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Tactical Analysis: vs Liverpool

​Wenger elected to go with the 3-4-3, similar to what we have seen previously. Alexandre Lacazette was dropped in favor of Danny Welbeck up top, allowing Alexis Sanchez to return to the lineup. In addition, it was a new defense for the Gunners with Holding, Koscielny, and Monreal across the back. These were bold decisions from Wenger; it was clear he wanted to take the game to Liverpool and allow his creative players – Ozil, Sanchez, and Welbeck – to go at a questionable defense. EARLY STAGES ​There was certainly a “feel them out” stage for both teams, as the lines of confrontation were just past midfield. With both teams known for their ability to run high lines, this was a surprise. Arsenal controlled the opening few minutes, with Xhaka dropping deep to control the game and Liverpool happy to let him have it. ​Not far in, Liverpool began to exploit the lack of a second wide player for Arsenal. Repeatedly, it was 3v2 on the left side of the field with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Holding out-numbered. The Reds used this to their advantage early and often, and the first chance of the game fell to the head of Emre Can who pushed it wide. Quickly, it was followed by a whipped in cross that Salah dove at, but Cech did well to make himself big and deflected it just in front of goal, which was cleared away. It appeared shortly thereafter that Ozil was asked to drop deeper, but he seemed to lack the discipline to stay goal side. After finding space behind him, Liverpool was able to play Mane in behind the defense, though the cross was blocked. ​Finally, the breakthrough happened, though it was on the right. Joe Gomez pushed on, creating yet another numbers advantage. After sliding the ball onto his left foot, he whipped in a cross that found the head of Firmino to make it 1-0 to the home team. ​Later, in replays, it was shown that two players were actually talking with coaching staff on the side just before the ball was turned over. Neither were in defensive position when the goal happened, though it’s unclear that they could have impacted the play. Still, this isn’t a good look for Wenger.ADJUSTMENTS FOR ARSENAL ​Soon after, it appeared that Arsenal, in an attempt to see more of the ball, asked Ramsey to drop deeper and play alongside Xhaka. Unfortunately, the side effect to this was a disconnect between the back five and the attackers. Namely, the front three of Arsenal simply did not see the ball enough in the first half hour. And they were desperate to get involved. Sanchez began dropping behind Xhaka, almost even with the back line, in an attempt to get some touches. This further exacerbated the issue. ​At this point, Arsenal had dropped into a 5-2-2-1 in an attempt to slow down the deadly Liverpool counter attack. Welbeck split the Liverpool center-backs to deny the switch, attempt to force play to once side. The Reds had success when they were able to break the first line of Ozil and Sanchez, finding their three man midfield facing the two holding mids of Arsenal. ​Ramsey really seemed out of his element in the first half, so it wasn’t a surprise when he came off. After dropping in, he struggled against the Liverpool press and was dispossessed quickly, leading to a great chance for Jordan Henderson that he did poorly with. Furthermore, his positioning routinely cost Arsenal the ball. His role needed to be the connector to the attack, but he was unable to do so. Just before Liverpool’s second, he was standing offsides in the box. A lack of another option in midfield lead to a turnover and Liverpool’s deadly counter struck again. It was a bit of class from Mane, but Holding was poor. He left the attacker too much space, which he used to cut in on his right and curl one past the helpless Cech. ​Even at 2-0, Arsenal begun to find their footing in the game. Possibly due to Liverpool willing to sit in more with the lead, Sanchez and Welbeck started to see more of the ball and combined well. Those two created the best chance of the half (and ultimately the game), when the ball fell for Holding just outside the six; unfortunately, it was blocked. After two straight goalless games, it is easy to place the blame on the attack, but they did not see the ball enough to make an impact. Furthermore, once the lead was two, Liverpool bunkered in and allowed them the ball in front of them. While you may expect their abilities to break down a defense that has been as poor as Liverpool’s, it is asking a lot to do it without support from the midfield, which they lacked all match long. Despite the improved last ten minutes, the Gunners finished with two shots, neither of which was on goal, compared to 10 for Liverpool in the opening half. FOOL’S GOLD IN THE SECOND HALF Ramsey coming off made sense after his poor showing, though Coquelin was a less than inspiring sub. Initially, he did stay higher than Xhaka and it is likely that Wenger did want him to serve that box-to-box role to connect the team. It seemingly worked well. Arsenal had much more of the ball in the early going of the second half, but lacked an end product. This is because the switch played right into Klopp’s hand. They kept eight players behind the ball, sitting deep and allowing the possession with no purpose for Arsenal. With each turnover, they broke and allowed the fresh legs of Salah, Mane, and Firmino – who were doing no defending – to attack a weak back line for Arsenal. Time after time, Arsenal saw minutes of possession with nothing coming of it, only to have one errant pass lead to a clear chance for the hosts. A lot of the blame here has to be placed with the defenders for Arsenal. They continually gave away possession all night – and cheaply. It started with a Monreal turnover that put Salah in on Cech, who made a big save to keep the game alive. Not long after this came the corner which was controlled horribly by Bellerin, allowing Salah to streak in on Cech 1v1 and put the game away at 3-0. The subs of Giroud and Lacazette for Sanchez and Ox were a bit more puzzling than the Coquelin change. Instead of keeping the shape the same with fresher legs, it would have made more sense to move to a back four and keep the defense back to slow down the Liverpool counter. The two did combine for Arsenal’s best chance of the half in the 69th minute and I suppose there should be some credit given to Wenger for continuing to push on despite being down 3-0. Still, it did not help the result. LAST HALF HOUR Instead, it was more of the same for the last 25 minutes. The Arsenal backline simply could not connect passes and was routinely dispossessed by the Liverpool press, which Klopp has become famous for since his days with Dortmund. With Wenger wanting to push on and control the game, the backline couldn’t be so careless with the ball if there was going to be any success. It also begs the question; why try and play that way vs Liverpool? Consistently over the past two seasons, they have shown they lack the ability to break a well-organized defense down, yet they are deadly on the counter and their press can force cheap giveaways if given the opportunity. With the front seven of Arsenal pushing up the field, leaving just the three defenders back, it left acres of space for the talented front three of Liverpool. Mane and Salah’s pace destroyed the defenders all match long. The fourth came when Can broke out with the ball and had even numbers in the counter. Salah beat Holding again and left a tap in header for Sturridge to add insult to injury. FINAL THOUGHTS ​Karius looked shaky and uncertain all game long, with numerous giveaways with his feet. With a nervous keeper making his first start of the season, Arsenal needed to test him early and often. He did not make a save all match. ​Wenger clearly wants to play expansive, attractive football – pushing high up the field and controlling the game. To do this, it requires talented 1v1 defenders. Arsenal does not have this at the moment. In addition, while Xhaka is great (elite even) at controlling the tempo of the game from the defensive midfielder spot, he is not capable of breaking up play when the ball is given away cheaply. Ramsey certainly does not fill this role either, as shown by him standing offsides in the box shortly before Liverpool’s second. If Xhaka – a player who divides the fan base’s opinion – is one of the first names on the team sheet, then he desperately needs a midfield partner to kill the counter attacks that will happen. Keep in mind, Xhaka’s role is one that’s needed to play the kind of football that Wenger wants. And whether it’s him or Ramsey, they need help in midfield.Do you agree that Wenger missed the mark against Liverpool? Or do you think it falls on the players? Follow me on twitter @Matthew_LoganFC or comment below!