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Premier League, April 3 2021

Arsenal 0
Liverpool 3
  • Jota (64, 82)
  • Salah (68)

Liverpool secured a third straight victory in all competitions for the first time since October, seeing off a poor Arsenal with eventual ease at the Emirates. Jürgen Klopp and his visitors were the better team throughout this Premier League encounter, but had to wait until the second half before scoring the goals that earned them a valuable three points in their quest to catch Chelsea in fourth. Substitute Diogo Jota was again the catalyst, heading home an exquisite cross from Trent Alexander-Arnold – who looked in determined mood after his omission from Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad – for the opener just past the hour. Mo Salah scored a second soon after, with Jota completing the rout 10 minutes from time. Victory was Liverpool’s fifth win from six visits to London this season – only Fulham have taken a point from them – while Arsenal will need to improve with a Europa League quarter final on the horizon. “They were much better than us in every single department, and I’m fully responsible for that,” said manager Mikel Arteta. “We want to apologise, to our people and our fans.”

Starting line-ups

Shots / On target

Arsenal2/1
Liverpool16/7

Possession

Arsenal35%
Liverpool65%

Attacks into area

Arsenal4
Liverpool20

Expected goals (xG)

Arsenal0.07
Liverpool2.3

In possession: Arsenal

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with forward Alexandre Lacazette flanked by quick wingers Nicolas Pépé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The double pivot of Thomas Partey and Dani Ceballos looked to provide both defensive security and an ability to play through the middle when building the attack.

From early on, however, the hosts bypassed midfield and played long and in behind for their quick wingers. This strategy didn’t work, resulting in a high number of transitions into possession for Liverpool and forcing Arsenal into long periods without the ball.

Right-back Calum Chambers tried to push forward when Arsenal did have the ball, to support Pépé and create overloads against Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson. The remaining Arsenal defenders would remain compact and move across the pitch, aiming to minimise the space and potential vulnerability between Chambers and right-sided centre-back Rob Holding.

The four Arsenal forward players tried to play with fluidity. Number 10 Martin Ødegaard would interchange positions with central striker Lacazette, who would at times drop deeper to receive and create a decoy for the forward Arsenal pass.

 

Out of possession, Arsenal transitioned in to a 4-5-1 shape, with Ødegaard, Aubameyang and Pépé joining the central midfielders to make a compact five across midfield. The hosts were keen to occupy central areas and not defend outside the width of the penalty area, but when trying to regain possession further up the pitch this defensive depth became a problem. Their attackers often had too far to travel, which afforded the Liverpool defenders time and space on the ball and resulted in the home team simply being run ragged.

When Arsenal were able to play through their central midfielders, it created an opportunity for more players to join the attack, and for the ball to be played into wide areas. When building through Partey in particular, this created the opportunity for Aubameyang to find space wide on the left and drive at Trent Alexander-Arnold, or slide a ball in between any gaps in the Liverpool defence. Alternatively, Partey would look to combine with Ødegaard, who acted as a front pivot, and move the ball across the Liverpool back four. This was still rare, however, as they persisted with the long-ball tactic that had little or no impact.

At the beginning of the second half, Arsenal looked to play with higher speed and intensity in possession. Play was built more through midfield and moved around the pitch to try and unsettle Liverpool. Partey, Lacazette and substitute Cédric – who had replaced the injured Kieran Tierney at left-back – looked to combine at a high tempo, attempting to break lines in the Liverpool defence. Unfortunately for the Gunners, this approach proved equally ineffective in creating clear chances.

Cédric and Chambers tried to push up in line with their central midfielders when Arsenal built from the back, making a line of four across the pitch and forcing Mo Salah and Sadio Mané into more defensive positions. The lack of any real sustained possession made it difficult for the hosts to exploit any positional advantage, however, and the visitors ultimately scored the goals that their dominance merited.

In pictures

In possession: Liverpool

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp set his team up in a consistent 4-3-3 formation, with defensive midfielder Fabinho playing as a single pivot. Full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold often played in advanced positions, combining with wide forwards Sadio Mané and Mo Salah, who regularly adopted the inside wide channel to create overloads against the Arsenal back line.

Out of possession, the visitors remained in their 4-3-3 shape, with their holding lines becoming flatter and more compact. They minimised space between the units, but maintained a mindset to counter-attack quickly if transitioning into a potentially dangerous area.

Throughout the game, Salah took up a starting position in the outside channel. This made it difficult for left-back Kieran Tierney (later Cédric) to mark him tightly, but when the ball travelled forward he would drive inwards, forcing the defender to quickly adapt his body shape and position. It was a simple but effective movement that gave Liverpool and Salah a consistent advantage when attacking down the right.

When Liverpool built from their own defensive third, Fabinho dropped to offer an option for his centre-backs while the full-backs played with width and height. This gave Liverpool security at the back, and an excellent platform from which to play in behind the more attacking Arsenal right-back Calum Chambers. They exploited this space in the Arsenal defensive unit on numerous occasions.

With Arsenal shifting between a mid-block and high press, Liverpool found it difficult to penetrate and often opted to play around the hosts’ compact and deep shape, aiming to tease them out of position and commit a defender towards the ball. When Arsenal moved across to cover the space, Liverpool had a range of passing options, usually opting for a switch in play to change the point of attack, or trying to build through the midfield trio of Fabinho, James Milner and Thiago.

 

As a trend, Liverpool were keen to overload Arsenal in wide areas, but those providing the overload changed depending on the position of the ball and area of the pitch. If they won the ball back in central areas, left-sided central midfielder Milner would look to provide an overlap in the wide channel with Mané. This fluidity of personnel afforded Liverpool the opportunity to attack quickly, hoping to catch out any poor organisation in the Arsenal back line.

The relationship between Alexander-Arnold and Salah on the right was productive for Liverpool. The two would switch between the wide and inside channels, making it difficult for Arsenal to track their movement and cut passing lines between the two. It came as no surprise that the visitors’ crucial opening goal came from the two combining before Alexander-Arnold’s superb cross for substitute Diogo Jota.

The introduction of Jota for Robertson – Milner shifted to left-back as the Reds moved to a 4-2-3-1 shape – marked a change in the pattern of the game for Liverpool. Jota frequently occupied a position in between Rob Holding and Chambers, releasing Mané to play with more width on the left and giving the Arsenal defence a range of decisions to make at high tempo.

This tactic was fundamental in Liverpool breaking Arsenal’s low block and was evident in all three goals, with numbers on the left creating more space for a string of outstanding deliveries and runs from the right. With Liverpool effectively locking the box when the ball entered the area from that side, Arsenal rarely managed to clear it well and were duly punished with three goals in an excellent away display from Klopp’s men.

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