Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool: Tactical Analysis

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.

Line ups created using our Tactics Creator. Click here to use it yourself.

Line ups created using our Tactics Creator. Click here to use it yourself.

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.

Failure of Liverpool’s system in the 1st half

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.

Arsenal attacking the flanks on the counter

Sagna's action areas in the 1st half via squawka.com

Sagna’s action areas in the 1st half via squawka.com

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.

Arsenal’s attacking flair through the middle

Player positions showing Arsenal's tendency to attack through the middle via whoscored.com

Player positions showing Arsenal’s tendency to attack through the middle via whoscored.com

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.

Failure of Liverpool’s midfield and Johnson’s absence

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.

Flanagan's lack of attacking edge via squawka.com

Flanagan’s lack of attacking edge via squawka.com

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.

Change in Liverpool’s system in the 2nd half

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.

Conclusion

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.

by Arnab Ray and Razim Refai

Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @OOTB_football and like us on Facebook. We’re on Google+ and Tumblr as well for those interested.

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  • abhay anand

    great analysis as always

    • Arnab Ray

      Thanks a lot Abhay. Glad we could be of service.

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  • Ratish

    Just want to add my two cents –

    1) Rodgers cannot be blamed for the formation. Yes, a 3-5-2 is bound to fail against a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 because of the width they offer and the overload in midfield. But Arsenal lined up without an orthodox winger in midfield, and hence, Rodgers was right to go ahead with the 3-5-2 assuming Arsenal will not be able to stretch play.

    2) Considering the above statements, the game was going to be decided how well Liverpool work the flanks with Cissokho, Flanagan, Suarez and Sturridge. But, Suarez and Sturridge did not do so (Acc to Sqauwka, both spent only 30% of their game time on both the flanks). Neither did they combine well with Cissokho and Flanagan so as to allow Gerrard and Henderson to get into the attacking third and offer support.

    3) Due credit has to be given to Cazorla, Ozil and Rosicky for providing width to Arsenal attacks when needed. Flanagan, for instance, always had the defensive burden of Ozil being left in space when he goes forward and hence, wasn’t as effective. A look at their (Santi, Ozil and Rosicky) action areas on Sqauwka tells you how well they drifted into wide areas. Cissokho and Flanagan were always pre occupied with Cazorla/Ozil/Rosicky, and hence Sagna and Gibbs got the space to exploit down the wings (As you have mentioned)

    4) Finally, I think this article from Zonal Marking sums up clearly how to defeat a 3 man defence, something which Arsenal did perfectly
    http://www.zonalmarking.net/2010/03/24/three-man-defence-in-football-soccer/

    Can’t wait for the United – Arsenal match! Would love a tactical preview from your team on that! :)

    • Arnab Ray

      Yes don’t think Rodgers can be blamed for the system. After all it’s one that has worked well for Liverpool in the recent past. Instead credit to Arsene Wenger and his side for getting their tactics spot on. Initially thought they’d miss someone like Walcott but as you said they did well to maintain width while attacking. Thanks for the informative link and let’s see if we can do something along the lines of a tactical preview for the United-Arsenal game.

  • The False 9

    Great article mate,Keep it up!

    • Arnab Ray

      Cheers. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Le oh “G”

    Four more cents-

    1) Especially in the first half, Arsenal’s
    attack was never wide. When the ball was in the right side of the field,
    most of the central players shifted towards the right and most of the
    left players drifted towards the middle. As you correctly put it, they
    always lined up in triangles. This left the three defenders often
    halfway between two players, giving each defender seconds to decide
    which man to close down. This was most evident in the second goal where
    Giroud ran in between two defenders (Sakho and Cissoko, I think?),
    dragging both with them and creating the space for Ramsey’s shot.

    2)
    Credit has to be given to Arteta’s performance due to his involvement
    in numerous defensive interceptions. The Spaniard had a great game and
    was able to provide cover when Ramsey had run up the field to help with
    the attack.

    3) This game could have easily been 4-0 with Giroud
    missing most of his chances (at least one of which was one on one with
    the keeper). Ozil also missed a great chance.

    4) Liverpool
    struggled to create chances until the substitutions were made (which
    helped, but did not solve the problem). Suarez had a less than stellar
    game and was hugely selfish, marked by the moment when Sturridge raised
    his hands up in frustration as he had an open net to shoot at, yet
    Suarez did not square the ball to him.

    • Arnab Ray

      Agreed with all of that.
      Playing 3 players who are primarily number 10s behind the striker means that the attack has plenty of fluidity. Intrigued to see if United can cope with this next week if Arsenal stick to the same.
      Arteta had a great game and compensated for Flamini whose importance to Arsenal’s set up shouldn’t be underestimated. His passing was exemplary, as we’d expect, but he also made 7 tackles (highest in the match). As you pointed out this gave Ramsey the freedom to play higher up the pitch.
      Suarez was selfish and should’ve passed but in his defence he’ll probably put away such chances 9/10 times. Unfortunately for him, this was seemingly the 10th.

  • Niccolò

    It’s always a pleasure to read your articles.

    I watched a lot of times the first goal and how it was born:
    The action started with a throw-in on the arsenal’s left,
    and what I noted was the inefficacy of liverpool’s pressing, wherefrom emanates two threats:

    1: Arteta received the ball totally free and he had the time to advanced and passed the ball to Sagna without problems (Sahko was coerced to left his position not to follow Sagna but to put a little pression on Arteta).
    2: The second threat was cazorla who runs completely free too. Gerrard had to follow him, but when he twigs it was too late.

    Arsenal moved the ball very quick, but the action wasn’t a counter-attack, and conced this kind of chances it’s absurd.

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