The Premier League weekend kicked off with the big game between Liverpool and Arsenal. For the league leaders Arsenal, it was an opportunity to remain on top of the table and start a tough run of fixtures on a positive note. Despite being ruled out by many, Arsenal have maintained their position at the top of the league. For Liverpool, it was a chance to rebound from a disappointing result against West Brom and get a firm grip on 4th place.
Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal
Liverpool: Mignolet; Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho; Henderson, Gerrard (Ibe 76′), Coutinho; Suarez (Aspas 86′), Sturridge (Allen 66′), Sterling.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal (Gibbs 60′); Arteta, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil (Rosicky 60′), Cazorla; Giroud (Podolski 60′).
Liverpool’s effective pressing in midfield and committing numbers in attack
Brendan Rodgers’ sides have always been good at pressing the ball and today was no different. The energy displayed in the first half was laudable and the results were there for all to see. Coutinho played in a deeper role and his energy was vital for Liverpool especially off the ball. The Brazilian put a real shift in and alongside the hard working Henderson and experienced Gerrard, acted not only as the shield for the back 4 but also were the springboard for many a Liverpool counter attack. Not often will a team concede the majority of possession in a game and still win 5-1 but that is exactly what Liverpool did. The 3 man midfield were set up to snuff out Arsenal’s central attacking trio of Ozil, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain. There was a clear pattern in the pressing as well with Coutinho and Henderson alternately taking up the role of being the highest of the 3 and harrying the opponent in possession while the other and Gerrard stayed slightly deeper positioning themselves to cut out potential avenues for passes. Wilshere in particular didn’t take kindly to Coutinho buzzing around. Livepool certainly weren’t shy of making tackles chalking up a sizable tally of 35 according to whoscored.com.
A clear example of the pressing has been portrayed in the above image with Coutinho harrying Ozil when he had possession with Henderson and Gerrard occupying deeper positions. Under pressure, Ozil misplaced the pass and Liverpool sprang forward on the counter once again. With Liverpool well in front and perhaps tiring, they dropped deeper in the second half but not before delivering the decisive blows early in the game.
It seemed like Rodgers had employed a 4-4-2 formation with the new ‘SAS’ in the centre flanked by Coutinho and Sterling. However, he instead played Coutinho in a deeper role and Suarez on the right of a front 3. We’ve already seen how Coutinho’s presence in a 3 man midfield helped from the defensive aspect.
From an attacking point of view as well, Henderson and Coutinho were more than willing to bomb forward. With Suarez playing predominantly on the right side, he also displayed a tendency to cut infield. Thus Liverpool’s counter attack always had strength in numbers and their movement proved too much for Arsenal.
Flamini’s absence, Liverpool’s penetration into space and quick transitions
If you lose by a margin as big as 5-1, a single player’s absence is not a good enough excuse but one must concede that Flamini’s absence cost the away side. Liverpool’s pressing and willingness to commit men to counter attacks made life very difficult for Arteta and Wilshere in midfield. Once Liverpool recovered the ball, they transitioned with speed which meant that they caught the Arsenal team out of shape on multiple occasions. Too often they were caught out while trying to recover their positions and in such cases the additional insurance and discipline of Flamini could definitely have helped shore up the defence and plug a few gaps.
Until now, we’ve seen how Liverpool were set up to recover the ball and how they were willing to commit men to attack. In addition to this they used the pace of the likes of Sturridge and Sterling in particular to stretch the Arsenal team and create spaces in the final third. After winning the ball, Liverpool’s attack was direct. There was a strong vertical aspect to their play as they limited their side-to-side passing especially in areas higher up the pitch often going for the ‘killer ball’ early in attacks. Indeed according to whoscored.com, Suarez finished the game with a passing accuracy of 47% (the lowest on the pitch, even lesser than Mignolet!) and Sterling had an unimpressive 65% to his game. Interestingly, Suarez did create 4 chances in the game, a clear example of why passing stats are much maligned by a number of fans.
We have to look no further than Sterling’s first goal to see how Liverpool penetrated into the heart of the Arsenal defence and made them pay by exploiting the space on offer. After Henderson caught Ozil in possession, he carried the ball forward and then found Suarez on the right. At this point with Sagna caught up field, Liverpool have manufactured a 4-on-4 situation as shown. There’s plenty of space for Sterling to run into, as shown in the above diagram, and Suarez’s first time cross picked him out perfectly. And this was hardly an isolated incident, the build up to the corner that resulted in Skrtel and Liverpool’s second goal had the defence scrambling, Sturridge’s glorious early chance and his goal both caught Arsenal out with space on offer behind the defence, something Liverpool took advantage of by playing early balls.
Arsenal’s 2nd half recovery
Liverpool were never going to able to sustain the level of intensity of their play for the 90 minutes and the fact that they took a sizable lead into half time meant that they sat a bit deeper and were less adventurous in the second. Credit to Arsenal though as they came out and delivered a better performance in the 2nd half, still not at their fluent best but an improved performance nevertheless. With the Liverpool midfield sitting a bit deeper, it gave the away side an opportunity to create their passing combinations that their attack revels in. A comeback was always going to be too much to ask for but there was a marked improvement. Indeed, 10 of their 11 total attempts in the game were in the 2nd half as shown in the graphic below including the consolation goal.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing but Arsenal really had to see out the start of the game. Things went wrong right from the 1st minute and they failed to recover for the entirety of the 1st half. They were caught out time and again by Liverpool’s pressing and quick counter and struggled to control the game in the first half although they had more possession.
Where does this leave them?
Most people thought it was going to a hard fought encounter and a tight contest but Liverpool’s early blitz meant that the game was all but over in the first 30 minutes. Arsenal enjoyed more possession in the game but Liverpool provided the cutting edge. For the home side, it was a job very well done and they’ll look to consolidate their 4th place position mid-week against Fulham before locking horns with Arsenal once again in the FA Cup next weekend. For Arsenal, the 1st half was painful to watch and they’ll be looking to put this result behind them as soon as possible and the upcoming game against old rivals Manchester United is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Did you notice some tactical aspect of the game that we missed? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.