Image from http://www.thisisanfield.com/2017/03/photos-best-pictures-liverpools-3-1-win-arsenal/

Liverpool Beat Arsenal, Move to Third

Liverpool emerged as comfortable 3-1 winners against Arsenal on Saturday. Goals from Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Giorgino Wijnaldum helped the Reds to victory while the Gunners scored a consolation goal through Danny Welbeck.

Lineups:

Liverpool
Arsenal

Danny Welbeck picked up his first Premier League start of the season while Alexis Sanchez was relegated to the bench for only the second time in the league in a surprising move by Arsene Wenger.

Play-by-Play:

First Half

The game began perfectly for Liverpool as their high pressure and quick passing resulting in a breakthrough within 10 minutes.

A Mignolet goal kick missed the headers of both Koscielny and Firmino but found Coutinho 35 yards from goal who laid it off for Lallana. The Englishmen played the ball through to Sadio Mane on the right flank just on the corner of the box. He steadied himself and sent a low ball across the box which could have been a poor shot or a good cross. The ball went through Coutinho’s legs and found an unmarked Firmino on the edge of the 6-yard box who finished it into the roof of the goal.

The half continued with Liverpool domination as their pressing and interplay was too much for the Arsenal midfield and defense to handle. There weren’t too many chances generated but the ball did spend most of its time around the Arsenal box.

In the 29th minute Cech kept the deficit to one goal after saving Coutinho’s snap shot high up to his right. Frustration began to build for Arsenal as Coquelin picked up a booking in the 34th minute for hacking down Lallana after he stole the ball from the Frenchman. Less than 6 minutes later, Liverpool doubled their lead through a fantastic team effort finished by Mane.

Doubling their lead

The move began on the left touchline with Milner requiring some luck to get past Chamberlain before playing it to Wijnaldum on the edge of the box. The Dutchman played it first time to Firmino on his right who found Mane completely unmarked in the right side of the box. Mane powered in the second goal low to Cech’s right for his 12th Premier League goal of the season.

Arsenal nearly with a 3 goal deficit 4 minutes later in the 44th minute. Lallana attempted to chip the ball into the box but his pass took a fortuitous deflection which elevated it even further while taking some speed off the ball. It found its way into the path of an unmarked Coutinho who turned but couldn’t position himself well enough to direct the ball and his shot was straight to Cech.

HALFTIME

Liverpool were in cruise control at this point with 9 shots to Arsenal’s 2 and 57% of possession. Liverpool’s attacking front 3 combined with the high pressing of Lallana and WIjnaldum left the likes of Giroud and Welbeck without service. Giroud had 16 touches in the first half, the least among all players, goalkeepers included.

Second Half:

Arsene Wenger realized that his talisman was missing and brought on Alexis Sanchez for Coquelin at halftime. Oxlade-Chamberlain covered up in central midfield while Welbeck moved to the right so Sanchez could play on the left.

The change nearly paid off immediately with Arsenal hitting the crossbar in the 48th minute. Some good play on the left between Sanchez and Monreal resulted in the latter curling in a cross to the far post. Giroud was perfectly positioned and his hanging header was well directed but Mignolet made a phenomenal save to his right from the shot and pushed the ball up onto the bar before collecting it.

Reducing the deficit

Arsenal did find a goal 9 minutes later with Sanchez playing a crucial role. Another brilliant run from the Chilean down the middle ended with a perfectly timed through ball for Danny Welbeck. Welbeck hit it first time with his left foot and chipped the ball over the charging Mignolet and passed the outstretched boot of Klavan to make it 2-1.

https://twitter.com/ArsenalsVoice/status/838462563188879360

In order to freshen up the attack, Lucas Perez was brought on for Giroud and Walcott was brought on for Welbeck in the 74th minute.

Arsenal were playing with more confidence and flair in the second half in an effort to get back into the game. Liverpool were not permitted the same time on the ball as in the first half due to Sanchez’s defensive pressure leading to some frustration and nerves. Can received an unnecessary yellow card in the 68th minute for hacking down Sanchez.

This raised some controversy 10 minutes later when Can was involved in a collision with Matip while bringing down Walcott. Can stayed down after the collision while referee Robert Madley was surrounded by Arsenal players asking for a second yellow card. He didn’t oblige but did book Xhaka for dissent.

