Liverpool – Arsenal: Loathsome Low Block Blunts Liverpool To Keep Tie In The Balance (0-0)
Trips to Anfield tend to signal destruction for Arsenal, but they turned the tables to control the dark art and define the course of the duel. A reckless blunder forced them to concede the high ground, but a better vantage point offered little use for a Liverpool side bereft of its usual verve.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Liverpool have typically delighted in the visit of Arsenal: a marker of their changing unchangeability. An automaton of boundless energy, relentless movement, and elite organization, evolution from year to year has kept them near the top of the pile. Diogo Jota often leads the front three in place of a wily Roberto Firmino, while Trent Alexander-Arnold’s spark comes to life in the center much more. Yet, this outfit’s identity is never in doubt: a state of constancy that the guests yearn but have not grasped.
The eternal enigma, Arsenal have churned out usual behavioral flaws for the umpteenth time in the last week. Kicking off 2022 at home to league leaders Manchester City, a 2-1 loss at the death was a stark departure from routs of the past. Conversely, a second tier Nottingham Forest outfit robbed their prestigious counterpart to keep a FA Cup stake. If progress is palpable, a tight affair was imperative.
Mikel Arteta set up his men in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Departing to meet up with Ghana for AFCON, Thomas Partey’s absence leaves the middle of the park light on options. Therefore, Albert Sambi Lokonga stepped up to form the double pivot along with Granit Xhaka. Ahead of them, neither Martin Ødegaard nor Emile Smith Rowe was available to feature in this fixture. Alexandre Lacazette dropped back into the number ten role, and poacher Eddie Nketiah started as the striker in his place.
From the home dugout, Klopp picked a 4-3-3 system. The back four was a typical combination while James Milner began the match on the left of the three in the midfield. The case in the final third was a different story. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané were absent representing Egypt and Senegal for AFCON. Jota and Firmino took spots in the lineup while Takumi Minamino acted as a left winger.
Liverpool look inward for superiority
In November, Arsenal took up an ambitious approach off the ball to press high in an asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 structure. The number ten marked Fabinho, the striker marked Joël Matip, and Bukayo Saka ran from the outside to cover the wide passing angle from Virgil van Dijk. This time, the scheme did not tilt so much to the left. Cédric Soares held back rather than lurking to close down Andy Robertson.
Some similar solutions happened back before in Liverpool-Arsenal game as well:— István Beregi (@SteveBeregi) January 3, 2022
-ARS - similar def principles to cover outside passes
-therefore LIV moved to a 4222 to create inside superiorities - dropping 8 to build with double 6, inside W pins CB to open dropping 9 in halfspace pic.twitter.com/9MEqxzsGGf
Yet, similar principles from Arsenal created a similar dynamic if Liverpool built up the play from the back. If, for example, Lacazette moved out to press van Dijk, Granit Xhaka jumped up to shadow Fabinho. Lokonga and the winger on the ball far side, Gabriel Martinelli, covered inward behind the six. Through more or less direct means, this manipulation helped Klopp’s men to open the center.
Liverpool’s buildup adapted smartly to the same problem Arsenal presented. Central superiorities and constant switches moved the ball sharply from back to front. In this game flow, the home team were in their element, looking the brighter of the two outfits. Unfortunately for Arteta, his side’s problems mounted to become much more than just an unfavorable dynamic in the middle of the pitch.
3rd minute: buildup sequence from Liverpool against Arsenal’s pressing. Milner drops back, creating a similar 4-2-2-2 staggering to the one from the November game; since Firmino lurks in the back of Lokonga, dropping to the left halfspace, he creates a 2-on-1. Cédric heads away a long ball from van Dijk in the direction of Minamino but a tight counterpressing net steals the second ball from Lokonga.
The suffering is necessary
In the opening stages of the match, Arteta had already replaced Cédric Soares with Callum Chambers on account of an injury. So an incident in the 24th minute could have hardly improved his mood. Robertson clipped a long ball into the path of Jota, setting away his teammate beyond the back four. Xhaka hurried back to the penalty area, lunging desperately to pluck the pass out of harm’s way. But in seeking to collect the ball, his gamble backfired, booting the rib of the right winger. The referee awarded a red card, bringing down Arsenal to 10 men with more than two thirds of the contest to play.
