The Gunners failed to convert their one clear-cut chance against the Reds at the Emirates, and found themselves behind after an error shortly after

There were 51 minutes on the clock when Alexandre Lacazette intercepted Thiago Alcantara’s under-hit back pass.

After going toe-to-toe with Liverpool up to that point on Wednesday night, it was the moment Arsenal had been waiting for in front of goal.

Lacazette turned and picked out Martin Odegaard, who looked certain to score – only for Alisson Becker to thrust up an arm and swat the Norwegian’s shot away.

Arsenal’s big chance had gone and, within three minutes, they found themselves behind, as Diogo Jota’s shot squirmed past Aaron Ramsdale at his near post.

From that point on, there was no way back for Mikel Arteta’s side.

Liverpool went on to add a second through Roberto Firmino soon after and cruised through the remainder of the contest relatively unscathed to secure the win they needed to move within one point of Manchester City at the top of the table.

For Arsenal, the 2-0 defeat ended a run of five successive victories in the Premier League, and taught them what will be a valuable lesson if they do go on qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Against the very best, you have to take your chances when they arrive, and defensively, you cannot be handing out gifts.

Arteta’s side competed excellently for 51 absorbing minutes at the Emirates, but when the big moments arrived they were found wanting at both ends of the pitch.

“I don’t think the result properly reflects the performance of the team,” Arteta said during his post-match press conference.

“From box to box I think in many moments we were the better team and we did everything that we planned. The way the boys performed showed their courage to play the way we wanted to play.

“They really raised their level, but unfortunately games are won in the boxes and that was the critical difference.”

The key thing for Arsenal is not to let this defeat derail what has been a fine start to 2022.

They went into Wednesday night’s game on the back of nine wins in 11 in the league and, up until Jota’s goal, they showed they could compete with Liverpool – just as they did when they hosted Manchester City on New Year’s Day.

Arteta’s young side have taken huge strides forwards in the past few months, and still have so much to play for between now and the end of the season.

They still sit fourth in the table and have games in hand over their rivals in the race for the Champions League.

The Liverpool match always felt like a bit of a free hit; a chance to show they could compete with one of the best sides in Europe.

Ultimately they fell short, but what happens at Aston Villa on Saturday will be far more important in the grand scheme of things.

And despite the defeat against Liverpool, there were still some positives to take, not least the performance of Gabriel Martinelli.

Jurgen Klopp once described Arsenal’s young Brazilian as the “talent of the century” and the Liverpool manager’s admiration for the 20-year-old will have only increased after an exceptional showing.

Martinelli gave Trent Alexander-Arnold a torrid time for large periods of the contest and showed that he belongs on the biggest stage.

It was a coming-of-age night for a player who has deservedly been handed his first call-up to the Brazil squad.

And Martinelli is just one of the reasons why Arsenal should not be feeling too downbeat after this defeat.

The fact is that while the Gunners are undoubtedly getting closer to the best the Premier League has to offer, they are not there yet and there is no shame in that.

They were handed a valuable lesson on Wednesday night and it’s one they must learn from.

“I think we have closed the gap a lot,” Arteta said. “But it wasn’t enough.

“When you have chances against them, you have to get something out of it.”

Arsenal now have a short turnaround ahead of their trip to Villa on Saturday lunchtime. But if the Gunners do go on to secure Champions League football next season, they will have to cope with a far more demanding schedule.

For Arsenal, Wednesday night was a valuable learning curve all round. Liverpool showed them the levels they need to hit to be considered one of the best.

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