Liverpool’s points record dream has been crushed after the two glaring errors from Virgil Van Dijk and Allison Becker gifted the win to the Gunners. The newly crowned Premier League champions can now reach the total points tally of 99, which will not be enough to surpass the Manchester City’s record of 100 points, set in 2017/18 season.
Jurgen Klopp opted for the strongest starting eleven with Jordan Henderson the only absentee following his knee injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain slotted in to replace the injured captain.
On the other side, Mikel Arteta made five changes to the team that were beaten by Tottenham last Sunday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sead Kolasinac made their way for the youngsters Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, whereas Dani Ceballos, Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi were replaced by Lucas Torreira, Cedric Soares and Rob Holding.
The following match analysis will depict the key aspects of the game between Arsenal and Liverpool.
Arsenal hopeless against Liverpool’s high-press
In the first 20 minutes of the game, the visitors from Merseyside completely eliminated Arsenal’s midfield using zonal man-orientations. Such a situation is displayed in the image below with David Luiz on the ball. We can see how Liverpool’s front three in Mane, Salah, and Firmino are all covering their respective zones but also in accordance with the opponents. This enabled Liverpool to cage Arsenal’s centre-midfield duo in Granit Xhaka and Torreira preventing the centre-backs from progressing the ball through the middle.
Consequently, the blocked passing lanes forced Arsenal’s centre-backs to either play the ball back to the goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez or play long diagonal balls to wide players on each wing. Such tactics demand the defensive players, including the goalkeeper, to possess a high level of passing range in order to accurately pick out the players in forward positions. Arsenal really struggled with this aspect of the game having played 64 long balls in the entire match with the accuracy of just 31%. In contrast, Liverpool completed 46 long passes out of 69 with a completion rate of 67%.
Liverpool’s three-men midfield taking advantage of Arsenal’s shortages
The newly crowned champions of England opted for a 4-3-3 formation in this game which meant a one-man advantage in the central-midfield area against Arsenal’s 3-4-3 set-up. This created a lot of problems for Arsenal as Liverpool were able to exploit their shortages in midfield by creating numerical overloads in other areas of the pitch.
Watch: Arsenal vs Liverpool highlights
In the illustration below, we can see that Alexander Lacazette dropped into his own half to man-mark Fabinho. This tactical move compensated the shortage of players in central-midfield but at the same time, it allowed Liverpool’s centre-backs to build-up from the back without any pressure.
Nevertheless, the key aspect of Liverpool’s build-up process was the positioning of both central-midfielders in Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijanldum. We can see that they situated themselves very wide to stretch Arsenal’s midfield, thus, creating space in the middle for Roberto Firmino to drop into. As a result, Liverpool restored their 3 vs 2 numerical advantage in the central area.
In order to counter the problem, Torreira and Xhaka tried to reduce the distance between each other. However, it then freed up the half-spaces as Arsenal’s front three stayed very narrow and one of the wing-backs (Cedric in this case) had to step out to press one of Liverpool’s full-backs.
Firmino dropping deep to collect the ball in midfield meant that one of the central-midfielders was allowed to push further forward and create an overload on the wing.
Here we can see how Liverpool made use of their one-man advantage in midfield. Wijnaldum moved further up the pitch and stepped across to the left with Andy Robertson making an overlapping run. Near the penalty box, Sadio Mane pinned Holding preventing him from moving which created space for Robertson to exploit. Both Torreira and Xhaka were often overrun and could not cover the spaces.
The scene displayed in the image below was a prominent one throughout the match. Liverpool’s preference to attack down the left flank was obvious with 46% of their attacks coming down Robertson’s side. Their only goal of the game also came from the positional play down the left-side with the Scotsman supplying his Senegalese teammate.
(Un)forced errors from two of the best
Up until the half an hour mark, Arsenal’s attempts to disrupt Liverpool’s build-up play from the back were mostly unsuccessful. One-man shortage in midfield meant that the front three would have to stay narrow which freed up space on one of the flanks.
Watch: Van Dijk responds to his costly error against Arsenal
In order to make the life uncomfortable for one of the centre-backs on the ball, either Nicolas Pepe or Reece Nelson would step out to press with Lacazette taking care of Fabinho. The former did exactly that and caught Van Dijk napping.
There is a potential room for debate whether it should be called forced or unforced error simply because a little dinked ball over Nelson’s head to Robertson or a better pass back to Allison would have prevented the goal. The Brazilian then followed with a similar mistake as two of the world’s best players in their positions cheaply gifted both goals to Arsenal.
The statistics displayed below further support the analysis. Liverpool ended the game with expected goals (xG) value of 3, whereas Arsenal’s xG of 0.71 clearly indicate that the final result does not reflect the actual performance of both teams.
Although Liverpool ended their 30-year title wait, the end to their season has not been the most glorifying. The long-awaited Premier League trophy will be presented to them next Wednesday in a game against Chelsea with Klopp still firing to finish the season on a high note.