Arsenal FC put up a wonderful and more importantly efficient display against Liverpool FC as Cazorla and Ramsey scored for the hosts putting them 5 points clear at the top of the table. We bring to you the key battles where the game was won and lost.
A pound in the summer reignited a rivalry that was always in the agenda 2 decades back. You can forgive most Arsenal fans for not remembering the last time Arsenal hosted a top of the table clash in the league and came up victorious but that is exactly what they did last night and how. Experts and pundits across the globe have all reserved their verdicts on Arsenal’s title contention till 10th November and it’s anybody’s guess as to why but if the performance against Liverpool is anything to go by, Arsenal are here to stay. Not at their overwhelming best, the Gunners took their chances and won the key tactical battles on their way to a 2-0 victory.
The win gives Arsenal breathing space and sends Brendan Rodgers back to the drawing board as the Reds sit uncomfortably on 2nd spot only 3 points adrift of 8th. Both teams had added injury worries for the game with Glen Johnson and Jack Wilshere missing due to knocks. However Liverpool were primarily let down by their midfield and on both goals individuals could have done better and with mightier acid tests in the future, Rodgers can only learn and improve from this defeat and come back stronger.
Arsenal Line-Up (4-2-3-1) – Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Ozil, Rosicky, Cazorla; Giroud
Liverpool Line-Up (3-5-2) – Mignolet (GK); Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Flanagan, Cissokho; Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard; Suarez, Sturridge
Arsene Wenger was forced to make two changes to the line-up that started against Crystal Palace as Jack Wilshere had an inflated calf and Flamini hasn’t recovered since pulling our injured against the Eagles.
Liverpool themselves had Glen Johnson out and Jose Enrique couldn’t recover in time for the game, forcing Rodgers’ hand in fielding Flanagan and Cissokho, despite having the option of both Sterling and Henderson as fullbacks, the defensive ability of Flanagan tipped the scales in his favour probably.
Attacking from the right
Arsene Wenger started with 3 playmakers behind Olivier Giroud and despite an initial 10 minute phase where Arsenal looked a little casual on the ball, there was a pattern that started to develop as most of Arsenal’s play polarized to the right hand side, thus targeting the on-loan Aly Cissokho. Opta’s average position graphic after exactly 30 minutes is shown below and gives a fair idea of the Gunners’ intentions in the first half. This is reminiscent of Arsenal’s initial 20 minute spell against Napoli, where they blitzkrieged their way into a 2 goal lead targeting the right hand side particularly. Arsene Wenger has often been criticized for not being a tactical genius but this season has shown he is an excellent learner and observer. Liverpool’ problems were compounded by the fact that Lucas spent the first half chasing shadows and was always a step behind the pace of the game while the other 2 midfielders, Lucas and Gerrard looked unsure of their roles in the side. For the first goal, Cazorla was left wide open while Gerrard jogged in behind him when he arrived in the box. Ditto for Lucas and Ramsey. Henderson who arguably has been Liverpool’s best midfielder this season wasn’t even in the frame being slow in defensive transition. As the half wore on, it was Arsenal who looked more threatening and capable of adding to their lead rather than Liverpool equalizing. Luis Suarez was left isolated and on the odd occasion that he dropped deep, Sagna and Mertesacker were upto thier task.
Liverpool’s width issues and Arsenal’s crossing
Liverpool are a wonderful side to watch like they showed against West Brom last week but against teams pushing them deep, the wider centre backs often tend to keep going into a shell. This not only pulled the wingbacks further back and invited pressure from Arsenal but also opened gaping holes between the midfield and defensive lines. Cazorla was playing at his fluent best again and with him and Rosicky in the side, the team naturally starts to play at a quicker tempo. The high tempo hurt Liverpool bad and Arsenal started inviting their fullbacks to attack and overlap, leading to more crosses from the fullbacks mostly from the right hand side. Despite only 1 being successful, Arsenal amassed 14 crosses in all and it couldn’t be more visible that the 5 at the back was not working.
Liverpool made only 3 crosses in the entire first half and 2 of them were made by Steven Gerrard from midfield. Thus Liverpool’s major attacking threat was Suarez and Suarez alone. The fact that the midfield created zilch meant he had to drop deep and the front 4 of Arsenal pressed the Liverpool backline deep enough for neither of Flanagan and Cissokho to join in attack. In the one rare occasion where Ramsey gave the ball away cheaply and Cissokho came forward with the ball, he never looked certain and as Sagna choked him for space the new signing surrendered possession for a throw-in.
A narrow formation demands the wingbacks to provide width and the midfield to know their specific roles and contribute in attack briskly after turnovers. None of which transpired and by half time Rodgers had had enough. Off came Cissokho, on came the fit again Coutinho.
Change in Liverpool shape, Arsenal survive
Despite signing Ozil, Flamini has been heralded as the most important piece to Arsenal’s jigsaw and the second half showed why. Liverpool changed to a narrow 4-3-3 or more like an alteration of 4-3-2-1 with Coutinho and Suarez pulling the strings, dropping deep, pulling wide and while Ramsey adding an extra man in attack, the Arsenal captain was isolated and overworked in midfield. Liverpool enjoyed a good spell of possession but lacked any sort of penetration. Ramsey’s goal might have killed the contest but Liverpool continued to grow in confidence and with Moses coming on for Flanagan, Henderson shifted to right back and kept attacking through the right channels dropping dangerous crosses time and again. The Arsenal front 4’s high pressing meant they started getting loose as the game wore down.
Arsene Wenger responded to Rodgers’ substitutions by shoring up his defence as he brought on Monreal to protect Gibbs. Wenger later threw in Vermaelen for the then injured Gibbs and Jenkinson for the man of the match Cazorla. The intentions were clear, with the extra defensive cover Arsenal sat deep and defended the lead with Arteta playing anchor man brilliantly. The Spaniard had to not only deal with Coutinho’s mobility but also keep Gerrard from joining in attack and despite often being all on his own, he did his job to perfection. Much had been made of the SAS duo but Arsenal’s centre back pairing have been excellent themselves despite the anomalous defensive record. Throughout the game Koscielny and Mertesacker were on their toes and especially hyperactive after the home side went 2 up and ended the game strongly towards the end sealing another clean sheet in the process.
Last season’s Arsenal player of the year is back and what better way to announce his return than a man of the match effort in a game of this magnitude. Cazorla’s uncertainty with his feet kept the Liverpool defenders second guessing throughout the match and none of the Liverpool midfielders could deal with the diminutive attacker’s runs and it was no surprise that it was Cazorla who scored was available for Sagna’s 19th minute cross, scoring of his own rebound. The most interesting part about his play was his movement and swapping positions with Rosicky, who in turn kept dropping deeper as the game went on. The narrowness of the attackers gave more space to Gibbs on the left and also meant Gerrard and Lucas were chasing shadows while Arsenal dominated the ball, a tactic that won them the game.