Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

Okay, from now on I’m limiting all predictions to ‘a draw or worse’ as far as big games are concerned. On a more serious note, I accept the comment which says it’s not good to say something like that when many fans visiting a blog want to believe. Not that I’m going to change my opinions, but there certainly are better ways to articulate a point, or three. That the article was written after a whole day of driving to attend a funeral (someone in the extended family, not very close to me personally) cannot be an excuse.

Anyway, let’s start the discussion on the game that was a very good performance from the Gunners resulting in an important win that goes some way in countering the questions raised by defeats against Dortmund and Chelsea. Nevertheless, as I’ve mentioned often, such wins have to be way more common than defeats or draws if the Gunners have to sustain serious title hopes over the course of the season.

At the moment, that is not the case – partly because the side hasn’t played that many big games, and the next few games will tell us more – so we can’t really read too much into a win of this nature, however enjoyable it is from a personal point of view as a fan.

Most analyses  and opinions that I’ve read after the match have done the typical spin-most-things-in-favour-of-winners routine. To me, this was a game which showed why Arsenal consistently finish in the top four despite challenges from various clubs and even when many people write them off, but it was also one which showed why the Gunners haven’t really won anything.

In many ways, Wenger’s side had actually played better in the game they’d lost against Dortmund than they did in this one. That doesn’t mean Arsenal were poor in this game – remember, this isn’t an either-or state where a team is either very good or very bad – but they were certainly a tad lucky at times.

Against Dortmund, for instance, the Gunners were punished on both occasions when they were sloppy. In this game, they got away with six instances for one reason or another. Henderson’s run in the first half, Atkinson stopping a quick restart, the two lapses in concentration by Szczesny and Mertesacker towards the end, Suarez’s run in the 49th minute, and the Suarez shot that grazed the upright.

In the recent past, Arsenal’s ability to minimize quality chances for opponents has been impressive but that was not the case in this game. In fairness, given the individual qualities of Suarez and Sturridge, this was always going to be one of the tougher tests in that regard.

The patterns of play varied as the game went on. There were four long balls in the opening minute as both sides pressed up the pitch and neither got control of possession. Liverpool settled in quicker as the Gunners were perhaps a bit tentative. But the interesting part was that the visitors dropped back into their own half very early in the game, probably in the first five minutes or so.

Instead of pressing on the centre line or inside the Arsenal half, Rodgers’ side were trying to remain compact a good 10 yards or so inside their own half. This was a major tactical win for the Gunners, founded on their obvious technical superiority, and it meant transitions were always going to be that much less dangerous due to the time it would take to turn over.

Even when Henderson broke forward, if you look closely, it seems that the three defensive Arsenal players were keen on protecting a passing opportunity towards Suarez or Sturridge instead of stopping the midfielder’s run from so far out. Mertesacker stayed wide with the Uruguayan while Koscielny stayed towards the Englishman. There was a big gap between the two central defenders but even then Arteta, too, was positioned in the passing channel towards Sturridge.

This worked well for the Gunners in that instance as Sagna had the time to chase back and force a rushed shot. But a better player advancing forward would have caused serious trouble. In fact, one could even argue that the lack of quality behind Suarez and Sturridge was consistently exposed by Arsenal and highlighted technical weaknesses within Liverpool ranks that affected their attacking options and ability to control the ball. This worked in Arsenal’s favour throughout the game.

Liverpool’s formation was part of their problem as it was not suited to pressing higher up the pitch because the wing-backs could not come inside to track Arsenal’s wide players constantly going narrow and swapping positions with other midfielders. The Gunners scored when they bypassed an ineffective pressing attempt. When Arteta received the ball there were five Liverpool players pretty high up inside the Arsenal half. But their pressing lacked cohesion and the Spaniard was able to advance down the pitch with relative ease. Sagna, too, was able to break forward into space while Cazorla came into the box unmarked.