5 – Since his debut season with Arsenal in 2016-17, no Premier League player has been sent off more times in all competitions than Granit Xhaka (5). Orders. pic.twitter.com/MLVP5gaGVH— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 13, 2022
Arteta’s arsenal of destruction
The reaction to the setback was an expectable one. As was the case against City, an attacker made way for Rob Holding. This time around, the sacrificial lamb from the front of the field was Nketiah, whose exit facilitated a switch to a 5-3-1 formation with an extra man at the back. The dynamic of a low block camped on the edge of Arsenal’s box required craftier solutions from Liverpool, but they were not forthcoming. In self-destructing, Arsenal proceeded to blow up Liverpool’s rhythm.
🗣️"We started the game like we wanted to start. Then there was a red card and we played against a low block... it's difficult."— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) January 13, 2022
Jurgen Klopp on the impact of the early red card 🟥 #LFC pic.twitter.com/yLeIrkk4QP
Moreover, the guests carried a (slim) threat of their own. Bukayo Saka led the charge from sporadic attacks on the right flank, generating brief moments of unrest in Liverpool’s back four. Statistics indicating 20% possession and a meager shot as the sum of Arsenal’s threat at half time showed the state of affairs. Yet, in light of the red card, this stalemate shone positively upon them at the break. Klopp would need more than ardent support of the Kop to make the most of his various advantages.
Klopp adapts, Arsenal resist
On the hour mark, Klopp made his first substitution. James Milner came off for Curtis Jones, whose role was quite different to that of his veteran teammate. Among the prominent aspects of the young academy graduate’s repertoire is his ability to pick up the ball and instigate the play from deep through dribbling. His manager looked to make the most of that trait from the flank, deploying him as the left winger. Minamino then operated in the halfspace while Firmino and Jota tended to the right.
Jones provided a continual outlet from the left wing. From here, he was attentive to underlapping runs on the outside of Ben White as a means of entering the box. Indeed, among the three substitutions in the 75th minute was the entry of Neco Williams in place of Alexander-Arnold. The use of another able ball carrier signaled Klopp’s satisfaction with the idea that led him to use Jones in this manner.
Elsewhere was the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose role as a right sided eight forced Henderson to sit back at the base of the midfield. However, Arsenal did not buckle to the oncoming onslaught. It seemed as if they had learned their lesson from the heartbreak at the outset of the year. However, true to form, a final act of self-inflicted damage could have spoiled the work of the visitors.
90th minute: buildup to Minamino’s miss. Oxlade-Chamberlain spins away from Gabriel Magalhães, pulling out to the channel in the right halfspace to receive from Williams and cross the ball.
On the stroke of the end of the allotted time, Aaron Ramsdale leaped to punch a cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain only to tangle himself up in a slew of bodies. The ball then fell to Minamino with the goal at his mercy on the edge of six yard box. A strike to either side of White would have scored, but he lashed a strike over the bar. An apt finish to a blunt display from the hosts: 0-0 at the final whistle.
While Arsenal showed aggression at home to City, their display here necessarily relied more on a dogged block. Nonetheless, Arteta will take solace in seeing his men rise to the task of competing against the best the nation has to offer throughout the contest. On the other hand, Xhaka’s second red card of 2022 added more weight to claims of the susceptibility of a largely youthful outfit to ill discipline. Strategically, they cannot afford to undo the groundwork of their hard labor in the second leg with similar errors.
On the other hand, a 0-0 draw marks a missed opportunity for Liverpool. Going into the new year, the absence of Salah and Mané’s outstanding goal orientation, as well as their quality, would likely be a factor from which their attack would suffer at one stage or another. Yet, that single element cannot be the only reason for their lack of automatism and execution near the box on the night. Klopp might have belittled the value of the Carabao Cup in the past, but if only 180 minutes stand between him and a first domestic cup in England, then he will surely endeavor to come out on top in the tie next week.
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