Three Things We Learned From Arsenal v Liverpool; We’re Progressing
Heading into this match against Liverpool, punditry had remarked how the 13-game unbeaten run was impressive but we had to face of against any real “competition” yet. This match was going to be a true measuring stick of where Arsenal were and well, after the 1-1 draw, I’d say we have a better idea of where we are and how we are progressing under Unai Emery.
So, let’s take a bit of time shall we and look at the three things we learned about our impressive draw against Liverpool.
IMPORTANT MEASURING STICK OF PROGRESS
While I never buy into the narrative that we’ve only beaten “lesser” teams, there may be some validity to it in gaining an understanding of Arsenal’s progress. The fact is we can only play the teams that are on our schedule and that are in our league. And if the Premier League is the most competitive league in the world than no team truly should be considered “lesser.” Less fortunate? Maybe.
The fact though is that the players assembled at Arsenal have always been extremely talented and when the likes of Aubameyang and Mkhitarayan, were added our depth of Grade A talent rose. The problem has been prior to this year is getting the best out of the players we have and getting them prepared to play week in and week out.
Arsene Wenger used to say we’d see where the team is after 10-15 games. Well here we are 11 games in and I feel confident enough to say that the trajectory of the team is upward. On the opening two weekends we were still a team trying to find ourselves.
The defensive structure wasn’t there, the fluidity in play wasn’t there and Emery still had no idea who is best XI are.
While I still think Emery is still toying with his best XI – he’s close to landing on it. Certain components of the team are locked in like the Xhaka/Torreira tandem others are still sorting themselves out.
Overall though the progress the team is making under Emery has to be looked as impressive. Considering how disjointed we looked in the waning days of Arsene Wenger, I never suspected that the improvement we’d see would be this good so far.
Now let me pause and say I fully expect a rough patch to come upon us and the truer measuring stick will be how we handle it, but overall I am really impressed that what Emery is trying to get out of his players has taken hold.
I, like many Arsenal fans have been programmed over the last few years to expect the worst when facing off against the big sides and with how we’d been starting against sides lately, I was worried that Liverpool’s attack could jump on us early.
But we came out ready to attack Liverpool and in my humble assessment, Emery was winning the tactical battle early over Jurgen Klopp. Emery’s 4-2-3-1 dominated the battle on the field with the MF being especially dominant in its play.
Additionally, Emery must have found something in pre-game analysis that identified Alexnader-Arnold as a weak link defensively and that’s where we went to early and often.
The obvious worry was after playing so well to concede a silly goal like we did would’ve in the pass forced Arsenal to lower their heads and likely capitulate. But we didn’t.
Right after the goal was scored, I saw Mustafi’s reaction and it was positive and emotional. Trying to get the lads to get right back into it. And they nearly came right back into it with Torreira forcing a save from Allison almost immediately after the kick off.
The 1-1 draw feels like a fair result but I am going to be honest, I felt we deserved more. Yes, Liverpool posed a threat and the Mane goal called offsides could’ve had another effect had it been allowed. There were still errors – the less said about Leno coming out on the Van Dijik header the better. But overall, Arsenal look a different beast and I am eager to see us take on the likes of United and Tottenham because I think we can come away with all the points in those match ups.
11 games in and we definitely aren’t a fluke.
XHAKA AND TORREIRA – WOW!!
In the pre-game build up, I identified the importance of Torreira in allowing us to cut out Liverpool’s counter attack and to allow us to play out of the Liverpool high press. I should’ve amended that to Xhaka and Torreira.
The two of them allow each other to play their game and balance our midfield both offensively and defensively. It should not escape anyone’s eye on how positionally disciplined they both were in this match.
Be it on the ball or off the ball the pair were never too far from each other and offered support in front of the back to cut off any potential threats through the middle but when the back 4 was on the ball the pair floated in between the Liverpool front three to act as first or second options to break the press.
Their positional discipline also meant that if one was pushing high, the other sat a little deeper. The clearly bring out the best out of each other and while Torreira walked away with MOTM honors yesterday you could also make a case for Granit Xhaka.
Xhaka finished the game with more passes (47), more touches (59) more tackles (5) and more recoveries (9) in the first half alone than any other player on the pitch.
The are also a tenacious duo with Xhaka making a world class tackle to deny Salah who had broken past the full back who was pushed up too high. The run itself was amazing as well, let’s be honest there are turtles faster than Xhaka.
Torreira’s tenacity also got the spotlight as in the 33rd minute the Uruguyan not only made one impressive tackle to win the ball but second immediately after to set Arsenal free on the counter.
The two are a testament to the new work ethic being preached by Emery and they are slowly laying stake to the claim as the best deep lying midfield tandem in the league.
DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE ON DISPLAY.
If there was any thing indicative of the Arsenal of the recent past it was the haphazard, lack of structure our defense had. There was no communication, positional understanding seemed lacking and even the basics looked lost.
Fast forward to Saturday’s tie and well, the improvement should’ve been overtly obvious to even the casual observer.
First, shape was maintained. Especially with he midfield duo of Xhaka and Torreira offering support in front of Holding and Mustafi. Additionally, positional sense and understanding were on display as players were actively working to make sure players did not get inside them – something that happened far too often last year.
The team as a whole committed to the defensive system and when off the ball, if we didn’t win the ball up high, they got back to a 4-4-2 defensively looking for establish a line of confrontation just in front of the 18 – usually signified by Mustafi immediately stepping to whomever the Liverpool CF was with the ball at their feet.
Additionally, the press from the front was effective with less an effort to steer the man into further pressure but a concerted effort to confront the man on the ball high up the pitch and force bad decisions that could be won by the supporting Arsenal player.
All in all it was one of the best defensive performances we’ve seen and even with work left to do, should hold a glimpse of hope that our days of headless chicken defending are well in the past.
EXTRA TIME – EMERY’S BRASS BALLS
Emery has garnered praise for is substitutions but there were a few that were perplexed/worried about the move that brought Danny Welbeck on for Kolasinac and moved Iwobi back into the back four. However, the change not only in personnel but in shape (adjusted to a 4-4-2 in attack) allowed Lacazette to become free for the equalizer.
It often goes unnoticed at first glance but when you watch the match again, the Liverpool CBs now have to account for the two forwards. Both sitting in the gap between the two, Gomez misses the run of Lacazette and Van Dijik drops in to pick up Danny.
It’s Dannys slight movement back that forces Van Dijik to take a little step back and open up the goal to Lacazette’s shot. If Van Dijik doesn’t move he’s right in the path of the ball.
It was a gutsy sub that could’ve gone wrong but shows that the manager is managing the same way his team is playing – in confidence.