As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
The good, the bad, the ugly. The heroes, the villains. The full range of Liverpool.
Liverpool somewhat did what Southampton did in thrashing Arsenal – Southampton's best day against Arsenal's worst – at least at one end of the pitch. Two early, well-taken goals. Well-organized, fervent pressing unsettling Arsenal, the away side unable to settle into their usual rhythm, forced to play long to Giroud when counter-attacking rather than through the middle where player-of-the-season Mesut Özil is most dangerous.
All three of Liverpool's goals started from moves beginning in Arsenal's half: Can pressing Walcott into a post-corner error for the first, Henderson pressing Flamini and Campbell into giveaways after losing possession for the second, Ibe picking up possession after a blocked free kick for the third.
As against Chelsea and Manchester City, Liverpool work-rate – with Firmino up front – pays dividends, more so than we've seen in almost every other match this season. Liverpool, once again, are better against the "big boys."
Unfortunately, Liverpool forgot the part at the other end of the pitch. Again.
The narrative continues to bear ugly fruit. Set plays have become a self-fulfilling prophecy, no matter who plays in defense or who plays in goal. Liverpool don't, can't deal with crosses. Liverpool's inability to clear and/or unfortunate ricochets end up aiding an opposition goal: Toure's failed clearance for the first, Moreno's deflection for the third. Mignolet twice – twice! – unforgivably beaten at his near post.
Arsenal only attempted six crosses last night (usually average 20) yet created three chances including one assist #crossesarelfckryptonite— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 14, 2016
As against West Brom, as against Exeter (albeit with a much different side), at least Liverpool fought back. Against the league leaders, even if it was on Liverpool's own ground. And Arsenal very much made Liverpool work for it.
Arsenal were very, very good defensively after taking the lead. Nine of the 10 blocked Liverpool shots came between Arsenal and Liverpool's third goals, with Arsenal blocking nine of Liverpool's 13 shots during that spell. Only West Ham blocked more Liverpool shots in a league match this season. Only West Ham blocked more shots than Arsenal did during those 35 minutes between the third goals.
It was Liverpool against a better version of all those deep-lying defenses which have foiled Liverpool all too often this season. Arsenal still have a tendency to Arsenal, but this is a still a much better side, who I still think will win the league. During their 10-match unbeaten run coming into this fixture, Arsenal allowed more than one goal just once – that 0-4 loss at Southampton – and kept five clean sheets. Happy's learned how to putt.
And it's not as if Liverpool just fired shots at will from any and all angles. Only five of Liverpool's 13 shots during that stretch came from outside the box (four blocked), all fairly central, with eight inside the box (five blocked), and four in the Danger Zone (three blocked).
Of course, because Liverpool, I can't help but mention that only one of those 13 shots was on-target, Benteke's no-angle slow-roller in the 74th minute. 22 shots in total, just six on-target (27.3% accuracy): two from Firmino (both goals), two from Can (both outside the box), one from Allen (goal), and one from Benteke. Just one Opta-defined clear-cut chance: Moreno's wild, off-balance miss in the 48th minute.
It yet again pointed to a glaring weakness in Liverpool's squad. Where was the heroic equalizer coming from? Firmino, so outstanding in the first half, had clearly tired (as had Can), and had much less room to operate against a deep defense. Lallana? Again good without the ball, less so with it. Benteke? Sigh.
Liverpool have workers. Liverpool don't have stars. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.
This was when Liverpool missed Coutinho (not to mention Sturridge or Ings or even Origi). Sure, his shooting decisions have been increasingly terrible and eminently frustrating but at least he has precedent. But up popped Joe Allen – of all people – set up by Benteke winner a header, from Henderson's outstanding route one pass over the top. Every now and then, workers will suffice. Just not often enough.
We saw this match last season. Liverpool start as the better side despite each's respective form, Liverpool score first, Arsenal respond, Arsenal take the lead, Liverpool – somewhat unbelievably – score a late equalizer. Liverpool out-shoot, out-pass, and out-possess Arsenal at Anfield, but Liverpool don't win. At least Liverpool don't lose.
Four of the 11 Liverpool players who started last season's 2-2 draw with Arsenal started yesterday: Henderson (as right wing-back), Lallana, Sakho, and Toure. Only three of the same 11 Arsenal players started yesterday: Giroud, Flamini, and Mertesacker. Liverpool played 3-4-2-1 for only the second time, the beginning of their unlikely false-dawn unbeaten streak; Liverpool had a (much) different manager.
And yet we got a similar pattern of play and similar result yesterday, despite all the differences. Maybe there's just something about this fixture.
ave PPG/goals per game extrapolated over 38 games. post Suarez then post Brendan Maybe the players are this good pic.twitter.com/OMprtk8Ufl— StatsAndSwearwords (@SimonBrundish) January 14, 2016
Or maybe there's just something about Liverpool. For now, this unbalanced, fatigued, and injury-plagued squad is what it is: the good, the bad, and the ugly.