Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal Analysis

The draw against Liverpool was a typical Arsenal performance - dominate possession but struggle to create chances, concede a soft goal, try to pass your way through the resulting parked bus and finally grab a goal in injury time.

The same issues were present from the last few seasons attacking-wise. The build-up was too slow, there was a lack of width provided by the front players, and on the occasions that the fullbacks did get forward their crossing was generally wayward. On the plus side, Arsenal's defensive game seems to have improved in time for the new season and there's a return of the collective pressing that was evident at the start of last season.

First up, the lack of width. The 2 wide forwards Eboue and Arshavin constantly looked to come inside, Eboue in particular has a habit of cutting inside from the wing and embarking on marauding runs through the middle, congesting the area in front of the box and making it easy for the opposition simply to defend narrow.

Eboue and Arshavin take up central positions, with all 5 forward players crowded in a small zone

Eboue and Arshavin both central again
With the congestion of the central areas, you'd have expected the fullbacks to advance into crossing positions, but they were rather subdued in the 1st half, Clichy in particular saw very little of the ball in the attacking 3rd. Sagna got forward better, possibly due to Eboue's ability to drop back to cover the space vacated (which he did quite well), but none of his crosses threatened. Indeed, Arsenal struggled to produced quality crosses throughout the 90 minutes, even with one of Europe's best headers as a target inside the box.

Poor crossing throughout the game
Things improved in the 2nd half, partly through the introduction of Rosicky and partly because Arsenal had to throw the fullbacks forward in search of the equaliser to N'Gog's early goal. Rosicky provided a much-needed directness to the midfield, and his combination of quick, forward passes into feet and direct running helped create a little bit of space in the box for Nasri and Walcott to have shots (albeit blocked), and a golden chance for himself after getting past 2 defenders. His spreading of the play to the fullbacks also helped to stretch the play, although at this stage Liverpool were content to sit back with 8 men. In the end it was his cross that led to the own goal in the 91st minute, and it was the first time throughout the match that a player had found Chamakh inside the box with a cross (Walcott also did a couple of minutes later but Chamakh headed across the face of goal).

Rosicky's introduction added much-needed directness and penetration
that was somewhat lacking with Nasri as the primary playmaker
Defending-wise, it was an encouraging performance from Arsenal. In the defensive phase the formation loosely resembled a 4-4-1-1 with Diaby and Wilshere covering the space in front of the centre backs, and Eboue and Arshavin tracking back in the wide areas. The fullbacks were protected well although expecting someone like Arshavin to do that throughout a 50 game season is a bit of an ask.

Diaby and Wilshere in white, Eboue and Arshavin in black, Nasri in green, Chamakh in red
Same again
And again
Chamakh himself tracked back on occasions and was a vital component of Arsenal's team-based pressing game. Here's a short video highlighting Arsenal's recovery of possession and closing down of Liverpool defenders to prevent them passing the ball out from the back.

Putting the performance into perspective (key attacking players still to return), if the team can maintain this sort of defensive ethic throughout the season (unlike last year) then there is a good chance the 5 year trophy drought may end come May. Here's hoping.