Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool: amazing late drama

April 17, 2011

The starting line-ups

Robin van Persie broke the record for the latest-ever Premier League goal…then Dirk Kuyt broke it again.

Alex Song was only fit enough for the bench, so Arsene Wenger played Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere in the centre of midfield. Theo Walcott came in for Andrei Arshavin.

Kenny Dalglish named his expected side, although he had to make two like-for-like changes because of injury during the game – both Fabio Aurelio and Jamie Carragher were forced off.

Amongst the crazy few final moments, the main tactical story from this game was simple – Arsenal struggled to break down a disciplined Liverpool defence.

Early stages

The game started relatively even, but when Arsenal settled down into a good rhythm, they started to dominate possession and pushed Liverpool back deep into their own half. Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Eboue caused problems down the right, and Arsenal looked dangerous.

Liverpool were essentially losing the numbers game in midfield. Against Manchester City last week, Luis Suarez was given license to stay high up the pitch and look for space in between the lines. City were poor that day and Liverpool could afford to do without an extra man in the midfield zone, but here Arsenal’s possession game was causing too many problems in the centre of the pitch.

Midfield battle

The home side’s 3 v 2 advantage was a problem in itself for Liverpool, but it especially harmed their chances of pressing properly – with Cesc Fabregas playing close to the midfield, if Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva came up to the pitch, they’d simply be bypassed by Arsenal’s midfield triangle. As a result, they had to sit deep, offering little attacking threat in open play.

Liverpool could have lived with this, content to soak up pressure before playing on the counter-attack, but Dalglish couldn’t really justify giving Suarez such freedom, since he was having a poor game when he got the ball – he moved into decent positions, but his passing was wayward and he seemed unlikely to create chances.

Therefore, midway through the first half, Dalglish instructed the Uruguyan to move from his support striker role to a left-sided position, pushing Raul Meireles infield and switching to more of a 4-5-1. This gave Liverpool more bodies in the centre, allowed them to close down, and though Arsenal continued to dominate the ball, they looked less dangerous.

Until then, Liverpool had survived because of excellent performances from the four defenders, plus good work from Lucas, who patrolled the zone in front of the back four, and also helped double up against Arsenal’s wingers (particularly Walcott). Arsenal’s delivery from wide areas into the box was poor, as the chalkboard below shows.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Second half

After half time, Liverpool seemed to be content with the draw. Carroll’s departure through injury resulted in Dalglish sending on Jonjo Shelvey and pushing Kuyt upfront as the lone striker – Liverpool seemed to want to shut up shop.

Wenger’s changes were numerous – Nicklas Bendtner, Andrei Arshavin and Alex Song all came on, and Arsenal’s attackers switched positions to give Liverpool a different threat, but they still found it difficult to play through Liverpool’s defence, who sat very deep.

From the chalkboards, it’s interesting how rare it was that Liverpool actually needed to cut out an attack in their own penalty area. The chalkboards below shows that no interceptions and only four tackles (all of which happened in the first half) took place in the penalty area, and for a side that sat quite deep, Liverpool’s interceptions are surprisingly high up the pitch.

by Guardian Chalkboards

This indicates that Liverpool pressed quite well in the midfield zone, and that Arsenal’s use of the ball around the penalty box was poor. Fabregas, despite winning the penalty, didn’t inspire Arsenal enough in the centre of the pitch, and his passing was not as good as it usually is. Fabregas’ role in the team means that he’s often the one trying the ‘killer’ pass and therefore it’s entirely acceptable that a lot of red arrows will show up in his passing chalkboard – but even so, he gave the ball away too cheaply in this match.

by Guardian Chalkboards

The late penalties owed little to tactics, and much to tiredness and poor decision making.


Arsenal narrowly avoided a third consecutive home game without scoring, and essentially relied on a clumsy tackle from Spearing for the goal. It’s easy to continue to blame Arsenal’s problems at the back for their (relative) woes, but the attacking band of three has to take responsibility for the lack of goals in recent weeks. The final ball from Fabregas, Nasri and Walcott was continually disappointing here, and the truth is that Arsenal aren’t doing the things you usually associate with Arsenal – the passing is sloppy, the attacks are too slow, the movement upfront isn’t good.

Liverpool’s attacking performance was a little disappointing following the game against Manchester City – Suarez and Carroll rarely combined, and with the two banks of four sitting deep, it was difficult for Liverpool to get midfield runners up to join them. The defensive performance was very good, however, and Liverpool’s record this season against the clubs above them in the table is very impressive.

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