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Liverpool's possession no match for Arsenal's well-rehearsed lines
Arsenal were narrow, compact and impressive in their organisation without the ball in the victory at Liverpool
Santi Cazorla remained in an advanced role in the Arsenal midfield, while Liverpool?s central three were more fluid in their positioning.
This was a clash between two managers who promote a similar brand of football: quick, short passing, clever attacking movement and a high defensive line. But while Liverpool offered possession without penetration and a poor defensive shape, Arsčne Wenger's side were impressive when breaking quickly and admirable in their organisation without the ball.
There were two obvious tactical differences between the sides. The first was the level of pressing. Arsenal stood off and focused on getting into an organised shape behind the ball, with two banks of four remaining both narrow and compact, preventing Liverpool playing quick passes through the centre of the pitch.
On the other hand, Brendan Rodgers's side were more energetic when out of possession, closing down high up the pitch. Luis Suárez started the pressure, using his boundless energy to charge towards Arsenal's defenders on the ball. This was more effective when he closed down the right side of Arsenal's defence – Carl Jenkinson and Per Mertesacker were less reliable on the ball than Kieran Gibbs and Thomas Vermaelen and Liverpool won the ball high up the pitch, creating some promising situations in the final third early on.
The second contrast was the format of the three-man midfields. Brendan Rodgers wanted his trio to be fluid – Steven Gerrard, Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen could all, in theory, play in any of the three midfield roles and there was plenty of rotation. If one of the players was high up the pitch and could not receive a simple pass, he would drop deeper to collect the ball, and another midfielder would move higher up the pitch in response.
Arsenal's trio was more structured. Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby worked as a unit while Santi Cazorla stayed in an advanced position, close to Olivier Giroud. Last week against Stoke, the Spaniard kept dropping deep to help retain possession, which was unnecessary as his role was conflicting with Arteta's. Here he played as more of a classic playmaker.
Whereas Liverpool's three midfielders played short passes in front of Arsenal, Cazorla's positioning meant his side could be more incisive and cut through Liverpool's midfield immediately. The nature of the midfields contributed to the opening goal – Cazorla put himself between the lines and received the ball in space, while Liverpool's midfielders were all high up the pitch. Here, Liverpool missed Lucas Leiva – the Brazilian is an expert at positioning himself intelligently in that zone, defending the width of the pitch by himself.
Cazorla exploited Liverpool's weakness between the lines excellently, and although he was nominally playing in the centre of the pitch, he was especially prominent because of his willingness to move into wider positions to receive the ball in space. He added the second after a run from a central position towards the left, around the outside of the Liverpool central midfielders into a position where no one took responsibility for tracking him.
Cazorla first emerged at Villarreal, where he was used as one of the central attacking midfielders in a 4-2-2-2 system, encouraged to create centrally yet also provide width when needed. He has retained that habit for lateral drifts and this will be vital in Arsenal's linkup play this season, helping to form triangles and keep the passing quick and purposeful.
The tactical battle barely changed as the game went on; the onus was on Rodgers to transform the match, but his bench was particularly uninspiring. Stewart Downing – who Rodgers has said may be used at left-back this season – was the closest to an attacking option. Arsenal's shape remained consistent and they collected their third consecutive clean sheet.
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