As we head into the festive season and arguably one of the an important match for Arsenal, we decided to take another look at this week’s opponent with more than just a casual eye. This Friday we face off against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who on their day look a strong side but can also keep opponents in a match with less than stellar defending. Sound familiar?
Liverpool bringing in Jurgen Klopp was one of the marquee managerial signings in the last few years. Here was a man who created “heavy-metal” style of play and was effective using that style in both the Bundesliga and in Europe. He has after 2 ½ years at Liverpool successfully brought that style to England and the league and has the Scousers once again in the conversation as challengers for the top 4.
Gengenpress comes to England
In English the word gengenpress literally means to “press against,” and tactically it’s what Liverpool strive to do with ferocity. They are a team happy to let teams play out of the back and immediately close down all space and force errors high up the pitch to create chances.
That seems all pretty simplistic in terms of defining it after all it is a tactic that requires focus, commitment and energy. When it’s executed well, it’s deadly in its effectiveness.
Typically what transpires is Liverpool allow keepers to play out of the back to the center backs (typical player movement is the CBs open up at the edge of the 18 with the FBs pushed up.)
Once that first pass is received, that is when Liverpool jump into action. Usually, the winger nearest the ball is the one applying that immediate pressure. The winger’s angle of approach is designed to cut off a second pass up to the opponent’s wing player.
As the winger applies that pressure on the ball, Firminho or whomever is playing striker is tasked with the responsibility as the second defender to deny the pass lane to either the 6 and/or 8 who may drop in to also receive that pass from the center back.
The far side wing player then takes up a position to cut off any potential diagonal passes into the midfield and is available to become the first defender should the opposition center back try to the switch the ball to the other center back.
The first bank of 3 is followed by the midfield 3 which are working to apply pressure and close off passing lanes. Usually, we see a midfielder who will be playing off of Firminho’s shoulder as additional cover in the space behind the 9. The other midfielders, provide cover and balance to the rest of the MF.
When you see it diagrammed out, it essentially forces play into one side of the pitch and takes away the midfield and the immediate width. The follow on pass is normally cross to center back and in some cases it forces the opposition deeper into their own defensive third where a poor pass, bad touch or just a bone-headed mistake can result in a turnover and chance by Liverpool.
The above is seen in the example below (courtesy Spielverlagerung.com)
This press when executed right, is effective and it’s been one of the biggest reasons why Liverpool find themselves once again challenging for a Champion’s League spot.
But the system and Liverpool aren’t without their flaws.
Gegenpress requires a sustained physical effort not only over the course of a match but over the course of a season. Last year when Liverpool where in the middle of having to play multiple games over the course of a few weeks, they stuttered. The energy level to produce Klopp’s style of play clearly looked to be sapping them.
As we head into the Friday tie, we shouldn’t expect that Liverpool will look flat. They’ve taken us apart lately and will be licking their chops at the prospect of having another go at us.
We should expect that as we they come into the Emirates, Liverpool will find their energy and will look to press Arsenal off the ball and out of the stadium.
So how do we play against the Gengenpress?
If you look at the image above note the position of the ball and note where Walker is. Slightly behind the pinched in Coutinho he is open. Rather than looking to play directly to nearside winger or into the midfield our first look needs to be the far side winger and looking to make that diagonal pass into space.
That pass alone bypasses at least 4 defenders and with quick speed, can result in a counterattack with a numbers up scenario. If that doesn’t present itself, then a more direct route through the middle is another option.
When Klopp first faced Arsenal as Liverpool manager he lamented our direct style of play. To negate his press we played the long pass, over the top for Giroud to win the aerial dual. We bypassed the midfield and create attacking scenarios that were in our favor.
This was a similar tactic we saw against Tottenham in the 2-0 win. We looked for the diagonal first pass and when it was there we hit it effectively. It’s an effective tactic we’ve pulled off but requires a level of commitment and focus that we haven’t had against Liverpool since the first time we played them when Klopp first appeared in England.
Now given the speedy nature of the match, this isn’t likely to be a match that would’ve favored the now injured Giroud, so hopefully Wenger gives some serious thought to keeping Lacazette in for a full 90. While not as strong as Giroud up there, he is still a presence that causes issues for defensive units.
If we aren’t playing direct than the passing has to be better and more concise. I’ve not been impressed with our passing ability of late. We’re simply making stupid and poor passing decisions. Additionally, something as simple as receiving the ball seems to have escaped us.
If passing and moving is the name of the game instead of the direct ball, then we need to execute or 1 and 2 touch passes a lot better than we have as late. As we mentioned poor passes executed deep in our own zone is a recipe for disaster
Finally, we can negate the press if we do as we’ve done against other teams when on the road – sit back and look to counter. Ceding possession to Liverpool takes away the press. As we sit deep we look to win the ball and quickly transition to the counter – Liverpool have shown that they don’t do well when teams are set up deep. It’s not how they are trained to play. Take that away from them and then look to use speed up to counter them effectively.
All of it sounds easier said than done. It’s easy to be an armchair manager. And, if we’re honest we haven’t been performing on either a technical or mental level commensurate with our ability with any regularity for quite a while. Beating Liverpool is going to require us to find our DNA again and play with some purpose. If not. . . well you know the drill.