Tactical points from Arsenal's disappointing defeat to Liverpool
Updated: Jan 22
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
At the end of the day, Arsenal did not deserve to win this match in the grand scheme of things. A very promising opening 15 minutes was cancelled out by a fantastic solo effort from Diogo Jota, and from there, the game was lost for a very young, albeit talented, Arsenal side.
Arsenal's early dominance was characterized by the typically chaotic opening period inherent in highly competitive football. The Gunners used their speed and youth to capitalize on the well-known weaknesses of Liverpool's near-seamless system, namely Alexander Arnold's struggles in isolated defending and the propensity of their centre-backs to push too high. A few near misses and an excellent free kick by Alexandre Lacazette highlighted this strategy.
Jota's first goal reversed the tide of the match, with Liverpool instilling their dominant high press and high backline to greater success, pinning Arsenal back.
Instead of retaliating, Arteta's side turned to a deeper-lying block in an attempt to stave off the Merseyside men, which led to Gabriel, Ramsdale, and White defaulting to long balls. They were often under-hit when played to Martinelli, which allowed Alexander-Arnold back into the game, and Van Dijk took on the personal responsibility of marking Bukayo Saka. As a result, Arsenal's main outlet balls struggled to find their targets.
Exacerbating this problem were Arsenal's deeper-lying midfielders. The young pairing of Sambi Lokonga and Ødegaard struggled to progress the ball through the lines of the midfield due to Liverpool's suffocating press. Henderson and Curtis Jones did an excellent job of hemming Lokonga deep and double-marking, while Fabinho rarely allowed Ødegaard to turn and run with the ball.
Because the team could not progress the ball effectively, they were forced to pin themselves to the flanks and try to create overloads, which interrupted their attacking momentum and made it difficult to circulate the ball in forward areas, meaning that any meaningful possession in the final third was either short-lived or ineffective.
Lacazette struggled to instill his false-9 role on the game. He looked fatigued, and struggled to lead the press generally after the 30th minute, but once Arsenal settled into their low block, his influence on the game diminished to the point of nonexistence. From there, he struggled to reestablish himself with any sort of consistency.
Mentality also played its own role in the match, with Arsenal's youthful backline struggling to stick to their tactical brief in the face of unrelenting pressure.
The introduction of Thomas Partey should have come earlier if Arteta intended for him to have a game-changing impact, as he looked promising early in his brief cameo, but the tide of the game was too advanced, and it got the better of him.
Eddie Nketiah's cameo was entirely ineffectual, and his inability to instill any sort of influence over the match has a bit to do with his tactical brief. At the moment, he's not being told to do much more than run around and hope for the best when he's introduced as a substitute.