As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
This chart seems a pretty good starting point:
Arsenal were responsible for 15 of the 18 highest pass combinations in Saturday's match. Liverpool's three all involved Gerrard, but all three went to players who ostensibly played 'behind' Liverpool's captain: the deeper midfielder, a center-back, and a young, defense-minded wing back. Arsenal monopolized the ball, and – especially in the first half, when Liverpool played 3-1-4-2 – cut off the supply line between midfield and attack.
It's not as if this is the first time this has happened. Since I started these match infographics at the beginning of last season, just two players have completed more than 100 passes against Liverpool: Arteta at the Emirates this season and Ramsey at the Emirates last season. Arteta came damned close in the 0-2 loss to Arsenal at Anfield last season as well. It should be no surprise to see Arsenal pass any opposition off the park, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow.
Still, there have been other matches where Liverpool have lost the possession and passing battles – more this season than last – but still come away with at least one point if not all three, usually thanks to Liverpool's ability on the break and/or Suarez and Sturridge's individual brilliance. But Arsenal effectively shut off those routes as well.
Liverpool were wholly reliant on Suarez and Sturridge's one-on-one ability against Arsenal's defenders in the first half, attempting 21 take-ons. Which is more than all but three teams' league average this season: Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham. That, along with two or three times where Henderson broke forward from midfield, was the alpha and omega of Liverpool's attack in the first half – the other eight players simply weren't involved in that phase of the game. And it was routinely snuffed out by prepared defenders. Of course, the one time in the first half where Liverpool played bombed forward, with Sakho, Cissokho, and Flanagan in Arsenal's half, Arsenal tore Liverpool open on the counter-attack to take the lead.
Arsenal made more tackles than every Liverpool opponent except Southampton so far this season. And Arsenal's two deeper midfielders made 13 of the 31: Arteta seven, Ramsey six. Liverpool's three midfielders made 10: Lucas four, Gerrard three, Henderson three. Neither Ramsey nor Arteta is an out-and-out defensive midfielder (which may well demonstrate the value of out-and-out defensive midfielders, but that's a different discussion), but both more than adequately shut down Liverpool's attacks before they became threatening.
At least Liverpool marginally improved after halftime.
Which is probably an answer to "what are we gonna see now that Coutinho's back?" Liverpool looked vastly more effective in a 4-2-2-2 formation compared to the 3-1-4-2, although "vastly" is very much a relative term.
A couple of chalkboard comparisons:
Liverpool actually retained some semblance of possession, got into Arsenal's final third, created a few chances, and stopped getting criminally abused down its left flank (thanks Aly!). Even though Liverpool had one less defender and Arsenal had less possession, Liverpool's defensive statistics were almost exactly equal in tackles, interceptions, clearances, shots allowed, etc.
However, there are caveats: Arsenal had the lead, Liverpool had to go in search of an equalizer. Then, less than 15 minutes into the second half, Liverpool had to go in search of two equalizers. Of course Arsenal would attempt fewer passes, average less possession, allow more Liverpool shots. Despite Liverpool's improvement, Arsenal rarely looked like conceding even a consolation until the final 15 minutes, with Szczesny coming to the rescue when called upon.
And there are two relevant statistics not on the above table. Goals for each Liverpool formation: Zero. Arsenal goals against each formation: 1.
From Friday's match preview:
One swallow rarely makes a summer and all, but tomorrow's match will be an excellent barometer for how far each team has truly come this season, and how far each still has to go.Yep. Much to our dismay.