The past summer was one in which change was the watchword in the upper echelons of the Premier League. The top 3 of last season all have new managers at the helm; a fact that many hope will lead to another exciting title race. This upheaval also means that teams such as Arsenal and Liverpool have an excellent opportunity to challenge for the title.
Coming into the game it was a case of so far so good for both sides. Since their defeat to Villa on the opening day of the season, Arsenal dropped just 2 points out of a possible 24 and occupied the top spot in the league table. Meanwhile, Liverpool have been impressive and boast of arguably the most dangerous strike partnership in the league right now in the form of Sturridge and Suarez.
Arsenal lined up in their customary 4-2-3-1 formation. Flamini’s absence was a blow but Arteta and Ramsey both had good games in midfield. Giroud spearheaded the attack as usual with the fluid trio of Rosicky, Ozil and Cazorla behind him. Liverpool played with 3 at the back in the form of Toure, Skrtel and Sakho. Glen Johnson was a big miss for them as young Flanagan filled in at right full back. Gerrard, Lucas and Henderson formed the midfield and Suarez and Sturridge featured up front.
Liverpool started with a favored system that worked for them this season so far. This comprised of 3 centre halves and a crowded midfield with 2 wing backs. Unfortunately for them, this was a system the Gunners were able to take apart. Liverpool started the first half on the front foot, pressing Arsenal in their own half and giving them as less time on the ball as possible, using their two men upfront and the midfield. This left the midfield a little too far up the pitch. Every time Arsenal were able to string a few passes and successfully circumvent this midfield, they were able to attack a three man defense and acres of space to run into and play the ball (as enumerated on later). Each time Liverpool pressed, it led to spaces opening up between the back 3 and the midfield.
Liverpool’s system meant that the onus was on their wing backs to provide width to the attack and stretch Arsenal’s defence which in turn would provide more space to the attacking duo of Suarez and Sturridge. Wenger’s men decide to return the favour and catch Liverpool’s wing backs out of position on the counter. They backed themselves to win the ball back from the full backs and then Sagna and Gibbs would push on beyond the opposition wing backs and stretch the flat back 3 of Liverpool’s defence. This can be seen most notably in Arsenal’s 1st goal. With Cissokho pushed right up the pitch, it was Sakho who had to come out to meet Sagna. Correspondingly on the other side Flanagan was in an advanced position which meant that Cazorla found himself in space. The Spaniard drifted into the penalty box unmarked and made no mistake in putting away the rebound after his header hit the post.
We’ve already previously seen how Arsenal exploited the wide areas of Liverpool on the counter especially in their 1st goal. This though wasn’t the home sides only avenue of attack. Cazorla and Rosicky are naturally more central players, Cazorla on the left was more than happy to cut in field and Rosicky’s forays to the right wing were most often only as far as the inside right channel. With Ozil playing off Giroud and Ramsey a more than willing runner from deep, theoretically there was a possibility that the central area would get too congested and Arsenal’s attack would suffer as a consequence. This however was far from the case. Geometry has always played an important role in football and Arsenal’s attack was a tribute to the mighty triangle. Cazorla, Ramsey, Rosicky, Ozil, Giroud all formed small triangles on multiple occasions and quick interchange of the ball was a characteristic feature. Quick, incisive, precision passing with synchronized movements off the ball was evident much to the delight of the Emirates crowd. Special mention to Giroud who is an expert in playing the 1st time ball-around-the-corner.
The Liverpool midfield were mere spectators as the Arsenal midfield of Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky and Ramsey played an interchanging and dynamic system, a system they’re so good at. With Gerrard and Lucas not having the best of days, it’s safe to say that much of the battle was won and lost in midfield.
Another point worth noting is Flanagan starting in place of Glen Johnson. The England international missed the clash due to illness and his absence was significant. Flanagan was unable to bring to the game the experience as he was tasked with not only fending off attacks but also creating that spark while going forward. This rendered Liverpool’s right wing toothless, with Gibbs having a very comfortable game. Add to this Arsenal’s afore mentioned tactic of attacking the flanks on the counter and the absence of Johnson becomes that much more important.
The 2nd half saw Rodgers revert to a conventional 4 man defense. This meant one man less in midfield for Liverpool, which evidently translated to Arsenal having more space to pass the ball more freely in the centre on the park. This tactical change led to Arsenal easing into their comfort zone of knocking the ball around, and gaining more control of the game.
In what was the 1st game of an important week for Arsenal, they got off to a good start. Wenger’s team was the better side and credit to the manager for getting his tactics spot on. Flamini was a big loss for them but their attacking firepower and tactical nous got them through. For Liverpool, this loss is a blow but by no means a disaster. They will be going back to Merseyside empty handed but will be looking forward to getting back on track against a weak Fulham defence next week.
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