With Chelsea losing a surprise match against Newcastle United in the day's early match, Arsenal and Liverpool's clash suddenly took on even greater importance.
The winner would go (or stay) on top of the Premier League table.
Having both dominated the domestic competition in recent weeks on the back of several good performances, Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers would have both fancied their chances at picking up a result. Yet in the end, it was the North London club who won the match courtesy of some stellar individual performances, and the Gunners extended their lead on top of the table to five points.
Let's break down the film and see exactly how Arsenal dominated the Reds.
Liverpool's Midfield Trio vs. Arsenal's Double-Pivot
With Liverpool again lining up in their 3-5-2 formation, it was clear that the plan for the Reds was to nullify the threat of both Arsenal's central midfielders by clogging the middle. Lucas Leiva would sit ahead of the back three providing extra cover, while Steven Gerrard would hold the space slightly ahead and around the Brazilian, allowing Jordan Henderson to push up and help out Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.
In theory, that was the way in which the Reds' midfield trio would work.
However, against Arsenal's double-pivot in Ramsey and Arteta (which is a much better combination than anything involving Jack Wilshere) it just didn't happen.
The Arsenal pair were simply too disciplined and organized.
Prior to Santi Cazorla's opening goal, we can see the Reds' triangle in action—sitting deeper on the field than Ramsey and Arteta but, importantly, playing off Ozil.
At his best out wide, Ozil quickly receives the pass and is able to then expose the Reds' midfield, pushing up the field quickly. Because the trio aren't spread out across the field like Rodgers might have hoped, Ozil is able to isolate Aly Cissokho on the left flank with an overlapping Bacary Sagna.
The chance breaks down once Sagna's cross for Olivier Giroud is cleared, but it would take just a few minutes for the trio's lack of width to cause problems again.
And it's Arsenal's midfield that made it happen.
Having played the ball out from their goalkeeper, Arsenal are deep in possession in their own half. Henderson goes up to press Ramsey, but there is no support behind him from the other two midfielders in Gerrard and Lucas, which allows him to give a quick pass to Arteta.
Arteta quickly finds himself with acres of space.
Note here how both Gerrard and Lucas aren't in position to help cover the Gunners' counterattack. Lucas is watching Arteta rather than recognizing how out of position Gerrard is. Lucas' job was to sit ahead of the defensive line and pick up the central midfielders for Arsenal, but here, he's seemingly content to track back and simply occupy the space that he feels needs covering.
As we'll see, it doesn't turn out all too well for him.
Cissokho is again isolated on the left flank due to a great run from Tomas Rosicky (which pulls Mamadou Sakho out of position) and that in turn releases Sagna.
A sublime crosser, Sagna takes off down the flank with Giroud waiting in the middle.
However, the key here is again on the Liverpool duo. Lucas isn't picking up either Ozil or Cazorla, while Gerrard isn't showing enough urgency to get back in defense.
At the moment when the right-back crosses into the box, Giroud is well-marked by the two central defenders assigned to shut him down on the night. However, the man that isn't marked is Cazorla, who simply waltzes into the box with all the time in the world.
Lucas has run back in a straight line without considering which man needs to be picked up. Gerrard has hardly run back at all to pick up the Spanish international.
For the 5'5" Cazorla to get a header, he must be in a lot of space.
Despite Rodgers essentially naming three central midfielders to combat the Arteta-Ramsey dichotomy, none of them were where they needed to be when it mattered most. Henderson had started it all by jumping in, but he can hardly be blamed for the movement. The real issue came when neither Gerrard nor Lucas helped out behind Henderson to shut down the space.
Neither tracked back to pick up an attacker, either.
As we'll see, the trio's failure to press up the field as a unit wasn't just limited to that moment, though, with both Arteta and Ramsey (but particularly Arteta) able to have far too much space when bringing the ball out from the back. Where the likes of Ramsey and Rosicky harried the Reds' midfield and forced them into making hurried clearances, the Spaniard had as much time as he needed.
In turn, that allowed Arteta to have far too much control.
Arteta's final stat line on the night was simply ridiculous.
100 passes completed from 106 attempts, 2/2 successful take-ons. According to Squawka, he attempted 11 defensive actions and won all bar one of them.
Part of that (as shown above) was the space that he was afforded by Liverpool ahead of the Gunners' defensive line, but part of it was also his discipline in the middle. He was organised and sensible in what he attempted alongside Ramsey—understanding when he was required to press forward and attack and when he was required to sit and hold and allow Ramsey to push.
And it's this understanding that makes the double-pivot so effective.
Yaya Toure's resurgence this season has directly come about because he has confidence in Fernandinho behind him to push upfield. Bastain Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Toni Kroos are all able to threaten in Bayern Munich's attack because they know that they won't all be attacking at the same time, and it was clear watching this one that Arteta understands that role.
Wilshere attacks when Ramsey attacks, and the pair get caught out.
That didn't happen with Arteta and Ramsey in the middle.
Look at the composure that the pair held when Sturridge tried to drop out of the front line and create the attack. They didn't follow the Englishman and create space in behind and, as a result, forced Gerrard into playing another option (which eventually led to a turnover).
The same happened when Suarez pulled out to try to create something.
Arteta and Ramsey held their shape and didn't allow the likes of Henderson or Gerrard to jump in behind them and get the room they needed to press their attacks.
Because they held their line well, Sturridge was left one-out at the top of the attack, Suarez was left trying to much and the trio behind them were rendered useless.
Game, set, match.
Two Topical Thoughts
1. Are Arsenal Starting to Master the Art of Gegenpressing?
After being pressed into submission by Borussia Dortmund in their most recent Champions League match, it was surprising to see Arsenal press so well here.
Whether it could quite be constituted as "genenpressing" or not still remains to be seen, but there was little doubt in the intentionality of Arsenal's defensive scheme.
All had their man, and all moved in quickly to shut down the attack.
In the example below, Cissokho was the latest victim.
Part of the problem for Liverpool was the fact that their midfield trio wanted to operate so centrally, and in doing so, their wing-backs were left far too isolated against Arsenal's high-pressing defenders.
But even still, Arsenal deserve credit for their defensive performance.
As close to genenpressing as we've seen from them this year.
2. How Many Times will We See This Goal?
If you thought you'd seen Cazorla's goal before, well you had. And with the same movement arising again in an Arsenal game, it's time to watch out for it all the time.
Here's it happening for Ozil against Napoli.
Here's it happening for Robert Lewandowski against Arsenal.
And here's it happening for Cazorla.
Bacary Sagna has been quietly producing a number of good performances out on the right flank for Arsenal, and that will only improve as Ozil continues to operate from a wider position. The statistics won't necessarily record them as goalscoring chances, but the defender has played an important ball in most counterattacking raids from Arsenal this year and will continue to do so.
Sagna's definitely one to watch out for against Manchester United next weekend.
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