On the eve of Arsenal visiting Liverpool I got changed to go to the bar, and without thinking I put on my Arsenal polo “2-0 Arsenal, It’s up for grabs now!” and head out for drinks. That innocuous act helped Arsenal, I am convinced of that.
When I wake up in the morning all I can think about is the detailed referee preview for the match. Howard Webb, one of my all time most disliked officials. Despite my disgust in the appointment of Webb as the official I am not horribly worried as I normally would be. Why? Because Webb likes to mess with Liverpool too.
The match kicks off and instantly your heart sinks, Liverpool are pressing Arsenal up and down the pitch. Arsenal, true to current technique and form are crossing poorly. While this seems bleak, there is something happening in the middle.
Arsenal are moving the ball well through the middle of the park and attacking Liverpool at their weakest spot, the defence. Skrtel and Agger have received discipline this season, given away cheap goals, shown impatience in their personal tactics and been known for various other gaffs in previous seasons. Neil Banfield’s tactical preparation with the first team is evident.
Both Arsenal goals are due to the central attacking of Skrtel, pinning the centreback in the middle and allowing Arsenal to pinpoint Glen Johnson who has not excelled defensively in recent memory.
The other coaching tactic is evident in the finishing of both Podolski and Giroud, they struck Reina where he is weakest, low. Podolski fires low beside his legs, and Cazorla fires low just beside the body. Reina always falls sideways to get his hands on the ball rather than bending his knees and moving forward out towards the ball. He also has made that very same defensive error on other occasions.
It was a match where the technical ability of individuals was used to create a team tactic of isolating on Liverpool players. Rather than focusing on pace, speed, and quick ball movement. Arsenal still moved the ball quickly but not to tire out the opponent as much as to exploit the lanes as they became available for a pass or through ball.
Arsenal’s squad was picked with players with good technical ability on the ball, the cutting pass, and of course an ability to cycle through positions. Walcott has pace, but he does not have the ability to shift into positions not on the front line. Gervinho while skilled on the ball does not have the strong outside shot.
On the day, amended Arsenal tactics worked against a Liverpool squad whose tactics were based on the Arsenal team from a week prior. Yes, I am saying that Wenger, the man who never changes tactics, actually beat an opponent by modifying his tactics.
Man of the Match – Abou Diaby. Duh. I saw things from Diaby that I had heard about, or seen in a combination of still photos from training. This is what we have been missing from him over his long return to full fitness. And get this, he’s not even at 100% yet. A lot of people have taken time to compare him to YaYa Toure, and previously to Vieira (in potential); I think that Diaby is his own player. Comparing him to others would limit his ability and potential. The way he saw the game, the manner in which he kept the ball close to him and his break out speed. Unbelievable. Yaya and Vieira do not have the acceleration of Diaby. So exciting, and this is a guy I’ve long thought was a lost cause and a waste of resources. Please, again, pass me the mustard because I am eating my foot. Two weeks in a row and Diaby is impressing me more and more. Ok, let’s not get too excited, being surprised is such a good feeling!
Santi Cazorla is my runner-up simply because he did everything he could to try and get Giroud a goal. Pass after pass was there for Giroud or for someone who’s next option was only Giroud. Cazorla’s link play is great, and he’s a fast little bugger too. The thing that I love about Cazorla is that he is willing to take the game on by himself. He will play as a team, but take an opportunity the second it presents itself. Look no further than the 66’ when he slightly snatches at it after selling the Liverpool defence on a one-two.
Lukas Podolski is doing everything we need from a number 9. He tracks back to support the defence before the opponent can lay the ball off to support. Borini would race down the wing, then turn to pass it back to Allen, and boom, there was Podolski ready to challenge. He passes the ball as if he prefers to pass than shoot, the ball barely leaves the ground and always finds its mark. He links up with Arteta, Giroud, Diaby and the OxCart as if he’s been doing it for months and not a matter of three weeks. He’s an educated striker, he knows that a shot on net is valuable and does not go for the glory goal when he knows that any goal is a good goal. Case in point, he could have shot high on a couple of occasions, but he sticks to fundamentals, picks his spot and fires low.
