ramsey. It is an impossible situation to get players back so soon after the Euros and prepare.”
With Arsenal upset by defensive injuries, had Klopp made no secret of his intention to make a positive winning start to the season. He sent out a line-up packed full of attacking players to test the Gunners’ makeshift central defence of Chambers and new signing Rob Holding in the absences of Per Mertesacker, Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny.
Daniel Sturridge was missing through injury but Klopp lined up new signings Gini Wijnaldum and Mane alongside Coutinho, Lallana and Roberto Firmino. Estonia’s Ragnar Klavan made his debut in defence alongside Dejan Lovren.
To add to the confusion for Arsenal fans, manager Wenger even sent out a team lacking an orthodox centre-forward with Alexis Sanchez asked to fulfil the striker’s role. Even £30m Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka was ‘only’ on the bench.
Arsenal dominated the opening stages, playing their passing football. Liverpool were initially disjointed and individualistic. However, in time Mane began to run with the ball and Firmino stared to discover gaps inside the Arsenal penalty box.
But whatever gaps Arsenal conceded were nothing compared with the blundering of Alberto Moreno at leftback for Liverpool. Moreno had been badly at fault in the Europa League Final defeat by Sevilla and appeared to have learned nothing from the experience.
First he brought down Theo Walcott only to be rescued when the England forward’s penalty was saved by keeper Simon Mignolet, making his 150th appearance for Liverpool. One minute later however hapless Moreno was caught badly out of position and this time Walcott scored after being sent through by Alex Iwobi’s pass.
Liverpool needed one of their individuals to come up with something special and Coutinho, their player of the season last term, did precisely that with a superb free kick into the top corner of Cech’s net.
Klopp’s men began the second half as they had left off in the first with a superb run by Mane setting up Lallana to control the ball on his chest, control, turn and shoot home. Nathaniel Clyne set up a third goal, superbly taken again by Coutinho before Lallana sent Mane chasing in from the right befre fring an unstoppable left-foot shot beyond Cech.
Substitute Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Chambers pulled back two goals but they proved insufficient. Arsenal, for the second successive season, has opened their season with a defeat.
** Manchester United made a winning start under Jose Mourinho with a 3-1 win at Bournemouth.
Mourinho’s United were as sharp and positive as Louis Van Gaal’s team had been slow and negative. Juan Mata, captain Wayne Rooney and ‘new boy’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the goals with Adam Smith claiming the hosts’ consolation.
United can only grow stronger: Paul Pogba was missing through an old Italian suspension while Henrikh Mkhitaryan appeared only as a late substitute for Mata.