Premier League Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool, 30th January 2013
In the most high-profile encounter of Wednesday's fixture list, Liverpool travelled to Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. The game was a lively encounter, with goals coming as a result of poor defending from both sides.
The away side set up with clear counter-attacking plan. Steven Gerrard and Lucas sat deep in midfield, looking to win the ball back with Arsenal players in advanced areas, distributing quickly to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
Jordan Henderson pushed on constantly from midfield and it was his forward-thinking that resulted in the first goal. He followed up Daniel Sturridge’s parried shot, laying on a neat pass to Suarez, who put Liverpool ahead after just five minutes.
Liverpool were assisted by some woeful Arsenal defending, it must be said.
This represented the perfect start for Brendan Rodgers as his side soaked up pressure well from Arsenal, but failed to make the most of their counter-attacking opportunities in the first half.
Arsenal failed to utilise Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski in wide areas and attacks through the middle of the pitch were thwarted by Lucas, who did a good screening job in front of his defence. The Brazilian was the most prolific tackler on the pitch, winning six of the seven he attempted in key areas.
Arsenal's creator in chief, Santi Cazorla, often found himself drifting into wide positions looking to escape the attentions of the two holding Liverpool midfielders.
While more effective centrally, Cazorla’s excellent lateral movement has been a trademark of his since joining Arsenal. He still has the ability to conjure opportunities in wider positions, as he made five chances during the 90 minutes. He also completed more passes in the attacking third than any player on the pitch.
Suarez was deployed on the left wing for Liverpool and struggled to make an impact following his early strike. The Uruguayan and his strike partner Sturridge were almost fruitless in their attempts to go at the Arsenal back four in a direct manner, successfully taking on an opponent just three times between the two of them.
Liverpool failed to find Suarez in many dangerous areas. For a player who has had more touches than any player in the opposition penalty area this season, he found it difficult to negotiate space drifting off the left-hand side.
Suarez received the ball a measly four times in the Arsenal area. The Gunners pushed on to left-back Glen Johnson, making it difficult for Liverpool to get the ball into Suarez down the left channel. In fact, Arsene Wenger's side won the ball back seven times in the left-back area.
Eventually Suarez was coming short to offer simple passes for Johnson deep within the Liverpool half. Not the area of the pitch you want the Liverpool star to be operating in.
Arsenal contributed to their own downfall yet again in the concession of the second goal, however. It was Henderson who netted, with another of his positive bursts forward troubling Arsenal. Wenger will not be pleased with how easy it was for Henderson to squeeze between two defenders on the edge of the box, as the Liverpool youngster tucked home after having his initial effort blocked.
Henderson looks to have found his best position at the point of the midfield three. Operating there in recent weeks he has undoubtedly had his best run of form in a Liverpool shirt.
With Arsenal struggling for ideas, you always sensed that it might be a set piece that would get them back into things. Olivier Giroud, who became more prominent as the game went on, headed past Reina to give Arsenal hope.
Giroud was involved again as Arsenal capped off a crazy five minutes by level things up. His deft lay-off into the path of Walcott allowed the England international to rifle the ball into the far corner of the net from the right-hand side of the penalty area. Perhaps Pepe Reina will be disappointed he got nothing on it, but Walcott's early strike clearly caught him off guard.
Both sides pressed for a winner in the later stages, opening the game up and exposing both sides' defensive ranks. Giroud and Suarez both had chances to snatch it, but failed to capitalise.
One major positive for Arsenal was the performance of the much maligned Aaron Ramsey. He operated alongside Jack Wilshere in the double-pivot midfield in the space usually occupied by the injured Mikel Arteta.
Ramsey controlled possession in a manner which has seen Arteta draw a lot of praise this campaign. He also covered the right side fervently, contributing well to the pressing that helped isolate Suarez.
The nature of the goals conceded were not really in keeping with the rest of the 90 minutes from a Liverpool point of view. Arsenal really struggled to get in behind Brendan Rodgers' side for large parts of the game, with Steven Gerrard and co. abandoning their usual pressing style in preference of sitting deep and picking off Arsenal in the last third.
Arsenal will be relieved to escape with a draw after defending atrociously for long spells.
As for Liverpool, it was so close to being a top-drawer away performance. Brendan Rodgers demonstrated his tactical acumen in the way that Liverpool were set. He will be happy with the side's response following their shocking performance in the FA Cup at Oldham.
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