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Post Match Review

How Arsenal Masterfully Handled Liverpool – Tactical Analysis

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Following on from Arsenal’s North London Derby defeat, Arsenal had a chance for redemption. Newly appointed Premier League champions Liverpool, came to the Emirates off the back of a 1-1 draw against Burnley.

Thankfully for Arsenal fans, Mikel Arteta and his men ran out 2-1 winners against Jurgen Klopp’s champions, denying Liverpool a season where they could attain a record points haul.

This report will analyse and breakdown the interesting encounter.

Formations

 

Arsenal Outclass Liverpool

Arsenal lined up in a 3-4-3, once again. Presumably ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, Arteta chose to rest Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Dani Ceballos, placing them on the bench. Alexandre Lacazette started at striker, with Nicolas Pepe to his left and Reiss Nelson to his right. Lucas Torreira also came back into the side, as did Rob Holding. Keiran Tierney replaced Sead Kolasinac at left-sided centre back and Bukayo Saka played as a left wingback.

Jurgen Klopp named a strong line-up. He chose to give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a run out against his former team. Klopp started Trent Alexander-Arnold, who had been rested in recent matches. Xherdan Shaqiri was on the bench, after suffering an injury-hit season.

Aggressive Press

Both teams had a shared plan to press aggressively in the face of their opponents, however they had differing rationales for the press. Arsenal pressed high, constantly pressurising from the inside out. Arteta’s plan was to deny Liverpool the opportunity to switch play and play their infamous channel balls. This enabled Arsenal to remain tight and compact in midfield, whilst being safe from a switch of play. This also helped Arsenal to nullify the high positions of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. By applying pressure such as this, it made it hard for Liverpool to angle long raking passes, instead encouraging short horizontal balls to feet. This enabled Arsenal to greatly frustrate and stifle Liverpool’s biggest avenue of attack. As well as this, it allowed Arsenal to anticipate passes and capitalise on loose balls.

Liverpool’s press, was typical of their playing style. It was designed to rattle Arsenal and force mistakes. Liverpool approached the Arsenal players from behind, preventing them from turning and having space, upon receiving the ball. The duration of every pass Arsenal made, was a cue for the Liverpool team to push up. This made it hard for Arsenal to retain the ball, even when they had numerical superiority. Furthermore, it rushed the Arsenal defenders into forcing their passes forward. Liverpool looked to press through their front three taking up narrow balanced positions. They shut down passes through to the Arsenal midfielders. This allowed them to pressurise the Arsenal centre backs when they were on the ball and shut off options.

Arsenal masterfully outclass Liverpool

This image shows Robertson having to pass square to Gini Wijnaldum. This is because rather than show Liverpool wide and protecting the inside, as many opponents do, Arsenal choose to approach the Liverpool players at an angle which discouraged long passes and channel balls. This image in particular, shows Cedric approaching Robertson square. He doesn’t allow the angle for Robertson’s usual channel ball, forcing him inside. Arsenal then apply great pressure through Torriera on Wijnaldum, Xhaka on Mane (who had come deep) and Lacazette on Fabinho. Nelson was the spare on man.

Arsenal’s build-up

Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah, all look to press narrow when teams build-up. Liverpool’s midfielders then cover the wider positions. Arsenal looked to bypass Liverpool’s press through building up with a more traditional back four setup. Tierney and Cedric slotted into fullback positions, whilst Saka and Lacazette played more narrow. This made it harder for the Liverpool midfielders and fullbacks to know who to track, with Arsenal at times creating a 4v3, out wide. Pepe and Nelson took up the positions of narrow strikers and Granit Xhaka and Torreira were at the base. The shape looked somewhat like a 4-2-2-2. What this meant for Arsenal, was that they could create numerical superiority or equality centrally and out wide. They could then open up the width of the pitch for well-timed attacks.

More commonly down the left with Tierney, Arsenal were able to bring the ball out of defence and overload Liverpool’s right. Arteta knew that with Fabinho’s positioning protecting Alexander-Arnold, that it was not possible to directly expose Alexander-Arnold, so rather looked to combinations and off the ball runs to progress the ball either in field or beyond Liverpool’s defensive shape. When in these positions, Tierney found himself with plenty of time and space on the ball and could use his excellent delivery to cross or switch play.