Olivier Giroud is a little unlucky. He moves into places that I have not seen an Arsenal striker go since Ian Wright. He gets into very dangerous places, and players do not watch him, follow him, or acknowledge him; that is going to be very costly once he finds his shooting boots. He tried so hard to get on the sheet, and I applaud his work rate, he gave all he had. The one moment that shows how his confidence is short right now was his battle with Jose Enrique at the end of the game. He wanted the goal so badly that he tried to cut in rather than moving wide and waiting for support. It was disappointing that he did not win the physical battle against Enrique, but that will change.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was a great tactical insert. Where Walcott and Gervinho go to the by-line, the OxCart cuts in to shooting positions. Why cross the ball against Agger and Skrtel, who are skilled aerial defenders, when you can run across them and take a shot. That was the strategy, but it evolved with the OxCart moving across, laying the ball on to another player and it nearly sprung Diaby through for a goal. Great movement, great workrate.
Mikel Arteta really can play the whole of midfield. He’s played the middle and wide for Rangers, and largely the same for Everton, for Arsenal he has moved the ball in the midfield and from the much deeper positions. Now he has shown himself as respectable in the tackle. He needs to time his tackles well and he is not known for his pace. What makes Arteta so good in the holding role is that he is a crucial link between the defence and the attack. He creates space and moves the ball better than Song. If you look at video from last season, Song would take the ball, dribble, touch, pass; Arteta takes the ball, and passes. Much faster and it puts the opponents on the back foot. The reason we did not punish Stoke or Sunderland more is because they plunked so many behind the ball.
Kieran Gibbs though not his best performance did the little things well. He was not challenged as much by Borini as he will be by others this season. The thing about Gibbs that impressed me with Liverpool was when Cazorla put him through for a shot. Clichy would have sailed it over the bar, Gibbs put it on net and low, perfect. Gibbo still has crossing as his big shortfall. While one cross in the 19’ was good, Liverpool had the box well covered. He then made two more and the one in the 30’ was damned ugly. It’s time for him to put his crosses on the floor. More often than now, the ones that do not get through will be turned away for corners. We have the height to capitalize on those corners now. And right-on to Gibbs for giving some stick to Giroud, he was clearly open with a better opportunity.
Thomas Vermaelen’s leadership is evident in the way that he sacrifices himself and verbally identifies what everyone’s role is defensively. After one small miscue from Mertesacker, there is Vermaelen, in his ear to help him play better. His one long rush dribble was a well analyzed opportunity on his part. Too bad he’s not that strong shooting from the dribble.
Per Mertesacker was flirting with disaster. On various forums and podcasts I was advocating that Mertesacker should retain his place in the starting XI until Arsenal concede a goal, then Koscielny gets back in. Was Suarez fouled? No, both times when he went down (when Mertesacker was carded, and when he called for a penalty) he was not touched at the time he went down. The boy who cried wolf influenced Howard Webb into not granting him a crap penalty.
Carl Jenkinson ran a class on how to tackle one on one, read Gerrard got owned! I was genuinely worried before the match that Sterling’s dribbling would have torn Jenkinson apart, now I’m trying to remember if Sterling was really on the pitch. Jenkinson is improving quickly. He started the match with some serious confidence issues, but he came around. His positioning needs a little refinement, but he’s got good teammates and coaches to get him up to a new level.
Vito Mannone is a man of two minds, do I go for the ball or do I let others clean it up. Mannone kept a clean sheet, the first 80% of the match was due to his teammates and the last 20% was down to his saves on Jonjo. Good for him, good for his confidence, but it’s time he steps aside for a crazy Pole. To be fair to him, he also got no protection from Webb either.
Aaron Ramsey came on to fill a role. He made it hard on Liverpool because he widened the pitch, this from a guy who plays centrally. He did a great job of drawing fouls, separating Liverpool midfielders from their shape. When he outran Jonjo and drew the caution I was so proud of his effort.
Andre Santos came on and disrupted Liverpool, but it was also a good move to protect Gibbs. The introduction of Downing brought a new issue for Arsenal. He was cutting in and shooting, Santos came in like a cork in a wine bottle. Downing lost space and was neutralized.
Laurent Koscielny came on for the sole purpose of getting his legs moving and to provide rest to Vermaelen. He was coming on anyway, but originally for Mertesacker to kill some clock. We did not get much time to see him, but the smile on his face said it all; he was ready to get on with his football.
Hope you enjoyed the review as much as you enjoyed the match.