The Gunners showed character on Wednesday to rally twice in the 3-3 draw with Liverpool in the Premier League but they can have regrets about the goal conceded in the last minute of regulation time, missing an opportunity to open up a five-point gap with Manchester City. In the end, it was a fair result with Liverpool enjoying 60% of ball possession but having just 6 shots on target to 5 for Arsenal.
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Klopp was famous at Borussia Dortmund for his gegenpressing tactics, that is, pressing high up the pitch to create chances immediately after losing possession. It’s more interesting than a traditional counterattack because the defense is usually more disorganized and you are already in the final third whereas you have to run 50 to 80 yards in the case of a traditional fast break. Liverpool’s opening goal in the 10th minute resulted from gegenpressing. The ball fell to Walcott when the Arsenal defense cleared a corner. Walcott dribbled his way out of the area but was quickly surrounded by three Reds and gave the ball away. Milner fed Can, whose angled strike was palmed by Cech into the path of Firmino. The Liverpool striker controlled the rebound before firing through Koscielny’s legs and past Cech. There were three mistakes on that play: 1. Walcott should have passed the ball to a free Giroud; 2. Cech should have turned the ball around the post; and 3. Koscielny was not tight enough to Firmino.
Losing second balls
The Reds resorted again to gegenpressing to take a 2-1 lead in the 19th. Henderson intercepted Mertesacker’s tame clearance to connect with Milner, who slipped the ball to Firmino. Koscielny gave again too much space and time to Firmino, who curled into the top corner with his second touch. Liverpool nearly added another goal in the 24th when Milner intercepted Mertesacker’s poor header to bear down on goal but Bellerin rushed back to put him off.
By dropping back, Firmino created a lot of problems for the Arsenal defense in the first half. Koscielny was reluctant to tightly mark Firmino probably because he feared that the Liverpool striker would open up space with his runs. And Flamini was not able to play as a third centerback because he didn’t want to leave Ramsey on his own in midfield. Firmino had plenty of time and space to take Milner’s pass in the 41st and make a low cross for Lallana that Cech intercepted. On the stroke of halftime, Koscielny slipped while chesting down a cross from Ibe. The ball fell to Firmino who spun and fired a shot that bounced off the bar.
In the last minute of regulation time, Benteke headed a long ball from Henderson toward Allen, who beat Cech with a first-time effort. There were three mistakes on that play: 1. An exhausted Giroud did not pressure Henderson; 2. Koscielny lost his duel with Benteke; and 3. Bellerin was beaten to the ball by Allen. That equalizer had one thing in common with the opener: Liverpool won the second ball in both cases. That’s the sign of a lack of defensive focus from Arsenal.
Ozil’s poor game
Mertesacker and Koscielny did not cover themselves in glory but they didn’t get much protection from the midfielders. It was quite telling that Arsenal started pressing only in the 22nd whereas the Reds imposed their gegenpressing in the opening minutes. Liverpool had three physical and hardworking midfielders with Can, Henderson and Milner. The Gunners were dominated in the middle of the park because Flamini looked his age and Ozil never displayed the level of intensity required for this game. Only Ramsey seemed up for the mix of physical and free-flowing football played on Wednesday.
Defensively, Flamini, Ramsey and Campbell worked their socks off, making 4, 3 and 5 tackles respectively, while Ozil and Walcott showed some weak work-rate with 1 and 0 tackle respectively. Can ran the show in the first half because Ozil gave him a lot of freedom. The Liverpool holding midfielder outpaced Flamini in the sixth minute to slip the ball to Lallana, who had a penalty appeal turned down as he ran into Mertesacker. On the stroke of halftime, Can found plenty of space to curl a shot straight at Cech. Ozil was 15 yards behind Can on that play, forcing Campbell to drift inside and press Can late.
Offensively, Ozil had a poor game with a passing accuracy sinking to 67.6%, the lowest percentage among the midfielders at Anfield Road. Ozil finished the game with three shot assists but was not involved in Arsenal’s key plays. Giroud headed Ozil’s free kick over the bar in the 54th while Campbell developed a good understanding with Ozil. Campbell took a pass from Ozil in the 29th for a tame curling shot straight at Mignolet. The Costa Rica forward then met a cross from Ozil in the 46th for a sliding effort that sailed over the bar.
The Reds did a good job to annihilate the relationship between Ozil and Walcott. Deprived of service, Walcott took his chance with long-range strikes, none of them on target. What saved the Gunners from misery was Campbell’s passing skills, Ramsey’s timely runs and Giroud’s ability to win duels in the box.
Arsenal’s first goal in the 14th came from a high ball won by Giroud. Toure cleared Giroud’s header into the path of Ramsey, who fed Campbell with a high pass. Campbell cushioned the ball and made a reverse pass for Ramsey, who sneaked between Sakho and Toure to beat Mignolet at the near post. Giroud and Ramsey displayed their understanding in the 25th. The France striker redirected a pass from Walcott toward Ramsey, whose lob got cleared off the line by Sakho. From Ramsey’s subsequent corner, Giroud won his duel against Sakho at the near post to flick the ball through Mignolet’s legs and level at 2-2.
The Gunners took the lead in the 55th when Bellerin charged down the right flank. Bellerin picked out Campbell, who found Giroud inside the box. Giroud rolled away from Toure with his first touch and fired into the bottom corner with his second. Campbell was a bit lucky on that play since his pass was intended for Ramsey but took a deflection off Moreno.
Giroud’s awful miss
Giroud was named Man of the Match, but I thought Campbell or Ramsey would have been more deserving. I still struggle to understand how Giroud missed a tap-in from two yards in the 28th when Walcott overlapped with Campbell to make a pinpoint cross for the Frenchman, who got ahead of the ball and kicked it back across goal. Giroud won 2 of 4 tackles and had 2 of 5 shots on target. He was also caught offside twice in the first half for not retreating quickly enough.
What we’ve learned from the Liverpool game is that there’s still a long way to go with many other tough trips at Stoke on Sunday, at Manchester United and Tottenham in February and March and at Manchester City in May. My main concern is Arsenal’s passivity in the last 35 minutes when they couldn’t create any scoring chance. Is fatigue finally catching up with Arsenal because of injuries hitting the squad and affecting our rotation possibilities? The Gunners are currently level with Leicester at the top of the league and three points clear of Manchester City. But will they still be contenders when March comes?