Arsenal – Liverpool: Arsenal Continue To Impress (3-2)

Arsenal started the game on a positive footing as they went ahead early on. Their defensive scheme limited Liverpool’s chance creation for the most part, and they showed some good possession sequences in the second half to eventually earn their win. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.

Arsenal’s start to the season has been impressive to say the least, with their only dropped points prior to this match coming at Old Trafford, where they were beaten by Manchester United despite playing relatively well. After last weekend’s North London Derby victory, Arsenal had the benefit of being able to rest several first team players in midweek while still dealing with Bodø/Glimt without much trouble.

Mikel Arteta’s side started in a 4-2-3-1 shape here, with a back four of Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, and Takehiro Tomiyasu. Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka were the double pivot behind a dangerous front four of Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli, and Gabriel Jesus.

Liverpool meanwhile have found themselves off the pace early on this season. This continued last weekend as they were only able to draw against Brighton. Jürgen Klopp had experimented with a 4-4-2 shape in the win over Rangers in midweek, and he stuck with that shape for the trip to Arsenal.

The away side started with Diogo Jota partnering Darwin Núñez up front, while Mohamed Salah and Luis Díaz were the wingers. Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcântara were the central midfielders, while the back four consisted of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joël Matip, Virgil van Dijk, and Kostas Tsimikas.

Arteta’s pressing scheme

Arsenal went 1-0 up after only a minute had been played, as Martinelli finished a well-constructed transition attack. This set up a first half where Liverpool had the majority of the ball as they looked to get back into the game after a poor start.

Arsenal still looked to pressure the ball high up the pitch while they were ahead, and did so with a degree of asymmetry. Saka would usually tuck in from the right side, taking a narrow position closer to Ødegaard in the right halfspace.

Arsenal’s pressing scheme served to blunt the effectiveness of Thiago in buildup and try to direct the ball elsewhere. Ødegaard and Saka would both be close to Thiago, making it more difficult for him to receive the ball.

This left Tsimikas free on the left, which would then be dealt with by White pushing up from right back. There was also another interesting adaptation by Arsenal here, as Xhaka would often drop into the backline when they were pressing.

In particular, Xhaka often paid close attention to Jota, who was often slightly deeper than Núñez. Liverpool’s system gave them a high presence against the last defensive line of Arsenal, with sometimes four players looking to threaten depth.

Arsenal’s pressing looked to prevent Thiago getting on the ball. Saka would also often push up to pressure Van Dijk in these situations while Ødegaard looked after Thiago. 

Therefore, Arsenal sometimes looked to add another player to the backline for extra security. One way of doing this was through the aforementioned dropping of Xhaka. When they defended deeper, Martinelli could also sometimes be seen adding cover on the left side of the defense to form a temporary line of five, allowing Tomiyasu to play close to the center-backs, reducing the size of the gaps within the backline.

Liverpool grew in strength throughout the first half though, as Thiago started to gain more of an influence once Arsenal were pushed back into their own half. Furthermore, while Arsenal took steps to protect themselves from Liverpool’s threat in behind, there were still challenging situations for them to deal with here.

Ten minutes before half time, Liverpool broke through, with Núñez scoring after Arsenal had failed to deal with a looping pass over the top of their defense. In the last ten minutes of the first half, Liverpool seemed to continue improving. However, Arsenal took the lead again in the final seconds of the half, as another counter-attack was finished off by Saka this time, making it 2-1. 

Arsenal show their class

Arteta’s side came out quite aggressively at the start of the second half. The higher pressing from early in the match returned, with Xhaka’s role also more aggressive this time as he engaged further into Liverpool’s half. When Xhaka and Ødegaard picked up Henderson and Thiago, this released Saka to pressure Van Dijk earlier, which allowed Arsenal to get more pressure on the ball.

Despite this, Liverpool were able to equalize once again after a short period, as Firmino slotted home after having replaced the injured Díaz late in the first half. Liverpool had also brought on Joe Gomez at half time after Alexander-Arnold had picked up an injury.

Arsenal dominated the spell after this Liverpool equalizer and were able to force Liverpool into a passive defensive stance in a way that few teams have managed in recent years. The home side showed good circulation at the back but also were able to use directness to their advantage.

In particular, the long diagonals towards the wingers Saka and Martinelli in behind the Liverpool fullbacks were a useful way of gaining territory and getting into the final third, where Arsenal are then extremely strong with their combinations around the box.

Arteta’s side pretty much set up in a 4-3-3 when they had the ball, as Xhaka pushed up in the left halfspace as he often has done this season, leaving Partey as the lone number six. The fullbacks White and Tomiyasu were more reserved, especially Tomiyasu on the left. This gave a solid foundation for Arsenal’s rest defense, allowing them to maintain control of the match in this period.

Arsenal’s structure helped them to pin Liverpool into their own half while the game was level. 

Arsenal’s dominance was such that Klopp ended up making changes to try and improve the defensive stability of his side, removing Salah in order to bring Fabinho into the midfield, shifting Henderson out to the right. Ibrahima Konaté also replaced Matip in the defensive line.

With fifteen minutes left, Arsenal’s good play finally paid off as Jesus won a penalty which was converted with composure by Saka. Arsenal now had a lead to defend in the final stages of the game. Arteta adapted to this by switching to a 5-4-1 shape, as Kieran Tierney replaced Ødegaard to play left wing-back while Tomiyasu became a third center-back.

Liverpool meanwhile brought Harvey Elliot on for Jota as they sought to chase the game. In all honesty though, Liverpool had not threatened Arsenal at all since Firmino’s goal, and there was not much change to this in the final stages.

Arsenal did have to sink back into their own box in certain situations, but overall they dealt with Liverpool’s attacks easily in this stage. They also managed the game well by being able to retain the ball to run down the clock, as Liverpool’s pressing was well below par.


Arsenal were very impressive here. They actually limited Liverpool to far less chances than the two goals conceded would suggest. Going forward, Arsenal’s attacking transitions were dangerous, and they showed a degree of class in their ability to pin Liverpool back when they scoreline was level in the second half.

Liverpool meanwhile struggled outside of a decent spell at the end of the first half. While their system gave them good threat in behind the defense of Arsenal, once this space was closed they found things difficult as the passing angles in the 4-4-2 shape were not as strong and the structure could look somewhat flat. Against the ball, they were uncharacteristically passive in the second half and could not control Arsenal’s wingers.

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Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


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