Arsenal Dominance of Wide Areas Key to Liverpool Win

A two nil win for Arsenal against the in-form Liverpool, with some fantastic football on display, which would normally give me great happiness and energy for the whole week (well, unless we lose to Dortmund…) –except for the fact I missed the game. My thinking was that the game would be on Sunday, assuming all big games are on Sunday, which clearly is not the case (was the last spuds game on a Saturday or Sunday?). Instead I watched the Abu Dhabi F1 qualifying, with Raikkonen (my second favourite Iceman) qualifying a decent fifth, only to get disqualified for a technical infringement. So, to let off some steam, and also to please the footballing gods, I decided to write a few words on some interesting pointers from watching the replay against Suarez et al.

Rosicky and Sagna link up excellently with Ozil in close support

From the start of the match to Ramsey’s brilliant second, Arsenal were dominant and in control. Part of that dominance came from the wonderful link up play from the right. Arsenal’s play has a tendency to go down the right anyways, but today, in the first half, Aly Cissokho was absolutely bamboozled by Rosicky and Sagna, with Ozil often drifting to that flank as well. Cissokho was not helped by Liverpool’s 3-5-2 formation, which did not provide any protection on the flanks.

Interestingly, Rosicky, although perhaps not the most talented midfielder in the squad (not to say he isn’t talented, but players like Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Wilshere have arguably more outright ability/potential) offers balance to the team when played as one of the three attacking midfielders. When Wilshere plays on the right, he seems to move inside too often, congesting the play, but Rosicky is happy to drop deep and pick up the ball, to keep the ball moving rather than playing a final pass. With already two direct creators in the form of Cazorla and Ozil, having a support player who is great at ‘pre-assists’ seems to bring greater fluidity and overall offensive impact than a third direct creator.

A somewhat trivial point, but Rosicky being right footed also seemed to help with fluidity and balance – Wilshere has a tendency of being a bit predictable on the right, but Rosicky could go wide, or pass inside with the outside of his boot (something Rosicky often does), giving him more space and options to combine with teammates.

Differing roles of Arsenal’s full backs out of possession

As alluded to earlier, Sagna was brilliant offensively, pushing forward at every opportunity, making the 2vs 1 count. But equally importantly, he dropped off when out of possession, to ensure Arsenal had numbers at the back. It was particularly interesting how the Arsenal full backs differed out of possession. Kieran Gibbs would stick tight to Flanagan, often pressuring him immediately and very high up. As Sturridge would drop deep more often than Suarez, who in turn tended to pull wide to his left, it meant that Gibbs could focus on stopping Flanagan without worrying too much about the space he left behind, particularly with the pacy Koscielny covering behind him. In the end, Sturridge did end up getting in behind Gibbs a few times, especially in the second half, but had little impact overall.

On the other flank, Sagna dropped off, in line with his center backs, and often moved into very central positions. There were a few reasons for this. Primarily, it was to ensure Mertesacker, not the fastest of defenders, did not get exposed to Suarez’s runs. Secondly, as mentioned, Suarez tended to shift to his left anyways, meaning Mertesacker couldn’t track him all the way wide. Lastly, Cissokho was completely inept with the ball, many times unable to control passes that came to him, and unable to play penetrative passes when in space – he was not a threat offensively, and could be left unmarked.

Full back roles influence shape higher up

Higher up, the knock on effect of the different full back roles was that Rosicky played deeper on the right, so he was able to track Cissokho’s runs, whereas Cazorla stayed high up on the left and tended to be tracked by Toure, which suited the Rosicky’s and Cazorla’s offensive skill sets; Rosicky being more involved in build-up play, Cazorla with the final ball.

The first goal was a good example of Arsenal’s shape. Flanagan got the ball deep in his own half (at roughly 17:30), got pressed by Gibbs, forcing him to clear. Less than a minute later, Arteta picks up the ball, moves to the right into Rosicky’s position. Taking advantage of the numerical advantage out wide, he got plenty of time and space to pick out Sagna, who crosses to Cazorla, eventually leading to the first goal. Notice how Flanagan made no attempt to track Cazorla; Cazorla was not considered Flanagan’s man, but Toure job to mark (Toure was occupied Giroud for the goal).

Monreal vs Gibbs… how about Monreal and Gibbs?

After Ramsey’s screamer (seriously, it’s not only that he scores a lot, but they’re damn good goals too!), Arsenal, as seen so many times this season, sat back, trying to soak up pressure and hit them on the break. Wenger put Monreal on for the tiring Rosicky, but it was pleasantly surprising to see Arsenal’s offensive play not being stifled significantly by having a full back in midfield, at least not until Gibb’s injury. In fact, it seemed the two left backs linked up especially well, creating good chances down the left. This game isn’t the first time Monreal showed good offensive impetus from midfield – against Palace recently, he countered and passed to good effect; there was also a great dribble that led to a blocked shot.

It would be interesting to see Monreal given a start in midfield as a defensive winger, especially in those tough away European games. After all, Monreal’s technical ability is good enough, whilst he would provide protection for Gibbs. Given the strength of our midfield, it seems highly unlikely, but there is no player in the current Arsenal midfield that could be considered a ‘defensive winger’. For instance, when Arsenal lost against Dortmund two weeks ago, it was partly because Dortmund’s full backs got so much space to cross – perhaps Monreal would have been useful in a game like that.

Conclusion

Brilliant performance by Arsenal, and an important home win after two successive losses. Our dominance of wide areas in the first half allowed us to dictate the game, and Ramsey’s magic help seal the deal in the second half. Of course, it helped that we had great performances from all over the pitch; Szczesny putting in some important saves late on, Mertesacker and Koscielny’s solid defensive job on EPL’s best strike duo, Arteta's underrated defensive protection, Giroud’s mesmerizing hold up play, Ozil’s wonderous touches and silky feints, and Ramsey’s ability to pull a tomahawk missile out of the hat when most only pull rabbits. Nonetheless, those performances are what we have come to expect from Arsenal nowadays, to write more about that seems unnecessary and redundant.

Mean Lean's Response

Lovely stuff Dennis, thank you for sending that in. I really enjoyed that performance, you could see from the first 5 minutes how we wanted to approach the game. Intense pressing high up when we don't have it and one touch quick interchanging football when we do have it. I prefer this start to our containing start as we saw against Dortmund but it often depends on our opponents. I shall jot down my own thoughts on the game sometime this evening I'd imagine. If you want to read some more enjoyable thoughts on the game then check out Iron Man's thoughts