There was an element of luck in this goal for the Gunners as the ball could have deflected anywhere from the upright but it came into Cazorla’s path. Then again, it can be argued that Arsenal made their own luck by exploiting space with appreciable coordination and precision.

Arsenal’s midfield dominance was also seen in the numerous combination plays that led to shots on target or near misses with the final ball lacking quality. Their wing-backs stayed so wide they were hardly useful while Lucas and Gerrard had a hard time in front of the flat back three. This is where Rodgers’ reluctance to play Agger is very surprising as he is someone who can step up to make a difference but that’s only a minor side note in this analysis.

The visitors improved in the second half with the introduction of Coutinho for Cissokho as they got one more body in the midfield and their defence was spread out more efficiently. The Brazilian was erratic but his passing did get more out of the attackers, particularly Suarez.

It’s not a surprise most of Liverpool’s quality moments came in the second half and they looked a much better team in that period.

Even then the Gunners had their own spells on counter-attacks – Giroud could have done better on a couple of occasions – and continued working impressive combinations involving three or more players. If anything, I was a little disappointed Arsenal didn’t have more efficiency in their attack as they could have scored four!

Ramsey’s goal was a bit special and reflective of his current form. The way he waited for the ball to drop perfectly instead of snatching at the opportunity was a sign of confidence and composure. Liverpool’s inability to close him down despite the waiting period betrayed their structural and individual weaknesses.

Ultimately, the game ended 2-0 but it could easily have been a 2-2 draw or a 4-2 for the Gunners depending on either team’s efficiency.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Didn’t have too many saves to make – somewhat fortunately – but did well to go wide and snuff out the angle on a couple of occasions. Again lacked judgment when coming for a couple of crosses and almost handed the ball on a plate to Sturridge. Can he do better with his long kicks?

Sagna: Excellent run and cross for the goal (It was probably the only cross the Gunners were successful with). Good recovery pace and did well to force Henderson’s error, but one might argue he could have sensed the danger a little sooner. Didn’t see as much of the ball as he usually does but was quite judicious in possession. Same can be said about his positioning and choices.

Mertesacker: Often got into very good positions in the box to cut out danger. I liked the way he stayed with Suarez when Henderson was charging forward. Provided stability and calmness at the back. Lucky that his late giveaway wasn’t punished and that remains the only blemish in an otherwise impressive performance.

Koscielny: A lot more aggressive and busier than his partner. It was interesting to see him get tight to the strikers a lot more often and was largely successful in denying them space. But there were two or three occasions when the strikers got the better off him – Sturridge left him on his backside in the first half, Suarez produced an audacious moment to run in behind in the 49th min – and that could have been costly on another day. Passing was very limited but completely reliable.

Gibbs: Probably did enough to deflect that Suarez shot onto the post. Also well positioned when Henderson shot over the bar. Strong defensive game, although did benefit from having a weak opponent in Flanagan. Chose his attacking moments wisely but he can do better with the final ball or choice in a crowded space.

The defenders had a good game and covered well for each other. The full-backs were cautious with their positioning and rarely left the central defenders on their own, which was important against such quality attackers. For instance, when Sturridge went past Koscielny, Gibbs was there to put pressure on him. They did so without compromising attacking intent, which led to a well-balanced performance that gave Arsenal a tactical edge. The central defenders, for their part, were mostly very good at closing the attackers down. Mertesacker might not have made many tackles, but his positioning often broke opportunities down.

Despite that, the five percent or so time when they had a drop could have resulted in a couple of goals for Liverpool and that is something they have to tighten up on, particularly in big games. The truly big teams do not give opponents a sniff.

Arteta: Saw a lot of the ball and was again exceptional on and off it. Easily the MotM in my opinion. Superb defensive support and showed why Wenger calls him the technical leader in a side blessed with such gifted individuals in midfield. Very good at choosing the direction and timing of his passes as well as movement. Provided the foundation for the players in front to shine on.

