Arsenal fans who made the long journey up to Anfield will be at least hopeful there was little consolation to be drawn from Saturday’s 3-1 defeat.
It was a match that once again reaffirmed the gap in quality that separates Liverpool and this Arsenal side – one that remains very much a work in progress, despite the encouraging business of the summer.
From the onset, it looked obvious that the fixture was going to follow in the same fashion to Arsenal’s last three visits to the red half of Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp’s men dominated possession, patiently poking and prodding their opponents, who, surprisingly, under Unai Emery’s tactics, seemed more than content to invite the pressure.
Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, were relentless. The over compact approach Arsenal deployed in midfield meant both fullbacks were afforded loads of space and at times it indeed seemed like they were practising crossing drills in training.
Afforded the time and space to do so, the pair littered Arsenal’s box with cross after cross in search of the opener.
That it took 40 minutes to come – a Joel Matip header – is a testament to the ultra-defensive approach adopted by the visitors.
But against one of the most prolific front lines in Europe, it was always going to be a matter of time.
After that, there was no looking back, with Mohamed Salah’s double, coming in the space of nine minutes after the break, confirming the inevitable.
Following successive victories against Newcastle and Burnley, defeat on Saturday was a reminder of the work that still needs to be done, highlighting the flaws that have haunted Arsenal for seasons now.
A weak and disjointed defence, the absence of authority in the midfield, and the lack of identity to a team which is still unsure of what it wants to be.
But in spite of the general familiar disappointment that was Saturday’s performance, there was something positive to take back to the Emirates.
Making his full debut in an Arsenal shirt, new signing Nicolas Pepe offered glimpses of his £72 million potential as he set to work delivering a spirited and determined display that, at times, unpicked Liverpool’s defence.
Despite the Arsenal squad failing to contain the aggressive nature of Liverpool, the 24-year-old was a shining light and will give Emery hope his forward line is at least in good hands.
In the first half, the Ivorian had the most clear cut chance of the game when he was one on one with Adrian but failed to score as his shot lacked enough power to cause any real trouble.
He had another glorious chance when his curler went just inches wide off the post and had that gone in, it could easily have been the goal of the weekend.
Pepe was a menace on the wing and he easily breezed past Liverpool players for fun and maybe just lacked the confidence to convert.
The former Lille man went on to cause Liverpool’s back-line plenty of problems, showcasing his blistering pace, quick feet and eye for goal throughout.
His stats showed further encouragement to justify why Arsenal coughed out so much for him over the summer.
50 – Nicolas Pepe has become the first player to successfully dribble past Virgil van Dijk in the Dutch defender's last 50 appearances in the Premier League, since Mikel Merino in March 2018 for Newcastle. Beaten. pic.twitter.com/B1oRZMciOB
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 24, 2019
To make it better, one of those dribbles was just any defender. Pepe did manage to breeze past Ballon d’Or candidate in “the great wall” of Van Dijk. A minor detail, perhaps, but one that is made all the more impressive given that the Dutch defender had not been beaten in a one-on-one situation in his last 50 Premier League appearances.
Pepe also managed to do this within five minutes of the game starting. Dribbler by nature!
Well at least someone went past Van Dijk. We can all end that talk for now.
Pepe was also seen embarrassing another Liverpool rock as he spun away from an eager Robertson to leave the Scottish full-back scrambling to recover his position. In total, seven out of 10 dribbles were completed by the 24-year-old throughout the match – more than any other player has managed in a Premier League to date.
Nicolas Pepe: Completed more dribbles vs Liverpool (7) than any player has managed in a Premier League match this season
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 25, 2019
And not just the Liverpool game, the 24-year-old leads the pile in most-takeons so far this term. It’s quite impressive considering he has the least minutes of any other player on the list. His ability to manoeuvre opponents easily will definitely be an asset for Emery upfront.
The last time Arsenal had such a winger dated back to Alexis Sanchez and we did see the numbers the Chilean racked up while he was at the club.
Most take-ons completed after GW3 of the 2019-20 Premier League season:
• Nicolas Pépé (12)
• Mateo Kovacic (12)
• James Maddison (11)
• Wilfried Zaha (11)
A new name at the top. 💃 pic.twitter.com/vkn8fG0anu
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 25, 2019
Compared to his teammates, Pepe was a genuine source of trouble and, with increased game time and exposure to the Premier League, it won’t be long before he reaches the next level for Arsenal.
Of course, this isn’t to get too carried away by the potential of one player. For all the excitement that Pepe will undoubtedly generate in the weeks and months ahead, there’s only so far Arsenal will go without addressing those issues that rest behind the Ivorian.
That being said, if the Gunners can indeed improve their defensive woes over the course of the season, then there should be genuine cause for optimism. A fully performing Nicolas Pepe alongside the existing firepower of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette could literally make Arsenal unplayable upfront and could be the catalyst for a change in fortunes.