Match Preview: Arsenal v Liverpool; How to Beat Heavy Metal Football
PROJECT 24 is over. It fell 2 points short of it’s intended goal but the run of wins and one draw allowed Arsenal to more than make up for their two opening losses. It also allowed players to build a certain amount confidence which will be more than needed as the high-flying, gengenpressing, Liverpool come to the Emirates for Premier League Week 11.
Liverpool present a whole new challenge for Arsenal under Unai Emery. When we faced off against Manchester City and Chelsea in week’s 1 and 2. A lot of leeway was given because there were zero expectations coming in that early in the season.
Fast forward to this weekend and Liverpool present a measuring stick on how far we have progressed since those opening losses.
Liverpool will come in undefeated and allowing only 4 goals. Last season’s star, Mo Salah seems to be finding his groove and the comedy of errors that was their goalkeeping has been fixed with the acquisition of Allison.
Still, as formidable a challenge as it seems, Liverpool are not unbeatable.
There are two ways Emery could approach playing against Liverpool. The first would be very un-Arsenal and unlike Emery, the second more in line with his tactical philosophies.
Let ‘em have the ball
First, Liverpool as we all know are probably the best counter-attacking team in the league. They are set up to win the ball up high and take advantage of the overloads in the final third as quick as possible. They are not set up to be creative on the ball and unlock a team looking to play against them on the counter.
Last year an analysis of Liverpool showed that when Klopp’s team had 60% of the ball more in an away game they were less likely to win. In fact, that analysis showed that at one point in 6 away games they looked at, where Liverpool had their highest possession, the had won just one and lost three.
That continued deep into last season. In 9 Premier league games where Liverpool had 62% possession or more, they had won only two. Fighting against compact, defensively set up teams posses a problem for his men.
They had hoped to land Fekir to help them with this troubling trend but that didn’t happen. Keita might have been able to offer some ability to unlock troublesome defending, but he is out this week.
If Emery is looking to play on the counter, defensively he will set up as a 4-4-1-1 taking away the midfield and getting the team compact enough to negate passing through the middle, effectively keeping them wide and trying to play crosses into space. Its risky for Arsenal given our back line but it is a tactic that worked.
The Fluid Napoli Model
Another way to combat them is to take a look at how Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli played against them in the Champion’s League this year.
First, Napoli looked to deny Liverpool’s ability to play out of the back by pressing high in man-to-man situations. Like Barcelona of old, if Napoli could not win the ball back within a matter of seconds, the team dropped deep into a 4-4-2 medium block.
Additionally, when Liverpool did manage to break through the initial press, there was pressure from Koulibaly right on Salah, the initial look coming out of the back. While I don’t condone putting one of our centerbacks on Salah, Torreira needs to be given the assignment of looking to snuff out that first pass from the back line to someone in front three or midfield.
The game for Napoli was fluid and they changed from a 3-5-2 when attacking and a 4-4-2 defensively. It caused Liverpool all sorts of problems and the reality is I thought the Gli Azzurri should’ve walked away with more than a 1-0 win.
Some other notable options
Of course, there is the old tried and true more direct level of play, that worked against Klopp when he first arrived on the scene. He hated his first visit to the Emirates as he lamented the direct play to Giroud which allowed Arsenal to bypass the press and create chances quickly in the final third.
Then finally, there is the more dangerous approach – go 4-3-3 and match Liverpool man-for-man. Frankly, I am not sure my heart would stand this approach if it happened.
Playing Against the Gengenpress
For us with either of these tactical set ups, it depends on how Emery sets us up. He has shown a penchant from moving away from his favored 4-2-3-1 if the opponent warrants it. It will be interesting to see what he sees with Liverpool.
4-2-3-1 I like against a pressing team like Liverpool because of the midfield options it has as we try to play out of the back. Having the 2 deeper midfielders allows the Centerbacks to look centrally if they don’t have the wide options as that is where Liverpool looks first to deny passing options.
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 wide forward.
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 Milner behind a midfielder who may be playing off of Firminho’s cover. The other midfielders, typically Henderson/Keita and Wijnaldum 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.
