Tactical Points from Arsenal’s hilarious victory over Liverpool
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
An incredibly ‘unArsenal’ performance, but one which very much highlights the much-needed cultural rebuild that’s happening at the club under Mikel Arteta:
Formation wise, it was a very interesting setup with Arteta using Pepe and Nelson as traditional wingers rather than as inverted wingers. The main tactic to beat Liverpool which has been used by a few teams is to attack the space behind the fullbacks. And relatively, Alexander-Arnold is not that good defensively compared to Robertson. So, Pepe lining up on the left was to focus attacks down their right flank.
Defensively, similar to the City game, Arsenal always got bodies behind the ball centrally, forcing Liverpool down the sides and then dealt with the crosses into the box. Almost all games against Klopp’s Liverpool over the last few years have been littered with individual errors and players going AWOL in terms of positional discipline, so maintaining structure was crucial to prevent conceding any goals.
Despite starting poorly on the ball, Arsenal always kept their shape and pressed in midfield as much as possible. The only time they lost shape in the first half, they ended up conceding the goal. Cedric lost out aerially to Robertson, which forced a shift in personnel and the structure was lost, leaving Mane unmarked.
Salah doesn’t drop deep much to receive the ball and numbers behind the ball always crowded him out, which left the main threat coming down our right flank. Mane drops deep to receive the ball so maintaining positional discipline was crucial there. If the centre-back in the three follows him out, then the likes of Robertson and Wijnaldum run into the space left behind causing an overload, so cutting out the pass is important. If the centre-back maintains position, then he is forced to defend a 1-on-1, being very careful not to dangle a leg or a tackle. Aside from the goal, the trio of Cedric, Torreira and Holding handled the opposition’s movement down the right very well.
Recognising when to press has become a major part of Arteta’s gameplan and the two gifts from Liverpool demonstrated this well. From being alert to deep throw-ins in the opponent’s half, to latching on to slack passes from the goalkeepers throughout the game shows how the team is improving without the ball.
While Martinez has been really strong in terms of catching crosses and commanding the area along with some great saves, his distribution in this game was unusually poor. I have seen a lot of comments about him being better than Leno and that Arsenal should sell Leno, but all that is just ridiculous. Aside from a few long passes in the first couple of games, Arsenal have not played out from the back much since he’s been in the side. Granted, we’ve faced some high-pressing sides over the last few weeks, but Leno’s distribution with both feet has been sorely missed along with his calmness on the ball when pressed. If the centre-backs and midfielders were marked from the goal-kick, Leno could pick out either the full-back or wing-back to break the first line of press and progress forward.
When building up with 3 at the back, the 2 wider centre-halves stand on the sides of the penalty box while the third defender is at the edge of the box which allows the midfielders to position themselves wider and link up with the wing-backs. Against Liverpool, Luiz was forced to stand next to Martinez to progress the ball, which takes out one centre-back from the build-up and leaves the wing-backs with no passing options but to hit the ball long. With a lack of an aerial presence upfront, it just leaves the team with no attacking outlet and brings on more pressure.