1974, Rumble in the Jungle, Ali v Foreman.
George Foreman was considered by many to be the favorite to win the fight due to his superior punching power.
Instead of coming out to fight fire with fire, Muhammad Ali went on the back foot, encouraging Foreman to come at him.
By lying against the ropes, much of the Foreman’s punch’s energy was absorbed by the ropes’ elasticity rather than Ali’s body.
Despite seemingly taking a pummelling, Ali won the fight when Foreman became tired from the beating he was delivering and rope-a-dope was born.
Against Liverpool, Unai Emery attempted to reenact one of the greatest fights of all time on the football field.
Liverpool are the European champions. They finished 2nd last year with a points tally that would have won the league in almost any other season. They lost just one game and finished the season with the two of the three league’s top scorers. They are better than Arsenal. They are stronger than Arsenal.
Emery knew that his Arsenal side could not match Liverpool man for man. Especially with Mesut Ozil, Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney all out. He had to come up with a tactic that would see Arsenal sacrifice going toe to toe with Liverpool and take advantage when the opportunity arose.
And it so nearly worked. Emery was let down by his players who, when the opportunity arose, failed to take advantage.
For the opening 10 minutes Liverpool were getting in behind Arsenal and peppering balls into the box. The Gunners were under the cosh.
Out of nowhere, Arsenal had the chance to take the lead!
Adrián came racing out of his area to clear a forward pass, he slide in and succeeded only in deflecting the ball into Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s path and the Arsenal striker went for the lob but it landed just wide.
8 minutes later Arsenal had another great chance.
A strong break by Dani Ceballos lead the charge up the pitch. On the edge of the box he found Nicolas Pépé, who could only shoot straight at Adrian. Clearest chance of the match.
Despite being under the cosh for the first 20 minutes, Arsenal should really had been leading but failing to take 2 great chances.
Emery’s tactics were becoming clear. Sit back, defend, absorb Liverpool’s attack and look to counter punch when the opportunity arises.
It was working, but then 4 minutes before half time Arsenal concedes from a corner.
Arsenal has been doing so well to hold out, so to concede from a corner would have frustrated all.
2 minutes into the second half, a moment of madness from David Luiz as he pulled Mo Salah’s shirt in the penalty area giving away a penalty.
In the space of 7 on-field minutes, Emery’s best laid plans had been ripped up as Arsenal found themselves 2-0 down.
You can not adopt rope-a-dope tactics if you are behind and the game eventually finished 3-1.
Emery got a lot of criticism from many fans after the game for being tactically naive. But he got his tactics spot on. What he could not count on was Aubameyang and Pepe not taking their chances; and David Luiz giving away a silly penalty straight after half time.
When the goals Arsenal conceded are reviewed, there is little Emery could have done about them.
The 1st was a from a corner where Matteo Guendouzi was fouled, the second a penalty, the 3rd a fabulous finish by Salah. The game was not littered with the defensive errors caused the demise of Arsenal’s recent trips to Anfield.
Sport will always be a game of what ifs.
What if one of Frazer’s booming punches knocked out Ali? he would have been criticised for his rope-a-dope tactics.
What if Aubameyang or Pepe scored their chances within the first 18 minutes? We might have been sitting here this morning talking about an Unai Emery masterclass.
The reality is Arsenal lost 3-1 and another defeat at Anfield.
Still 2nd in the league though.