However, once curious thing about Liverpool this year is that the press hasn’t nearly been as constant nor as “furious” as it was prior to this. Klopp has adjusted to the rigors of the league and with his stronger defense doesn’t always need to rely on the press to take on his opponents.
That could allow us time on the ball and allow us to get his back line. We have the attacking options and with the players we have in our front 4+ we can cause that team problems. Of course, it also depends on players showing up and the game not starting in the 2nd half.
If we start out slow and with poor technical work against Liverpool it isn’t going to really matter how we set up against them because they will hurt us and will be over before it starts.
Then there is the LB issue. . . oh why even bother. I am just going to pray we have something suitably planned.
I do believe Arsenal could win this game. They could also fail quite miserably. Truth be told I think this has a 2-2 draw all over it. And you know what I’ll take it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and any result isn’t an indictment on Emery’s progress so far. It just will show how far we still have to go in our quest to be considered challengers again.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Lucas Torreira. He’s got to be the pressure point in the Arsenal MF to deny Liverpool passing options.
Liverpool. Mo Salah. He started the season slowly but he is starting to come into form and an in form Salah should worry any team
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Guendouzi (suspension 1 of 1), Bellering (thigh – late fitness test), Sokratis (ankle – late fitness test), Elneny (hamstring), Monreal (hamstring), Kolasinac (hamstring – slight doubt), Mavropanos (groin), Koscielny (achilles)
Liverpool: Henderson (hamstring) Keita (hamstring) Oxlade-Chamberlain (ACL)
Form (Last 5):
Goals Scored Per Match
Arsenal: 2.00 (home average)
Liverpool: 1.60 (away average)
Goals Conceded Per Match
Arsenal: .80 (home average)
Liverpool: .60 (away average)
From the Manager (Courtesy Arsenal.com)
We want to write a new history. The new history is in the present and also, with our players, our quality and our capacity, I believe in my players and this project. We are starting this project with a very positive way with what we are doing. We are in our mentality that we also need to improve things but each match they are giving us a lot of information for improvement and development and I trust in my players.
I think each match is a very important match and each match for us is very important. The most important is tomorrow. It’s a very big test because it’s against Liverpool, they are a very good team, an intense team and they require a lot of work for us to battle them but I believe in our team and our players. We are also doing our way. Historically, they say there are a lot of goals in matches between Arsenal and Liverpool and the most important thing for us is that every supporter can enjoy this match. But we want to enjoy winning.
We want to not allow them to have or to do, in the 90 minutes, their jobs. With individual players and also their collective and tactical capacity. They are developing a lot with the goalkeeper because they build up on this work with Alisson and the centre-backs and the midfield players. They can progress on the pitch with a lot of quality, starting with Alisson. We need to do a big match in individual duels against them and also tactically, we need to be together and play with our capacity, identity and style and we need to impose on them. It’s difficult for 90 minutes to impose our style but in moments we need to impose our ideas and our style and this is the duel for 90 minutes.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Assistants: Scott Ledger, Simon Long
Fourth official: Michael Oliver
UK: BT Sport 17.30 GMT
US: NBC 1:30 PM EST
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
Liverpool have netted 17 times in their last five league games against Arsenal, scoring at least three times in each of those encounters.
- If the Reds score three or more on Saturday it will be the first time in their history they have done so in six consecutive top-flight games against a particular opponent – and the first time it has happened to Arsenal (against any side).
- Arsenal are winless in six Premier League meetings with Liverpool (D3, L3), their longest such run against them since a 12-game sequence from 1994 to 2000.
- The only previous managerial meeting between Unai Emery and Jurgen Klopp was the 2016 Europa League final, in which Emery’s Sevilla beat Liverpool 3-1.
- Three-quarters of Arsenal’s league goals this term have come in the second half (18 of 24).
- The Gunners are one of four teams who have yet to lead a Premier League game at half-time this season. Under Unai Emery they have been behind twice after 45 minutes and level eight times.
- Arsenal boast the highest shot conversion rate in the top flight this season, scoring 24.5% of their shots (excluding blocks).
- They have already scored five Premier League goals from outside the area under Emery – just one short of their final total for the 2017-18 campaign.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been directly involved in 22 goals in his 23 Premier League appearances with Arsenal, scoring 17 and assisting five.
Arsenal 2 – 2 Liverpool