05 November 2018

Visualized: Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal

Previous Match Infographics: Cardiff (h), Red Star Belgrade (h), Huddersfield (a), Manchester City (h), Napoli (a), Chelsea (a), Southampton (h), Leicester (a), Brighton (h), Crystal Palace (a), West Ham (h)

Match data from WhoScored, except average position from the SofaScore app. 

I don't like spending more time writing about Liverpool's opponent than I do Liverpool. But that's what this match was about. What Arsenal did to Liverpool rather than what Liverpool did to Arsenal. From the opening minute.

Five of Arsenal's eight key passes in the first half came from Liverpool's right flank, including both early clear-cut chances.

Here's how Arsenal came to those two clear-cut chances.

Fourth minute. Arsenal gain possession after a failed Liverpool long clearance. Long cross field to get Liverpool's defense retreating laterally. Two against one down Alexander-Arnold's flank – Kolasinac and Aubameyang. Overlap, through ball, low cross. Alisson saves at the feet of Aubameyang.

15th minute. Arsenal gain possession after a failed Liverpool long clearance. More patient, sustained possession, but also two more long cross field switches of play, again two against one on Liverpool's right – Kolasinac and Aubameyang – cross, Mkhitaryan header wide. Liverpool's defense especially out of shape because Liverpool's fullbacks had switched sides while defending a corner and didn't have time to recover.

And these were just two moments. There were more, called back for offside, final passes off the mark, shots both errant and blocked – four of nine in the first half off-target, three more blocked by Liverpool defenders (two by van Dijk, one by Gomez). And moments welcomingly cleared by Liverpool, with nine first-half clearances in the defensive third from van Dijk and Gomez.

Liverpool necessarily had to change tactics, first evident in Wijnaldum's average position – both deeper and wider to add the defensive help Salah couldn't – then in the halftime formation switch, something of a 4-4-1-1 with Milner on the right. That slowed Arsenal's progress, still dominant in possession but unable to turn it into opportunities, even after Milner opened the scoring just after the hour.

Arsenal's only shot between the 46th and 81st minutes came from Torreira, outside the box and straight down Alisson's throat, from a throw-in after Arsenal launched the ball down the field following the restart after Liverpool's goal.

And then Arsenal made changes of their own, first bringing on Iwobi and Ramsey, hoping to use Ramsey as a late runner into the box from the #10 and Iwobi's speed down Liverpool's right with Aubameyang fading. It helped, at least in increased pressure if not efforts at goal, but the breakthrough didn't come until the final substitution, Welbeck for Kolasinac, and Arsenal matching Liverpool's 4-4-2 formation with Iwobi at left-back. And, naturally, it was Iwobi turned provider. Down Liverpool's right.

It didn't help that Liverpool's two defensive lines had increasingly retreated, reacting to Arsenal's pressure, likely fatigue, and the increasingly little time left on the clock. Probably shouldn't have that much space to thread the pass.

Plus, two strikers up top, both Lacazette and now Welbeck, momentarily unbalanced Liverpool's almost-always impressive center-backs, this sequence Welbeck's first action in the game. Who's going with who? Oops, they're in.

Changes matter, substitutions matter. Especially in matches as tight as this. In matches between surprisingly equal top six rivals, with only Manchester City head, shoulders, knees, and toes above their peers.

So, yes, this match ended up being more about what Arsenal did to Liverpool than vice versa. Which is obviously concerning.

The attack remains unbalanced, with only Salah performing near potential, leading Liverpool in both shots and key passes. Firmino struggled to get involved despite his three shots, with one hitting the post, failing to create a chance, registering his lowest passing total both of the season and as far back as I can remember. Mané tallied just one late blocked shot from distance, although we're all still shouting about the wrongly disallowed goal.

The midfield still underwhelms, especially in possession, with Fabinho often basically terrible on the ball and intermittently decent off it. Wijnaldum's again less influential further forward and Milner remains Milner. God loves a trier and the trying's rewarded in his goal, but he's still a jack of most trades and master of few. Liverpool misses the creativity but more importantly misses the breaking of lines and pressing that both Keïta and Oxlade-Chamberlain add to the unit. Or Lallana if he's anywhere near the Lallana of a year ago. Or potentially Shaqiri, with more familiarity in Liverpool's system.

Both facets are concerning. It ain't the first time we've talked about either this season. I'm not especially hopeful that this'll be the last time. This match demonstrated that there are ways to be stifle and exploit Liverpool, and other sides with have taken notice, just as Arsenal had, with the desire to challenge Liverpool's right flank evident from the off. Liverpool coped, for the for most part, Liverpool reacted, and it's not hard to see Liverpool coming away with all three points if not with just one or two moments turning out differently.

But it's also demonstrated that Arsenal are a damned decent team with a clever manager of their own.


Unknown said...

The truth is, our midfield won't fully start playing up to its potential until Keita gets up to speed. For as much as Henderson gets grief from Liverpool fans, it sure felt that he would have provided a lot more grit and stability against the Gooners.

Its becoming cliche, but this was a match we would have lost the last few years. No shame in a point. The only thing that even makes this a discussion is the fact that City are absolutely destroying the league the right now.

Anonymous said...

Thought it was saved at the feet of Lacazette.

Ha. The graphic Before and after with score 1-1.
That was some clever tactic and play for that moment

Yeah could very easily have gotten away with the 3 points to keep up with the jaggernaut while the team finds their players and nous.

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