It was a classic case of ‘A Game of Two Halves’ at the Emirates Stadium on Monday as both Arsenal and Liverpool drew a blank. Considering the number of chances Liverpool had in the first half and considering how relatively dominant Arsenal were in the second, a draw seems just about a fair result. This is as action-packed a goalless draw as you can expect to see.
It is very rare in modern football that right on the Matchday, both your center backs become unavailable. That’s exactly what happened to Arsenal as Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker picked up injury and illness respectively. It was left to the third and fourth choice, Gabriel and Calum Chambers to step in. They were paired in the center of defence for the first time in their short Arsenal careers.
First Half: It looks like a deliberate approach that Arsene Wenger wants his team to start the match at a high intensity and cool down as the half progresses. We saw it against West Ham, were rewarded against Palace and wrongly disallowed a goal against Liverpool. After 20 odd minutes the players cool down, concentrate more on the shape and keeping possession. This is evident in the positioning of Aaron Ramsey. He can be seen at different parts on the pitch in the initial minutes (for the disallowed goal, he was lurking on the left, in and around the box) but in the cool down stage, he usually sticks to his flank, occasionally drifting inside.
Arsenal usually tend to maintain a high line in these initial 20 minutes and with a makeshift defence, Christian Benteke was finding spaces in-behind. We should be glad that it was Benteke trying to run in-behind, rather than someone like Aguero, and it made catching up to him possible, be it either Bellerin or Coquelin who made last ditch tackles to prevent Liverpool hurting us.
In Arsenal’s cool down mode, Liverpool took hold of the game. They had continuous spells of possession and the two Arsenal center backs were almost baffled by having to deal with Benteke, Coutinho and Firmino drifting inside. As a result, Bellerin and Monreal had to follow suit, drift inside and all the width was lost. It is in those stages, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could make the difference. On Arsenal’s right, the inexperienced duo of Hector Bellerin and Calum Chambers had a nightmare. Giving away cheap balls was not their primary problem. Chambers, in particular, did not seem to know when to press, when to stand off and when to get tight to Benteke. On many occasions, Benteke was seen in the edges of the box, space in front of him and Chambers dropping deeper and deeper.
But for all the flaws in the center backs, they had a leader standing behind them. Sometimes, you enjoy the precision of the midfielder’s pass, the deftness of the winger’s touch and the sweetness of the forward’s strike. But there are some days when you simply enjoy your goalkeeper performing his art. The only signing of the summer, Petr Cech, kept Arsenal in the game and earned us the fabled goalkeeper’s point.
Second Half: Again, like against West Ham and Palace, Arsenal started the second half brightly. This time, the creative players took over. Alexis Sanchez was doubly and triply marked in the first half, but as Liverpool dropped deeper, he started finding his feet and finding the pockets. He drifts inside from the left flank and operates on that inside left position, making runs in between the full back and the right center back. With Nacho Monreal on the outside and Ozil just to his right, Arsenal were forming creative triangles on the left side of the pitch. Using Santi Cazorla as an additional pin to ping passes and find the angles, the left sided players slowly drifted inside with a series of passes to fashion chances.
It was a completely lopsided Arsenal in the second half, almost everything of note happening in the left side. Credit also has to be given to Bellerin here. As Monreal was advancing more and more, and with Ramsey moving inside to link up with the left sided players, Bellerin curtailed his instincts and stayed deep and safe. Most of the counter attacks that Liverpool sprung came from the right hand side- Joe Gomez had acres to run with the ball. The center backs improved in the second half, and I don’t remember Chambers making one stray pass. He was composed and clear and did his job.
Arsenal tactically outdid Liverpool in the center (or should I say, left-center) of the park and fashioned two very clear cut chances. Creating chances at 0-0 is more difficult than doing so at 1-0 and contrary to the opinion that our midfielders need to create more chances, it is a matter of putting them away. Had one of those chances been converted, surely many would have come as Liverpool would have left spaces. It is unfair to expect more than 2 clear chances being created at 0-0 against a good team like Liverpool. If Cech was the hero of the first half, the midfield was a good functioning unit in the second.
All in all, a fair result considering the nature of the two halves, but Arsenal need to do better. 5 home points dropped in 2 games is not the start to the season anybody expected, but we need to move on. And from London in the south of England on Monday night, to the North-East on Saturday lunch time, we have precious little time to prepare.
Comments and discussions on tactics are always appreciated.