Previous Match Infographics: Manchester United (h). Swansea (a), Burnley (h), Manchester City (h). Besiktas (a), Southampton (a), Besiktas (h), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Chelsea (a) [League Cup], Chelsea (h) [League Cup], Villa (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Swansea (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a), Basel (h), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Real Madrid (a), Newcastle (a), Hull (h), Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
That was payback for February 2014, almost the diametric opposite of Liverpool's 5-1 win over Arsenal 14 months ago. It's the circle of life.
The home side exceptionally potent, mainly in the last ten minutes of the first half rather than the first 20 minutes, but exceptionally potent enough to put the game out of reach by halftime nonetheless. The home side in control early on, especially in creating opportunities – both open play and set play – due to pressing in the opposition half, leading to multiple goals in quick succession. Then, an archetypal counter-attacking second half, soaking up pressure, scoring once more, basically untroubled but also conceding an unnecessary consolation from the penalty spot.
Turnabout's fair play, I guess.
Every Arsenal player who took at least one shot put at least one shot on-target. 16 attempts, 10 on-target, an accuracy of 62.5%. Liverpool has bettered that accuracy just once this season, putting four of six shots on-target at Southampton (and scoring two goals). Meanwhile, Liverpool put just two shots on-target in total on Saturday: Henderson's penalty, and Can's fairly-easily-saved effort in the 57th. Which I guess in an improvement on Liverpool's one shot on-target in the previous match against United. Two matches to define the season. 20 shots in total. Three shots on-target, one of which was from the spot. That profligacy has been a defining characteristic this season, even in the "good matches," and the bill has come due at the worst possible time.
Just like United, just like Swansea, Arsenal unbalanced Liverpool early on by pressing Liverpool in its own half. 11 of Arsenal's 26 interceptions and 10 of Arsenal's 24 successful tackles took place in Liverpool's half. Eight of those 11 interceptions (and five of the successful tackles) came in the first half. Liverpool have been figured out, and Liverpool haven't responded.
Prior to Saturday's match, Liverpool had made all of three defensive errors since the switch to 3-4-2-1. Three. In total. One leading to a shot in both matches against Swansea, and one leading to a goal against Manchester United in December. For comparison, Liverpool made 19 (14 leading to a shot, five leading to a goal) in the 15 matches before the switch. It was an incredible turnaround.
Liverpool doubled that total on Saturday thanks to three more errors: two leading to a shot (from Allen and Toure, in the first five minutes), one leading to a goal (Moreno). Enforced changes in defense had a lot to do with it. Arsenal's pressing had a lot to do with it. Arsenal being very good and very fast and very fluid in attack had a lot to do with it as well.
Liverpool had to make changes at halftime, but it was strange to see both the switch to 4-1-4-1 and Markovic hauled off for Sturridge. Markovic played just 45 minutes – the 45 minutes where Liverpool were second-best and had much less possession – and still led the team in chances created. I'm fairly certain it wouldn't have altered the result, but I can't help but wonder how Liverpool would have done had Sturridge replaced Allen or Lucas instead, shifting Henderson inside and Markovic to wing-back, keeping the three-at-the-back formation (ideally 3-4-1-2, with Sterling partnering Sturridge because it's become fairly clear that Sturridge needs a strike partner).
But that's wholly moot. An unfamiliar defense due to a suspension to Liverpool's stalwart sweeper. A new central midfield pairing, with one of the two players just back from injury. Liverpool's best central midfielder forced into wing-back duty for the first time since New Year's Day because no Liverpool player has been able to make the position his own. Continued errant shooting in front of goal. And an in-form Arsenal strong enough and smart enough to take advantage of those weaknesses and put Liverpool to the sword. It was a recipe for disaster, partly of Liverpool's making, but just as much due to Arsenal's ability.
It was the first time that Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool has conceded four goals, just the third time that Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool has lost a league match by three goals, and it was completely deserved.