Hello to all Arsenal fans around the world. Welcome to the Arsenal Analyst.
The new EPL season has finally kicked off and Arsenal faced Liverpool FC for their first round. Let’s jump right in for an in-depth look at this game.
The game ended in a defeat for Arsenal, 3-4. Theo Walcott netted the first goal in the 30th minute but Philippe Coutinho pulled one back just before the half time. Then Adam Lallana scored a goal for Liverpool just three minutes into second half (starting sign of a disastrous game). Another goal was scored by Coutinho in the 55th minute making the score 1-3. Not long after Coutinho’s goal, Sadio Mane scored the fourth goal by easily going through Calum Chambers.
Arsenal started fighting back; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Chambers managed to pull two back. But, that was it. It was not enough to turn back the result. Arsenal ended up with their first defeat of the season.
Arsenal started out with a 4-2-3-1 formation (no surprise).
New signing, Granit Xhaka didn’t start the game as expected (read 2016/17 Season Preview for more info). Rob Holding and Calum Chambers had to be selected since there was no other choice available at this point.
In the attacking-midfielder position, Aaron Ramsey started the game. Mesut Özil was still out for a break and Santi Cazorla was not yet fit enough to start.
A small surprise came up at the striker spot, Alexis Sánchez. Actually, we already saw “striker Alexis” in the pre-season but weren’t expecting it to be used. Reason? It didn’t work out well!
Anyways, Arsène Wenger chose Alexis up front utilizing Alex Iwobi on the left and bringing Walcott back down to the right wing.
Wenger tried out something different in this game, a shift. Wenger is definitely not a flexible tactician and he prefers his formation to be more “stable” throughout the game. But for some reason, he decided on a “change.”
This could be because of Liverpool’s play style. Liverpool plays a very high-line game. That’s Jürgen Klopp’s characteristic, Gegenpressing. He urges his players to press forward into the opponent’s defensive line causing an error at the back. Then, the error is quickly transited into a counter-attack.
Wenger’s solution to this tactic was a similar high-line pressure and this is where the shift came in.
When the ball was at Liverpool’s defensive third, Ramsey moved up next to the striker position. With four attackers (Iwobi, Ramsey, Alexis and Walcott) at the front line, Mohamed Elneny covered Ramsey’s position and Francis Coquelin stayed at the middle to cover the defense. With such positioning, players could press with a very high-line to trap Liverpool’s ball stream getting out for a counter-attack.
[What went well?]
By increasing the number of attackers instantly, Arsenal could cover their absence of a classic striker.
Ramsey almost acted as a “hidden striker.” As soon as the ball is regained, Ramsey is not hesitant to run forward.He is even further up front than Alexis in this situation.
Also with more men up front, Arsenal’s “beautiful passing game” became more convenient.Here, a pass came into the box from Iwobi, Alexis laid it off for Ramsey who then attempted a shot. Walcott wasn’t involved in this but he was also hunting for an opportunity on the other side.
This seemed to be a successful tactic until Arsenal’s first goal. Walcott’s first goal came from this shift. Coquelin cuts the ball at the center,
Ramsey runs into the striker position, Elneny plus the four attackers turn to a counter-attack. Due to this high-line pressure at defense, Liverpool’s left full-back, Alberto Moreno is suddenly out of his position and Walcott runs free.
A pass is made from Iwobi to Walcott and a goal scored for Arsenal.
[What went wrong?]
So then, why did this “seemingly” successful tactic go wrong in the end?
We have to be critical today. This loss was not just about the game itself but it was actually about Arsenal’s lack of pre-game preparation. Unfamiliarity to a new game plan (the shift) and lack of teamwork messed up the result.
*Vulnerability of thin midfield line
Let’s go back to the “shift” discussion. First thing to point out was the vulnerability of thin midfield. Because there were five players going forward, the midfield area was relatively weak when Liverpool broke out of the pressure. A successful counter-attack from Liverpool was inevitably fatal.Only two central defenders remain at defense and Elneny has to run all the way back chasing the Liverpool attack from behind. Wenger most likely prepared a solution to cope with this kind of situation but the team was not synchronized enough with the tactic to exactly carry out Wenger’s thoughts.