Can and Matip collided while the former brought down Walcott and was lucky to not get a second yellow card. Image from http://www.arsenal.com/match/report/1617liverpool-v-arsenal-gallery

Consolidation

Divock Origi was brought on for Coutinho after the free kick. Five minutes later he had a chance to score the third from a Milner free kick. Milner’s cross from the left side of the field found Origi’s glancing header but the effort hit the bottom of the post and went out. He did set up the third goal 8 minutes later in stoppage time.

An unsuccessful Arsenal resulted in Lallana with the ball around the half-line. He turned from Mustafi after dribbling past Xhaka and played ball to Origi on the right flank with the outside of his boot. Origi took a few touches before curling in a low cross into the path of Wijnaldum who placed the ball low to Cech’s right. Lallana and Mane were brought off for Lucas and Alexander-Arnold respectively.

FULLTIME: LIVERPOOL 3-1 ARSENAL

Stats:

18 Shots 7

7 On Target 3

53% Possession 47%

76% Pass Success Rate 76%

Themes of the Game:

Fluid formations

As has been a staple of Jurgen Klopp teams, Liverpool utilize quick positional changes and fluid transitions from attack to defense. Arsenal also utilized a number of different formations to cope with Liverpool. Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3 while Arsenal began in a 4-2-3-1.

Liverpool attacking with 7 forced Arsenal to defend with all midfielders leaving Giroud isolated.

When in attack, the Liverpool fullbacks would push forward while Emre Can would take up the defensive burden in midfield allowing Lallana and Wijnaldum to move up as well giving them 7 attacking options. This forced Welbeck and Chamberlain to drop deeper to offer their full backs some defensive support while Iwobi covered up in central midfield to stop Lallana’s cross-field runs. The strategy didn’t pay off in as Arsenal were poor in the first half with Giroud isolated and useless against the likes of Can, Matip and Klavan.

Liverpool’s tendency of defending with every outfield player behind the ball prevented the Arsenal fullbacks from playing an attacking role.

 

Liverpool continued their trend of defending with all hands-on-deck and keeping everyone behind the ball. Interestingly enough, Mane would stay forward on the right side changing the lineup to a 4-4-2 with Lallana playing more wide. The additional striker meant that the Mustafi, Koscielny, Coquelin and Xhaka weren’t afforded time on the ball and had to play it wide. This succeeded in forcing Arsenal to play in a one-dimensional manner in the first half as they repeatedly tried to utilize the overlapping fullbacks to get the ball into the box. However, Lallana and Coutinho helped the defense while the physical presence of Wijnaldum and Can prevented Arsenal from utilizing Iwobi and Giroud in the center of the field. This was made clear from both of Arsenal’s shots in the first half coming from long-range.

Pressing

The first half saw Arsenal unable to generate any attacking momentum as the entire team only had 3 touches inside Liverpool’s box with just 42% of possession. The main reason for this was the enormous amount of pressure on the Arsenal backline by the Liverpool forwards. This prevented the Gunners from playing their regular possession-based style.

Liverpool were able to have 5 players (top images) with a majority of their touches in Arsenal’s half due to Can (directly above image) picking up the defensive burden.

Arsenal saw a turnover of possession 16 times in the first half, 7 of which were in their half. Liverpool attempted 13 tackles in the first half; all of which were from Clyne, Milner, Wijnaldum, Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho to further illustrate the high pressing style that Liverpool utilized.

Liverpool picked up the ball 13 times in Arsenal’s third, nearly a fifth of all their turnovers. Arsenal only managed to pick up the ball twice in Liverpool’s third. Image from 11tegen11

By pressing so high, Liverpool forced Welbeck, Chamberlain, Coquelin and Xhaka to drop extremely deep in support which isolated Giroud and Iwobi and made Arsenal rely on quick counters and long balls. This strategy failed as Liverpool’s attacking fullbacks meant that Bellerin and Monreal were pegged back under pressure and couldn’t find the long ball to unlock the defensive trio of Can, Matip and Klavan.

Role of the fullbacks

The fullback positions are integral to both teams. They both have young, quick right backs who contribute enormously to the team’s attack and slower left backs who tend to play intelligently and tactically.