Özil: Really enjoying his work rate and ability to blend in as just another very good midfielder instead of a prima donna through whom everything must flow. Also love the way he just waits and shift the ball slightly or alters his body position to thread the proverbial eye of the needle. That ability helped with the assist for the Ramsey goal. Had a couple of decent chances to score and shooting remains one of the major areas of improvement. There are moments when he doesn’t seem happy and I cannot quite understand if it’s limited to a mistake by someone or something deeper.

Ramsey: Outstanding goal. Top level work rate. Many very good touches in the attacking areas as he linked beautifully with other more highly rated technicians. But in those areas you could also see room for improving his efficiency, which could make him a seriously scary prospect for opponents.

Cazorla: Very well taken goal, particularly like the way he maintained his concentration after the header and placed the shot intelligently to avoid Skrtel and Mignolet. Created a very good chance for Giroud and work rate was pretty good including some useful defensive moments.

Rosicky: His combinations with others were a delight to watch. Started early with the first shot on target and was involved with many attacking moves. Filled into central roles seamlessly when others moved around the pitch.

All five midfielders played more passes than any of Arsenal’s defenders. That doesn’t happen very often. But in this game it showed two things – the defenders were cautious and focussed on their job of keeping quality attackers quiet, and the midfield took responsibility to establish Arsenal’s dominance through technical superiority. The intelligence with which they interchanged positions without leaving any area truly exposed from a defensive point of view is worth appreciating.

Arsenal will trouble most teams if they can consistently produce attacking moves that involve four or five players. But Liverpool’s lopsided shape was also responsible for the space available to the Gunners so we have to see whether they can retain such offensive quality and defensive balance against even stronger opponents.

Giroud: At this rate he will end the season as the most useful all-round striker in the big European leagues. Not the best goalscorer – again showed he can improve on that front – or the most prolific creator per se, but someone who gets involved at various stages and constantly helps the team function better as a unit. Useful presence in the box when defending set-pieces as well.

Subs: Monreal was reliable in possession and combined well in attacking areas, Vermaelen and Jenkinson had limited time on the pitch.

Wenger: It was good to see more caution from the full-backs. Good defensive layering. The central defenders were also constantly aware of the threat posed by the opposing strikers and focussed their efforts on minimizing those. I don’t know how much of this was a result of conscious decisions taken by the manager and his staff and what part was simply the players knowing what to do. Some of the pressure is eased with that win but it is by no means enough. Bigger tests await and, as he said, the team cannot afford to take a little breather.


28 Responses to Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

  1. Frisky says:

    Brilliant article… The best analysis I have come across! Thank you Desi

  2. red cannon says:

    Good analysis Desi. A little less detailed than usual but good all the same. A year ago, Ramsey was trashed by many; Mertesacker was said to be too slow, Gibbs not good enough…blah, blah. Watching these and other key players on our team, you can’t help but admire the .manager who held on to them and believed in them; maybe this season will prove what many have always said…Arsene knows!

  3. Henry Root says:

    Very good summary as ever. I was at the game and felt we were by some distance the better side but we did ride our luck in the second half. Arteta was the best player in my view and Rosicky was excellent while he was on( and Cazorla did well after he replaced him) One difference this season is Arsenal are shooting more from distance rather than trying to walk the ball into the net . Also agree re Giroud. His hold- up play and work rate were superb.

  4. Frisky says:

    The fear was that the loss of Flamini might weaken the home side, but Arteta for the most part had a much-improved game. I wonder if the knowledge that there is genuine competition for the two positions behind Ozil is making him re-think his game.’ He was one of our best players last year, his performance was no surprise

  5. PW says:

    Wenger signing Ozil has had more of an effect in the players’ minds than on the pitch. I am not saying that Ozil has not been influential in games (he is one of the most intelligent players I have ever seen), but that’s what a marquee signing does to a club. Now the Arsenal players play with a belief about themselves. They have been reinvigorated and rejuvenated.