Arsenal masterfully outclass Liverpool

This image shows Arsenal in a 4v4 near the side-line. Tierney brings the ball out of defence and helps Arsenal construct an attacking pattern. Both Alexander-Arnold and Fabinho are worried about Saka’s run and protect the channel, rather than close down Tierney. This affords the Scot time and space on the ball. Pepe was always looking for that ball over the top of the Liverpool defence. Liverpool’s defence had to drop back to track these runs and therefore opened space between the lines.

Lacazette’s Marking Job

Lacazette and the second-half substitute Joe Willock, performed a crucial task on marking Fabinho and Wijnaldum. Largely the man-marking job was done on Fabinho, with Arsenal ensuring Liverpool’s man was not available for a pass. Mikel Arteta and his coaches were fully aware that when Liverpool are in possession, either one of Fabinho and Wijnaldum, are the players who offer themselves as safe passing options, and allow Liverpool to switch the play towards an uncongested area of the pitch or retain possession. Often from throw-ins, Fabinho is the spare man who times his movement to perfection after a set move and finds himself free to receive and aid his team.  As well as this, Wijnaldum in particular, is adept at making late runs into the penalty area or receiving in diagonal or vertical channels/pockets.

Again, this was a major reason for Arteta altering the teams shape to a 4-2-2-2. Arsenal could congest the space for Liverpool’s midfielders and track their runs. It also allowed Arsenal’s wingbacks to track Liverpool’s fullbacks and Arsenal’s midfield and defenders to coordinate marking the front three’s runs and Firmino’s favoured pockets of space.

Arsenal masterfully outclass liverpool

This image shows Arsenal’s midfield and attack, forming a 4-2-2-2 formation. This formation allowed Arsenal to control and manage Liverpool’s front three and midfielders. Its noticeable how deep Lacazette is, staying close to Fabinho and Wijnaldum. Nelson supports Pepe. Saka’s narrow birth, allows Tierney space to overlap into, down the left.

The Goals

Sadio Mane, Arsenal’s kryptonite, scored yet again in this fixture. Liverpool’s high press and pure aggression, caused Arsenal a few early problems. After a clash with Robertson, Cedric was out of position. This allowed Liverpool to create a 3 v 2. Third man running and quick combination play saw Robertson get beyond the Arsenal defensive line and square the ball to Mane.  It was a typical Liverpool goal. Catching you short of numbers and executing well-timed runs, off the ball.

Against Tottenham, Arsenal lost the game thanks to careless mistakes. Five days on, they get vindication and punish Liverpool’s, to clinically take the three points. Van Dijk’s poor back pass was yielded through Arsenal’s aggressive pressing application, with Nelson legally forcing a poor pass from Van Dijk. Lacazette who has been in fine form, expertly went around Alisson and found the back of the net. It was again Arsenal’s great coordination in the press and reading of a throw-in, which prevented Liverpool in being able to free a player on the ball. Alisson proceeded to rush his clearance and Nelson calmly scores after a great interception and pass from Lacazette.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mikel Arteta made some big tactical calls, which considering how little time the team had to prepare, was executed very impressively. Despite Liverpool having a great deal of possession and shots, Arsenal managed to constantly apply great pressure on the ball and close down shooting angles and block shots. Both Arsenal goals were symptomatic of high pressing, aggression and intelligence in reading the game. Arsenal’s players showed real bravery and commitment to follow Arteta’s tactical instructions. This is something, Arteta should be really proud of.

This performance was really impressive from Arsenal. They could have easily fallen apart after going behind, however Arteta kept them fighting and his tactics were executed perfectly. The high pressure caused the mistakes for the goals, but also counteracted many of Liverpool’s most threatening tropes. The defence seemed much stronger for Arsenal, with great organisation. Individual mistakes still plague the side, however, hopefully this can be corrected in the coming transfer window.

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