For Liverpool, Clyne and Milner have averaged over 1.5 key passes a game each while Bellerin has 1.4 dribbles a game, ahead of everyone on Arsenal except Sanchez, Chamberlain and Walcott. In this game, the English duo proved too much for the Spaniards as they were kept quiet for most of the half and struggled to cope with the movement and interplay on each flank.

The interesting aspect of the Clyne-Milner partnership is the different roles each occupies. Clyne hugs the right touchline giving Mane the license to play more central and act as a second striker. This was a mutually beneficial relationship as Monreal would man-mark Mane and be drawn far too central leaving more space on the right. His tendency to be too central is what led to the first two goals.

On the other hand, Milner is far more flexible in his positioning and interplay on the left. Milner, Coutinho and Lallana/Wijnaldum would frequently alternate between the three positions owing to all three being more comfortable on their right. Milner would cut inside while Coutinho would stay out wide or vica versa. Even Firmino joined in on the left on occasion to add to Arsenal’s confusion which left more space on the right for Mane and Clyne to exploit. This was what led to the second goal.

The key statistics from the game was that both full back pairings made over 100 passes each. Milner made the most passes of anyone with 68.

The first half was a battle for supremacy on the flanks which was won by Liverpool. According to the commentators, Bellerin, Mustafi and Coquelin lost the ball a combined 25 times in the first 30 minutes of the match. The second half was far more even, partly due to some complacency from Liverpool but mainly due to Alexis Sanchez being brought on.

Alexis Sanchez as a substitute (Heatmaps,  touches for each team’s defense, touches for Mane in each half, arsenal left vs Liverpool right)

Alexis Sanchez started on the bench for only the second time in the league this season and was the biggest talking point before the game. The Chilean has the most goals+assists in the league with 26, scoring 17. He came off the bench and picked up an assist, but it was his defensive play that Arsenal missed the most.

Sanchez puts more pressure on the defense than the likes of Giroud, Welbeck and Chamberlain and this pressure was missing from the first half. In an interesting similarity, defensive players had the most touches for both teams at half time. Milner, Matip and Klavan had the most touches for Liverpool while Bellerin, Koscielny and Xhaka had the most for Arsenal. This changed for Liverpool with the addition of Sanchez as they were forced to play the ball out of defense quickly and couldn’t build from the back.

The second half was more even, also due to Sanchez. With Sanchez’s addition, Arsenal had another attacking-minded player who would stay forward putting pressure on the right side of Liverpool’s defense. Sanchez’s positioning was more advanced than Welbeck who would drop back to deal with Clyne and Mane. This meant that Clyne wouldn’t push forward as much out of fear of letting Sanchez in behind him.

Mane’s role as a wide forward meant that he wouldn’t fall back much either leading to the second half delving into Liverpool’s right vs Arsenal’s left in an end-to-end display. The move also brought Chamberlain back into the middle where his speed and energy helped with the closing down of the Liverpool midfield.

Player of the Match:

Adam Lallana

Image result for liverpool arsenal Lallana
Image from http://www.express.co.uk/sport/football/549331/Chelsea-Liverpool-Man-Utd-Arsenal-Adam-Lallana

The Englishmen was the key to Liverpool’s midfield domination as he enjoyed 78% pass accuracy and had the ball for over 6% of the time. He played the pass before the assist for both the first and third goals. His creativity and composure was exemplified in the third goal as he pirouetted upon seeing Origi was offside in order to give the Belgian a chance to draw level with the defense.

Lallana’s movement all over the breadth of the field made it difficult for the Arsenal midfield to pick out his runs.

However, his main contribution was his defensive covering up and tenacity as he never gave Arsenal a chance to get comfortable on the ball. 2 tackles, an interception, and 4 blocked passes made him a perennial thorn in Arsenal’s side. He was unlucky not to get a very well-deserved assist when Coutinho’s shot in the 44th minute was straight to Cech.

Liverpool host Burnley on the 12th while Arsenal host Bayern Munich midweek hoping to overturn a 4-goal deficit before hosting Lincoln City in the FA Cup on the 11th.

About Nikhil Srinivasan

Journalism Student at UF with a passion for statistical and tactical analyses of soccer.

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