    Moreover, its good to see that Wenger didn’t succumb to pressure from the outside world. He stuck to his footballing philosophy and bought a player which only enhances Arsenal’s playing style. Ozil has brought panache and elegance to a team that already possessed these attributes. And with the likes of Flamini, Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla & Wilshere, Arsenal’s midfield (despite their lack of physicality) looks formidable enough to outplay and outclass any EPL team with their free-flowing & creative nature of football.

    Some might argue that Arsenal still need a world-class replacement for van Persie, but Olivier Giroud is on fire!! Arsenal’s new talisman has been in top form this season, with 5 goals and 4 assist. Plus with Walcott as well as Podolski slowly regaining fitness, Arsenal will have enough attacking options at their disposal.

    But the next couple of games should tell us whether Arsenal are ready to end their 8-year trophy drought. They take on Borussia Dortmund away in a Champions League tie on Wednesday. And then the clash against United at OT has been set as a marker for their title aspirations. If they can come out with positive results from these two games, then the road should be smooth for the current table toppers.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Football-Wars/179678092221501

  6. Adamu anjugu says:

    I love your blog so much, but please can you cut that negative in your post. I mean, limited my prediction to draw or worse? I dont like it please

  7. Dana F. says:

    That was a fun game to watch. Is it just me or is Arsenal the only team that seems like they actually enjoy playing together?

    Imagine if man city had that camaraderie and managerial continuity, they would rip up europe.

  8. Sandy says:

    I started reading this hiding for a nice inspiring review of the game but stopped a few lines in.

    Yes we made a few errors that on an other day Liverpool may have converted but the simple fact is they didn’t.

    We also made several other chances above and beyond those that we scored so if we winner of a football match was based on goals AND chances then we still would have won.

    More possession, more tackles, more passes, more chances, more goals… that is why we won.

    “But a better player advancing forward would have caused serious trouble” it wasn’t a better, it was Henderson and they didn’t score.

    “but it could easily have been a 2-2 draw or a 4-2 for the Gunners depending on either team’s efficiency” It was 2-0 end of story. Why is it every time you say something positive about the performance it is nearly always followed by a ‘but’.

    I did a search of the amount of times you used ‘but’ in this blog…. and embarrassing 24 times. (I accept some of them may be in a positive context)

    There are no buts about it, we played better and made them look average. Mistakes were made by both teams BUT we dominated in every aspect of the game and that is why we won!!

    • Genius Arteta says:

      If it was only about what actually happened like the chances actually converted and missed, reading the scoreline would be enough. The whole point of a technical analysis is to understand the whole process and not just the actual event alone. In case you want to stick only with what happened, here is a technical analysis for you –
      Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool. Arsenal score two and Liverpool none
      Period

      • santori says:

        I think what Desi is trying to convey is that as good as we were, we were not technically close to perfect yet and there is plenty of room for improvement.

        OTOH, this was a top drawer game against very dangerous opponents regardless of the tactical fumble by Mr Rodgers.

        Suarez alone created two gilt edge chances for himself that likely another player on the ball would have not.

        That we limited his influence and that of his striking partner speaks volumes of the concentration level and overall organization at the back.

        Time again, we caught their set pieces out with a defensive high line, full in the knowledge that this was the best way to defeat the accuracy of the Gerrard deliveries but sufficiently well executed not to leave us red faced.

        Organization was key and we were better organized this time round (barring the Henderson scare…fortunately it was him) not to be dragged out of position by either Sturridge or Suarez.

        Easy to say that we could have been punished but agree with some of the posters that we played well enough (particularly in defense) to negate their threat. Had we put in our more numerous efforts, it would have still been a greater margin.

        Where I would very much agree with Desi though is that we will be facing better opportunity in Dortmund who will capitalize on the faults displayed against Liverpool (however minor). We will need to tighten up further.

        Arteta was immense.

