Roberto Firmino is king of doing things because he can, not because he should

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Roberto Firmino was back to his showboating best for Liverpool in their Premier League win against Arsenal – and we couldn’t be happier.

Approaching Liverpool’s meeting with Arsenal at Anfield, there were some things we knew. We knew Liverpool were comfortably the better side on paper, for example, and that two Arsenal managers had failed to notch a victory in seven previous games against Jürgen Klopp.

What we were less certain of, though, was who might come out on top in the showboating stakes. Arsenal new-man Nicolas Pépé had shown his capabilities in that regard, but in the end it was Liverpool, and Roberto Firmino, who won that battle too.

Firmino has history in this game, of course. He scored a hat-trick in the fixture in December 2018, with a no-look finish along the way, and notched twice in his first Anfield game against the Gunners back in January 2016.

The Brazilian hasn’t been at his best lately in front of goal, scoring just once in his last six Premier League games across the end of last season and the start of this, which made it a perfect time for him to remind us there’s more to his game than just goals.

Arsenal midfielder Dani Ceballos was his chosen victim on this occasion, suffering at the hands of a piece of skill whose beauty comes from how utterly unnecessary it was.

Ceballos had been one of the breakout stars of Arsenal’s victory over Burnley, running the show and picking up a man of the match award for his efforts against the Clarets.

It’s a shame, then, that he’s now not allowed to show his face in public for a little while after what Firmino did to him.

We don’t make the rules, that’s just how it is. Having bent the rules a little by staying on the pitch for a full hour instead of leaving voluntarily, the rules of ritual humiliation dictate that the Spaniard is now required to sit in his car for several days while sad music plays and rain drips down the windows regardless of the weather across the rest of the country.

While all of this is going on, replays of Firmino’s action will be projected into the cloudy sky of Ceballos’ subconscious, as vivid as the moment the original move took place. It will take up permanent residence there, too, in a manner only possible of an embarrassment so comprehensive you need to encounter replays to appreciate the full context of what actually happened to you.

It’s like passing out for hours and waking up to find someone has swapped your arms and legs around, sewing the former in the place of the latter and vice versa. You don’t immediately know how things went down, but learning the process is on one hand necessary for the recovery and on the other so soul destroying that it’ll take a while to come out the other side.

Attempting to determine what was going through Firmino’s mind througout the process is, somehow, an even more challenging process.

The Liverpool man is the opposite of a confidence player in many ways, always seeming willing to try more challenging approaches at those moments where personal momentum suggests the more logical response is to go for the safe option.

Other players in his situation might have opted to get an early shot away in the hopes of building on the previous week’s strike against Southampton, hoping to force a degree of momentum into one’s own actions

Firmino, though, has always been counter-intuitive to the point it feels like a deliberate act of brand curation. A number nine is ‘supposed to’ be a club’s principle goal threat. You’re ‘supposed to’ look at the ball and the goal when you shoot. You’re ‘supposed to’ find the most direct route to goal, rather than executing a move so elaborate we could be forgiven for thinking its only purpose is to slow everything down.

This is a man who treats his entire existence as a TV montage, recognising how much work goes into the editor’s job and making things that little bit easier for them. Even the arc of the ball has a cinematic quality, like a miniature Free Willy leaping forth from the ocean, while he has the good grace to release a shot tame enough to ensure an early cutaway removes nothing of importance from the spectacle.

When Roberto Firmino lifted the ball over Dani Ceballos, only he can know for sure where his mind was at.

Still, to those of us watching, it felt like a reminder to Arsenal that, while they were only 1-0 down, their opponents were operating on a different plane.

It’s now eight straight games without defeat for Klopp against Arsenal, six wins and two draws, and the Brazilian has been there for every single one of them.

Even on those rare occasions when he doesn’t score, the Londoners must be sick of the sight of him.

By Tom Victor


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