Tactical Analysis: Liverpool vs. Arsenal: Sánchez, Xhaka and in-game management.

Tactical Analysis: Liverpool vs. Arsenal: Sánchez, Xhaka and in-game management.

After 12 days of much-needed rest, the Gunners locked horns with a Liverpool side in dire form. The Reds had conceded the most goals out of any of the teams in the current top 8. They're a team that thrives in the big games but are completely susceptible to slip up against the smaller teams. Klopp's side have only won one game out of seven in the year of 2017, a victory coincidently against Tottenham.

However, Arsenal came into the game as underdogs due to their woeful away performances this season. Wenger's men have already lost at the Etihad, Stamford Bridge & Goodison Park in the past five months. Come Saturday evening; the whole World was expecting the team to add another defeat their resume.

Arsène Wenger surprised the whole waiting world by making a drastic change to the starting line-up. Not only did Danny Welbeck make his first Premier League start in months, but Olivier Giroud also replaced Arsenal's top scorer in the starting XI. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also retained his place over Arsenal centurion, Theo Walcott.

For Liverpool, Jürgen Klopp only made one change from the team that lost away to Premier League champions Leicester City. Ragnar Klavan came in for Lucas Leiva to accompany Joel Matip in the heart of defense.

Liverpool vs arsenal Line up

Liverpool line up in a wide 4-3-3 against a 4-2-3-1 Arsenal that dropped to a 4-1-4-1 in defence.

To start a game at a fortress like Anfield without your two best players was always going to be hard. Mesut Özil's illness was unavoidable, but Wenger's decision to drop Alexis Sánchez was nothing short of diabolical. Perhaps Wenger was trying to completely throw Klopp off his game plan by fielding a tactical bombshell. The only way to defend it was perhaps to think that Wenger was anticipating Lucas Leiva at CB, so he wanted Giroud and Welbeck to physically dominate the out of place defender. This still doesn't excuse the exclusion of the Chilean, he's easily versatile enough to play anywhere in the front four. In all fairness, Wenger did come out before the game to explain his logic behind the decision.

"The thinking was that we had to go more direct and I wanted to play two players strong in the air."

Sadly, this logic didn't translate to the pitch. In theory, the approach was right. The decision to go directly does make sense. Jürgen Klopp's famous gegenpress has been enough in the past to disrupt any team's build up play. So Wenger was opting a more direct approach to bypass that press is plausible, but the exclusion of Sánchez is not.

The players tried to execute the direct game plan with Cech lofting the ball up to Giroud on six occasions and Monreal tried it five times, this meant Arsenal's midfield, as well as Liverpool's press, was completely bypassed. After a while, it was clear to see that the players weren't comfortable with this tactic and started to regress into their shell to counter. Liverpool sensed Arsenal's unfamiliarity with the game plan and instantly begun to sit back themselves. Klopp's men relaxed their press and instead became more passive in their closing down.

Arsenal Direct approach

Arsenal defending in a 4-1-4-1 after abandoning the direct approach.

Despite reverting to a counter, it was Arsenal who kept getting caught out at the back. Liverpool's MF 3 constantly overloaded and physically dominated Arsenal's pivot. In possession, Coquelin and Xhaka were poor and displayed minimal influence, in defence, they were completely non-existent and porous. Wenger's men have never been a team able to execute a low-block effectively and always leave too many holes through the middle. Despite defending in a 4-1-4-1 with the wingers & Iwobi tucked in, Liverpool found it so easy to open up the Gunners due to the undisciplined MF pivot.

Both Coquelin & Xhaka out of position

Both Coquelin & Xhaka out of position, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the park.

As the game went on, Arsenal looked more and more futile in attack and increasingly vulnerable at the back. Liverpool clearly targeted the flanks as a source of Arsenal's weakness. Sadio Mané repeatedly got at Nacho Monreal, turning him inside out. In the end, it was only when Wenger finally decided to bring on the club's best player that Arsenal actually looked potent in the attack.

Suddenly Liverpool retreated 10 yards further back, their MF 3 lost their shape and they couldn't string together two passes. However as with all Arsenal performances in big games, they got a goal back after going down early, then they pushed too far forward and got caught on the counter-attack.

Arsenal high line

Arsenal playing a high line with no defensive cover, getting caught out for the 3rd goal.

In seven games against the top 6 this season, Arsenal have only picked up 5 points. This is the worst record currently held by any of the top 6. It's a disgrace what Wenger has turned a once great club into. No person on the planet ever expects Arsenal to win any big game nowadays due to their mental fragility and incapability of managing a game. For Liverpool, they claim only their 2nd victory of the year, but a crucial one nonetheless. The win takes them into the top 4, above Arsenal and Manchester United, making the fight for top 4 that much more interesting.

About the Author Mathaeus Abuwa

Arsenal fan with a soft spot for Pascal Cygan.

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