    • brins says:

      You missed the point here…writing the analysis based on a general euphoria is easy, just like joining the ‘sack ‘wenger’ or Ramsey is rubbish (an easy to spot comment from last years archives) reactions..Desi is perfectly dissecting the pieces with his brain rather than his heart and that is the basis of the comment “we had played better against dortmund, but still lost”..there are flaws in our game which needs to be rectified, until we can claim to be in the top…I dont think letting Hendersen run with the ball was down to defenders knowing ‘this guy is crap’..
      the difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a great analysis is that the latter is not dependent on the end product..as simple as that..

    • jcloud says:

      Why bother reading and commenting then?

    • kinasuki says:

      I feel the “but” was essential to a good analysis.. It shows that he isnt blinded by the end result, and can see clearly where it could go wrong (and probably be improved upon) against other teams of equal calibre.

  9. Goon sailing says:

    I also noticed Ozil looking unhappy and frustrated a couple of times… My theory is that he is not as fit as the others and not used to the pace of EPL yet… As a result he is in the “red” a lot.. By that I mean tired… Brain has less oxygen and temper is raised… Reminds me of Zidane… I think Wenger plays him 90 minutes each time to improve his fitness… Ozil is a guy who was often subbed off my Mourinho in the past 2 years… Wenger wants him to get to the next level through fitness..

  10. santori says:

    I mentioned last season that we were attempting to play a fluid system ahead of the midfield holding pair.

    That this system was very difficult to get right but that when perfected, it is nigh impossible to defend against.

    We are starting to see the fruition of our efforts (and falls) last season, not least as well with the addition of Ozil.

    No surprise that we were playing with literarily 5 playmakers in midfield. Ramsey for Wales, Ozil for Germany, Rosicky for Czech Republic, you can argue that although Santi nor Arteta are their country’s respective playmakers, that they would waltz into any other team in the world as one.

    Our midfield creativity is very strong at the moment where we may lack a bit of direct players in Walcott, Ox or Gnabry 9for that matter Podolski)

    And the fact that Wenger has bought Ozil (and Santi) testifies to his desire to have the ability for the midfield to switch flanks at will.

    A hear chart of Santi I saw in another blog shows him popping up pretty much all over the pitch (as ditto Ramsey)

    In this instance, our own fullbacks were crucial in balancing out with some width. Indeed both Sagna and GIbbs did an excellent job (Sagna in particular with the ball in to Santi)

    What I like about this midfield set at the moment is that they are playing as a collective (particularly when we lose possession and they have to defend)

    Those slick passes may only be the beginning of better things to come and I do think Ozil realises that, therefore was a little frustrated when some of the moves did not produce the final touch.

    A great win for us and 5 points clear a welcome result. I certainly felt elated as I was expecting a draw the likely outcome in this one.

    As it was, Rodger’s revolution has shown its faults. The peloton is closing in around Liverpool and I think a lot of teams will take note on our ability to negate SAS. If they aren’t careful, they will start to slide off sooner than later with the chasing pack smelling blood.

  11. arsonwenger says:

    Good analysis on Arsenal Player with Adrian Clarke. You can log on to Arsenal Player this season for free.

    A whopping 31 tackles by the team all over the pitch would suggest we were highly organized and that contributed largely to negating the sharp end of Liverpool.

    Arteta had an impressive game and was imperious but our spacing for the large part was also immaculate.

    Too easy to say that we were lucky alone. I think we were more than good for the win.

  12. Snir Geuli says:

    The Atkinson failing to allow a quick free kick cannot be included in the “getting lucky” portion.

    The rules state that once a referee has blown for a foul and decided to brandish a yellow card, he must delay the restart of play until the yellow is issued.

    Page 122 in 2013-2014 Fifa’s laws of the game.

    • desigunner says:

      I disagree because such an opinion results from taking the words literally without considering the spirit of the law.

      The entire purpose of Sagna’s foul was tactical – to break down a promising attack. For that he should be booked if his attempt is successful.

