Another season, another trip to Anfield, another loss, this time 3-1. The last time we beat them at Anfield was 8 years ago when Robin Van Persie’s stoppage-time winner helped us win 1-2. Since then, we’ve been losing Liverpool v Arsenal fixtures by more than 3 goals. Pretty bad.
Let’s go on to the tactics. With the ball, we played in a 3-2-5 system. We didn’t have much of the ball as we sat deep and allowed them to keep possession, us having 35% of the ball compared to their 65%. We were outclassed everywhere.
Willian and Aubameyang were tasked with cutting off passing lanes to the full-backs. Arteta didn’t want to press the centre-backs as he thought it would disrupt our usual 5-2-3 system without the ball. Lacazette, as usual, was tasked with marking Fabinho.
Every time Tierney advanced up the pitch with the ball, Xhaka or Maitland-Niles stayed back to cover for him. But he couldn’t go high up the pitch too often, as he had to keep Salah in mind and what he would do behind him. Bellerin was tasked with marking Mane, when the latter moved high up the pitch and when he got near the box, the job went to Holding. David Luiz took up the responsibility of going long and bypassing the high Liverpool press to reach Aubameyang. The Brazilian attempted a total of 19 long balls in the game (according to WhoScored), the most for us.
Coming up against one of the best coaches in the world in Jurgen Klopp and expecting him to not have tricks up his sleeve is naive. He set his team up in the usual 4-3-3 formation on paper, which converted to a 2-3-5 with the ball. Klopp knew that the Arsenal front three would try to cut off passing lanes to the full-backs and to counter this, he instructed Keita and Wijnaldum to drop deep to the full-back positions, enabling Robertson and Alexander-Arnold to stay up the pitch.
This empowered Van Dijk to go long and aim for the full-backs,- with his 14 accurate long balls being the most for Klopp’s side (according to WhoScored) in the Liverpool v Arsenal game. This also meant that Aubameyang and Willian had to mark two players at the same time. Without the ball, Klopp instructed his players to press high up the pitch without any structure, thereby going back to his old ‘Gegenpressing’ system. This worked amazingly, as David Luiz and Holding struggled with the ball.
A lucky deflection from Robertson led to Arsenal taking the lead early, with Lacazette scoring the goal. If we overlook that, he was terrible in the Liverpool v Arsenal game, to be honest. He had two clear goal-scoring opportunities in the second-half which could’ve drawn the match but was unable to finish them.
Alexander-Arnold and Gomez did a good job of keeping Aubameyang quiet. Liverpool took just three minutes to equalise. Leno’s parried save landed at Mane’s feet, who made no mistake in tapping it home. Furthermore, they took the lead in another six minutes. Robertson earned his goodwill back by converting a cross from Alexander-Arnold and helping his side go ahead.
The second half saw a spirited performance from us. Ceballos and Pepe tried to bring life back to our attack, especially the Spaniard, who put Lacazette through on a clear chance, but the forward failed to convert. Liverpool extended their lead in the final minutes of the Liverpool v Arsenal game, with debutant Diogo Jota scoring the final goal. David Luiz failed to make a proper clearance and the ball fell kindly to Jota, who volleyed the ball home. He is the second Liverpool player after Sadio Mane to score on debut against Arsenal and the 13th player overall to score on debut.
That being said, some of our players seemed especially out of sorts at Anfield, and here are our player ratings from the Liverpool v Arsenal fixture.
Leno (5): Made some decent saves. But he let us down with the second and third goals.
Holding (6): Did well in keeping Mane engaged for most parts of the game. But felt too much pressure with the ball and seemed all over the part at certain points in the game.
David Luiz (6): Made decent efforts in initiating attacks with long balls. But, as usual, sloppy in defence. Certainly, Gabriel starting ahead of him would have made better sense.
Tierney (6): At fault for the first goal and could easily be overpowered. But tried to regain some goodwill with a decent defensive performance.
Bellerin (5): Should’ve done better in tracking back for Mane’s goal. Offered nothing in attack nor defence. Some need to go back in time and get that old pre-injury Bellerin back.
Xhaka (6): Did well with that one-touch pass to Lacazette in the build-up to our only goal. But went invisible after that.
Elneny (5): Did his bit. But was run over by Firmino.
Maitland-Niles (6): Tried to offer something in attack. But Alexander-Arnold ensured that he remained quiet. Let’s see what happens in the Carabao Cup.
Willian (6): Our worst player in the game. He knew Robertson was going to score but was lazy to trackback. Did nothing in attack either.
Lacazette (5): He was at the right place at the right time for our goal. But his two missed opportunities cost us the game.
Aubameyang (5): Had little to no involvement in the game. Couldn’t get past Gomez and Van Dijk.
Ceballos (7): Brought on some much-needed creativity in the game. Was lively throughout the second half.
Pepe (5): Like Aubameyang, he was barely involved in the game.
A lot of questions should be asked of Arteta’s plans for the Liverpool v Arsenal game. Why didn’t Gabriel and Ceballos feature from the beginning? What’s the deal with Saliba? What is Arteta’s plan this season- top 4 or more silverware? We’ll see if these players start as we head back to Anfield again to play the next round of the Carabao Cup.