*Why let Elneny go up front for pressure and bring Ramsey down to protect the back-four?
The aim inside Liverpool’s defensive third was to effectively slow down Liverpool players coming up for a quick counter-attack. But, what did Arsenal do “after” Liverpool gave up their counter-attack and came up slowly into Arsenal’s defensive third?
Take a look at this picture. Can you pick out something odd from this image?Look at the three midfielders’ defensive positioning. When attacking and pressing with high-line pressure at Liverpool’s defensive end, Ramsey was acting like a hidden striker. He was the fourth man in attack and he often stood at the very front line to receive the ball for a finish.
Now let’s look at the image again. If Ramsey is standing like he is in that picture, that means he had to run all the way back from where he was when attacking. This kind of positioning kept on recurring throughout the game. Wenger, for some reason, intended this. Why? We want to ask; is Ramsey’s individual defensive quality better than Elneny’s? Is Ramsey better than Elneny at covering the back-four? What is the efficiency of bringing Ramsey so far back down if he has to cover the distance from one end of the pitch to another?
*What happened to your teamwork guys? (What did you guys do in training?!)
In most cases, the defenders and the midfielders didn’t seem to be communicating.
Here, Coutinho goes down to receive the ball.
Now Coutinho is standing right next to Ramsey and Rob can call on Ramsey to cover Coutinho. But for some reason, Rob just follows Coutinho outside. As a result, Sadio Mane has a big free space in front of him to break into the back-four line.
The biggest problem in lack of communication and lack of teamwork stood out when defenders and midfielders were keeping their lines.
The three midfielders are keeping a straight line in front of the four defenders who are also keeping a straight back-four line.In between these two (yellow) lines, there are three Liverpool attackers (blue circles) moving freely around that big free space (red circle).
This next picture makes the situation more clear.Coutinho runs into that free (red circle) space to score a goal while Arsenal’s yellow lines fall further apart.
What are the midfielders thinking here?
Why aren’t they covering for the back-four?
Another goal chance for Liverpool here, While the two yellow lines are further apart again, a low cross comes into the middle. Roberto Firmino (and two more Liverpool players) is free inside that big blue circle to successfully fire a dangerous shot onto Arsenal’s goal.Who is managing the “line-control” in this team?!
Expanding from “Situation 2,” the third situation makes us sure that Arsenal is not completely ready as one team.
Liverpool’s attack progresses on the side. Nacho Monreal is looking at the space in front of Mane. So if Monreal runs into that big blue circle to cover up Mane’s run, who is on Firmino?As soon as Monreal covers up Mane, a pass route into Firmino opens up and Firmino has all the space in front of him to take a shot. Where is your “call” guys? Call out!!
*Lack of teamwork leading to silly mistakes
Every time Arsenal was trying to bring up their pace, silly mistakes came up to put a break on Arsenal’s attack.
Nothing to explain really, these images show it all.
Cazorla’s through pass not ticking with Alexis’s run.
Ox and Coquelin putting off their responsibility on each other.
Cazorla’s cross directly shoved into Monreal’s back in the last minute of this match (oh god, this was funny).
These kinds of silly and stupid mistakes really put the team off.
*Chambers, oh Chambers……
There is actually one last thing we want to criticize on and that is purely about Chambers. His individual defensive skills and his intelligence of reading the game turned out to be a real disaster.
One on one with Firmino, just few flicks and turns to easily peel off Chambers.
Here, if he really studied and prepared for this game, he should already know that he cannot compete in speed with Mane. But, look at what he is doing.He tries to race against Mane. Monreal is behind him, so why go for a risk? He should not follow Mane but should run into the empty space to cover up Monreal’s back. That way, Monreal and Chambers can team up to push out Mane from taking a shot.
We really wish Arsenal can prepare well and be ready as one team by the next game. Still lots of games to come and this defeat hopefully taught them something to improve upon. Let’s expect a better game next time.
Thank you for reading and see you next time with another in-depth analysis!
Good luck Arsenal!