      But the laws promote attacking play. The whole concept of playing advantage comes from that spirit. So if the opponent who is fouled can get up and restart play to his team’s advantage, the entire purpose of Sagna’s foul fails and thus there is no need to book him.

      Any good referee who understands the spirit of the law will wait to see if there is advantage – and Suarez was very quick to react – before ‘deciding to issue a yellow card’ for breaking up an attack. By stopping play and booking Sagna, Atkinson actually helped make his foul successful! Therefore, what Atkinson did was dumb but, unfortunately, very typical of the decisions many referees make who don’t seem to understand the concept of advantage and the spirit of the laws.

      • Snir Geuli says:

        While it does not promote attacking play it is still the law and holding an opponent mandates a booking (page 120), so Atkinson has no discretion. He must issue a yellow card. Since he already whistled for the foul as soon as Suarez fell to the ground and held the ball, he must delay the restart until he issues the yellow card.

      • desigunner says:

        No, holding an opponent does not mandate a booking. Preventing him for getting into an advantageous position does. This is on page 118 of the laws (120 of the pdf file). Under sanctions, one of the bullet points is,
        – No further disciplinary action must be taken in other situations of holding an opponent

        So there are other situations and there is room for discretion. There has to be. It would be senseless to make holding an opponent a bookable offence which mandated a booking and brought about a stoppage in play. Imagine a situation where a striker chips the goalkeeper from the halfway line. It’s clear the ball is going into goal. Also, a defender is in the process of holding and pulling the striker down just as he was about to kick but he is late and the chip has been executed. Should the ref blow his whistle and book and opponent while the ball is flying towards the goal with a realistic chance of going in?

        The point is, the act of holding, in and of itself, is not the big problem. The big problem comes when it prevents an attack from developing. Sometimes it clearly prevents an attack from developing, on other occasions there is room for playing advantage.

        The other possibility is that this is seen as impeding the progress of an opponent rather than holding an opponent. Even then the law never states that a booking is mandatory.

        The ref had the choice to play an advantage. He didn’t make it. It was a bad decision.

  13. jeff says:

    Ozil-Tom-Santi will scare any opposition i guess.. so good that i almost forget ox,theo n pod.. haha.. bunch of creativity and endless switch… and i must say for the first time,after some time,i feel confident ahead of MU game..

    • kinasuki says:

      Once Walcott is fit tho.. get use to see him again on the right instead of the trio of TRock + Ozil + Cazorla. Because while he is clearly inferior to those 3 in terms of what we are doing right now, he bring another facet to our team play and 1 worthy enough to demand inclusion.

  14. Right Cross says:

    Excellent again Desi,

    I guess Ozil is inflicted with the same unhappiness with sloppiness that you are.

    Let’s hope you both keep searching for perfection and entertaining/teaching us while Arsenal find perfection in Trophies.

  15. Shiv says:

    interesting perspective, Desi G.
    thought we really outplayed Liverpool in all areas. I can’t remember Gerard give a worse performance, largely down to the electric pace of our own passing and general dominance of the midfield.
    Santola’s technique while taking his goal was amazing. earlier I wondered when our players would pull the trigger rather than pass. with santi it’s the opposite. perhaps he’s too trigger happy.
    I too noticed MsO throwing his hands in the air – are the players still not on the same plane for what he thinks is an easy give and go. or are couple of guys are not giving him the pass deliberately ?
    OG has been immense. so much so that I feel the team has started playing the long ball rather than pass the ball out of defence.

  16. Amruts says:

    I like the way you keep it real. But I think many have missed a crucial aspect of our game against Liverpool. The pace at which we moved the ball was slightly higher than what we have been doing before. We can check that tonight again. I think that was the key and we rendered their midfield useless.

    The 2nd aspect which I have been pondering about and you mentioned it here, Ozil still doesn’t look happy. Could it be the way he ended his tenure at madrid ? He still keeps talking about it. Or that he is a bit tired with pace in English game ? No idea but cannot wait for him to be performing at his peak

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