Previous Match Infographics: West Brom (a), Everton (h), Aston Villa (h), Stoke (a), Hull (h), Chelsea (a), Manchester City (a), Cardiff (h), Tottenham (a), West Ham (h), Norwich (h), Hull City (a), Everton (a), Fulham (h), Arsenal (a), West Brom (h), Newcastle (a), Crystal Palace (h), Sunderland (a), Southampton (h), Swansea (a), Manchester United (h), Aston Villa (a), Stoke (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
This is news to no one, but Saturday's match was the Merseyside Derby played out again, even more viciously in the opening stages, with Liverpool able to kill the match as a contest 15 minutes earlier.
As against Everton, Liverpool won by scoring from early set play(s), pressing in midfield, and exploiting space on the counter with excellent long passing and blazing speed.
Unsurprisingly, Arsenal completed more passes over those first 20 minutes, but most were bogged down in midfield, unable to get past the Gerrard-Henderson-Coutinho triumvirate. The attacking third passes were nearly equal in number, but Arsenal's were in unthreatening positions. Liverpool took nine shots (an average of a shot every 2.22 minutes, which is insane), Arsenal took none. Arsenal created no chances in those first 20 minutes, Liverpool created eight: five from open play, and three from set plays. As you may remember, they scored from two of those set plays, and would have scored from the third if not for the width of the post.
Martin Skrtel's two goals were Liverpool's 7th and 8th set play goals against one of the other top seven clubs. Liverpool scored on corners against United (Sturridge), Everton (Coutinho), Everton (Gerrard), and Arsenal (Skrtel). Liverpool scored from free kicks against Everton (Sturridge), Chelsea (Skrtel), and Arsenal (Skrtel). And Liverpool (read: Suarez) also scored from a direct free kick against Everton. That's eight of 20 goals in total – 40% – in the eight matches against those six opponents. That's an egregious amount. For comparison, Liverpool scored just five set play goals against those same six opponents last season: two Suarez direct free kicks, and corners against City (Skrtel), Chelsea (Suarez), and Tottenham (Bale OG).
Of course, Liverpool only scored 17 goals in total against those six opponents last season. Otherwise known as 1.42 goals per game, taking just 0.83 points per game. It was one of last season's Liverpool's biggest failings. The scoring mark is up to 2.5 goals per game this season. And Liverpool are averaging 1.63 points per game. Twice as many points per game, and not far off twice as many goals per game.
By my count, Liverpool have now scored 18 goals from set plays, a total which doesn't include the five penalties. This differs from WhoScored as they count Liverpool's first against Fulham solely as an own goal, not an own goal and a goal from a corner. The most in a single season since 2009-10 (which is as far back as WhoScored's statistics go) was last season's Manchester United, who scored 22. With 13 games to play, Liverpool are well on their way to beating that mark.
Six of Liverpool's 13 open play chances created came from passes in their own half, by far the most this season. Two led to goals: Coutinho's indescribably perfect throughball for Sturridge, and Toure's long pass to Sterling, not counted as an assist because the winger needed two attempts to finish it off. As a remember, a Toure long pass led to Liverpool's penultimate goal against Everton as well. Another two probably should have: Coutinho to Henderson in the 67th, and Cissokho to Sterling in the 86th.
Shot quality? 12 of Liverpool's 22 shots came from prime shooting locations: the six-yard box and the center of the 18-yard box. 7 were on-target, four resulted in goals. Two more shots came from the D just outside the box, another relatively high percentage area. One goal, another shot on-target saved. Comparatively, just four of Arsenal's 11 shots came from the same prime area: three on-target, one off, and that includes a penalty. Getting a penalty was the only way Arsenal were scoring.
Incidentally, all five of Raheem Sterling's shots came from prime shooting locations, and all five were on-target. He's the first Liverpool player this season to take more than two shots and put all of them on-target in a single match. Suarez has had a handful of games where he's missed the target with just one of his three or more shots (at Tottenham, v Norwich, at Everton), while Sturridge did similar against Crystal Palace, but Sterling's the first to put every single one on goal. That bodes very well for adding the finishing touch to his quickly improving all-around game.
All of this was set up by Liverpool's ability to win possession off Arsenal through tackles and ball recoveries. Liverpool's pressing earned the headlines, leading to the third and fourth goals, but Liverpool's defending inside its own half was brilliant. 35 tackles is the most Liverpool have completed this season. And the two players who made the most – Gerrard and Coutinho – are two players you wouldn't expect to see topping the list.
A lot of credit also goes to the two fullbacks. Look at how many of Arsenal's attacking third passes went out of the flanks, and then no further. At how many take-ons died in the attacking third. It's almost as if there's a forcefield around the 18-yard box. All four defenders, all three central midfielders, and even Sterling and Suarez tracking back played their part in that. But Liverpool's fullbacks have been focused on as a weak point for some time now. Flanagan's been rightly lauded for his growth this season, but Cissokho's also improved with time. Which, I guess, shouldn't be surprising. Heavily criticized new player in unfamiliar league struggles at first, but slowly adjusts. Breaking news, quelle surprise, etc. It's still the area where Liverpool can most improve, but credit where due.