No Mohamed Salah, no problem - Diogo Jota is the future of Liverpool

Diogo Jota showed his class, again
Diogo Jota showed his class, again / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

The absence of Mohamed Salah from Liverpool's starting lineup was the major pre-match talking point an hour before the Reds' game with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium - not the first time, nor the last, the Egyptian has stolen the headlines.

Salah has bagged 20 Premier League goals so far this season, topping the scoring charts by a considerable margin, but his brilliance on the field has started, ever so slightly, to be overshadowed by lengthy and protracted contract renewal talks - which at the time of writing appear to be going nowhere.

Despite that nondescript chatter, there's no real reason for immediate concern.

Salah is contracted to Liverpool until 2023 and there's an expectation that things will eventually work themselves out - although it remains to be seen whether the Reds are able, and indeed willing, to match Salah's standing in the game and make him one of the world's best paid players.

Regardless of how those Salah talks eventually go, one thing was made clear in Liverpool's subsequent 2-0 win over Arsenal; he's an exceptionally gifted player who is the bona fide star of Jurgen Klopp's team, but he's not indispensable - Liverpool can function without him.

There's a wonderful talent named Diogo Jota, who at the age of 25, looks nailed on to be the future of Liverpool - in all likelihood alongside Luis Diaz, who although he was quiet on this particular night, has hit the ground running at Anfield and looks like he will be a sensational acquisition.

Some eyebrows were raised when the Reds chose to part with over £40m to sign Jota in the summer of 2020, but it quickly became apparent that those who were critical of the signing probably hadn't seen, let alone be able to appreciate, how good he'd been during his three-year spell at Wolves.

Mohamed Salah
Salah's Liverpool future has been called into question / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Jota worked as hard as anybody on the field during his time at Molineux, displayed great footballing intelligence (as in his reading of the game was superb and he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time) and he possessed a cool, composed nature beyond his relatively tender years.

He chased down lost causes, ran the channels and countered at will, and, for a player standing just 5'10", was ridiculously good in the air. He was also terrific with both feet, making him the perfect Jurgen Klopp player as he could play anywhere across the front line.

At Liverpool, he has not only evolved every one of those attributes at a higher level, he has transformed himself into a big game player willing to shoulder the burden of great responsibility. A player capable of rising to the occasion when his teammates are not at their best and one who is not overawed by the weight of expectation that playing for Liverpool brings.

Arsenal had outplayed Liverpool for 45 minutes at the Emirates Stadium, with the Salah-less visitors barely having a sniff on goal, yet you always felt that the Reds, and Jota, would grow into the game. It was more of a question of would he able to take the chance if one were presented to him.

The answer, as it so often has been, was yes.

Diogo Jota
Jota's importance to Liverpool is mounting by the week / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Jota ghosted between Cedric and Ben White, allowed Thiago's sublimely weighted through ball to run past him, and fired a fizzing low shot on Aaron Ramsdale's goal. It wasn't the best directed finish of Jota's career but it was enough to beat the Arsenal goalkeeper low down - the power of the strike more than anything else ensuring he couldn't keep it out.

It came just moments after Alisson had made a potentially season-defining save from Martin Odegaard and was the catalyst for Liverpool to push on and win the game. It was a moment when Liverpool needed Jota to deliver and he didn't disappoint. Then again, he never really has, nor would you imagine he will in the future.

Salah is Liverpool's best and most important player, that is undeniable. But quickly establishing himself as the pretender to his throne is Jota, who showed here that Klopp and Liverpool have another marquee player in their ranks ready to lead the club into the future.