How Arsenal gave Liverpool ‘a taste of their own medicine’

4 February 2024 0 By Total Football News
MOTD2 analysis

A massive win for Arsenal, a great result for Manchester City… and a disappointing display from Liverpool.

That might be how some people view the performance by Jurgen Klopp's side in Sunday's 3-1 defeat at Emirates Stadium because, after the Reds were so wonderful in their win over Chelsea on Wednesday, you kind of expected similar this time too.

But football does not work like that. They were up against a really good side in Arsenal, who have got a great home record and had a lot to fight for on the day, but were also very clever about how they went about it.

Arsenal's intensity was far greater than Liverpool's in the first half, when they were totally dominant. The Gunners were the first to more loose balls, and they hunted in packs.

They were magnificent off the ball, but their superiority was not just down to how hard they worked physically.

That side of it was brilliant, but their intelligence of who did what, and when, was also part of the plan - and it was extremely impressive.

'Liverpool stopped by intelligence and athleticism'

Graphic showing Liverpool's starting XI v Arsenal: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Van Dijk, Gomez, Gravenberch, Mac Allister, Jones, Gakpo, Diaz, Jota

When Liverpool got the ball, they wanted to get it into Alexis Mac Allister as quickly as possible, but Arsenal were ready for them.

Martin Odegaard was very effective at stopping the ball being fed to Mac Allister when he was pressing high up the pitch with Kai Havertz, but he also knew when to drop in deeper and stop the Argentine playing there too.

When Mac Allister did get on the ball, if Odegaard was not near him then Jorginho or Declan Rice would fly out of their position to close him down.

It was a high-risk approach because there was the chance of having the ball popped into the space behind them, especially against a team of Liverpool's quality, but it worked because Arsenal's organisation was so good.

You cannot press that well unless you are all on the page and you all have the same desire, and Arsenal had both. It was not just Mac Allister they stopped, either, because they jumped on all of Liverpool's midfielders really quickly.

Graphic showing Arsenal's starting XI v Liverpool: Raya, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Odegaard, Rice, Jorginho, Saka, Martinelli, Havertz

As well as Odegaard and Havertz, Arsenal's two other midfielders were fantastic, especially Declan Rice. He was incredible - that was arguably his best performance in an Arsenal shirt.

And Jorginho was excellent too. Bringing him into the team looked, on paper, like a negative move before kick-off - it looked like it was in fear of Liverpool - but it was respect, and it was part of the plan.

His intelligence, next to Rice's athleticism, meant it worked.

No Liverpool fightback this time

While I was watching the first half, I thought there was no way Arsenal could keep this intensity up, and they could not - Liverpool rallied and started really well after the break.

But probably the most impressive thing about Arsenal's afternoon was what they did when they went 2-1 up midway through the second half.

Yes, it took a bad mistake from Liverpool to let the Gunners retake the lead, but after that their game management helped them secure the points.

Arsenal dropped into a shape where, on many occasions, they were really deep - but because they did it as a team they were not just in two banks of four on the edge of their area.

Odegaard and Havertz both dropped together, and made it difficult for Liverpool to find any space.

We have seen Liverpool fight back after falling behind so many times this season but this time they just could not break Arsenal down.

In more than 30 minutes - including stoppage time - after Gabriel Martinelli scored, they managed only three shots at goal, and none of them were on target.

Let's put things in perspective, though. Liverpool were chasing a game against a really good team and were without their best player. Mohamed Salah is a game-changer and he was not there.

Not being able to start with Darwin Nunez was a blow too. Yes, he came off the bench in the second half despite his foot injury, but he would have made a big difference before half-time, the way the game was going then.

His pace would have let Liverpool go longer, quicker, to get out from the back and get behind Arsenal. Cody Gakpo and Diogo Jota are quick as well, but they do not have the same power. They missed having Nunez as a target.

'No need for Klopp to panic'

Snapshot of the top of the Premier League table: 1st Liverpool, 2nd Arsenal, 3rd Man City, 4th Aston Villa, 5th Tottenham & 6th Man Utd

Although Liverpool did not play as well against Arsenal as they did against Chelsea, I do not think they were that poor.

It was just a really dominant display by Arsenal and, sometimes, you have to walk off the pitch and go "you know what, the other team were better today".

It was a little kick up the backside for Liverpool, because they have been playing superbly and rolling teams over in the past few weeks.

This was a taste of their own medicine, especially in the first half, when they were very lucky to equalise - they had not managed a shot on target before Gabriel's own goal.

But I would not be panicking if I were Klopp. This was his side's first Premier League defeat since September - they have to react, and I think they will.

They have got players coming back, we know that - Wataru Endo will be back from the Asian Cup to compete in midfield, and Salah should return from injury in a couple of weeks.

Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are getting back to full fitness, and Thiago Alcantara was on the bench on Sunday.

They have got good depth and great competition for places now - and are still top of the Premier League and trying to win four competitions, at the start of February.

So, there are plenty of positives still for Liverpool. I understand Arsenal's elation at the end because they are back in the race now, but the Reds are still in a great position, and this one defeat is not the end of the world.

Danny Murphy was speaking to BBC Sport's Chris Bevan.

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