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Tactical Analysis: How Liverpool dominated Arsenal in 3-1 Premier League victory

Tactical Analysis: How Liverpool dominated Arsenal in 3-1 Premier League victory
© Reuters
Sports Mole provides in-depth tactical analysis from Liverpool's 3-1 Premier League victory over Arsenal on Monday night.

On Monday, two of the biggest clubs in England went head-to-head in the Premier League at Anfield. Both Liverpool and Arsenal had picked up maximum points this season so far heading into the third game where they were battling against each other to take all three points home.

Liverpool are unbeaten at Anfield since the end of April in 2017 in which they lost to Crystal Palace under former Everton manager Sam Allardyce, and they have also only dropped points once at home since the start of the 2019-20 season, a 1-1 draw with Sean Dyche's Burnley.

This meant that the odds may not have been in Arsenal's favour going into this matchup, however Mikel Arteta's side managed to beat Liverpool twice during the Spaniard's tenure and have been very consistent in terms of results as of late.

Regardless, this time around Jurgen Klopp managed to get the better of Arteta with a 3-1 victory, confirming yet again why they are the champions of England.

Here, Sports Mole analyses the strengths and weaknesses of both sides in their tactics, throughout the game, as well as taking a look at where each team could have improved in their set-up.

Lineups and formations

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp smiles after watching his side beat Arsenal on September 28, 2020© Reuters

Jurgen Klopp made wholesale changes for last Thursday night's thrashing of League One side Lincoln where Liverpool came out 7-2 winners in the EFL Cup.

Compared to their previous Premier League game though there was minimal changes to the starting lineup. The German manager deployed the conventional 4-3-3 system that he has used for the most part of his five-year tenure with the Merseyside club.

The front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah has started every league game so far this season, however it is the midfield which has changed the most.

Against Chelsea, Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum played as the advanced midfielders in the midfield three much like they did against Arsenal. The major difference to the midfield was the positioning of Fabinho.

At Stamford Bridge, he played at centre-back alongside Van Dijk, Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. Against Arsenal, he was utilised at his preferred position in defensive midfield due to the absence of captain Jordan Henderson through injury.

Thiago Alcantara was a notable absentee for Liverpool following his highly-praised performance on his debut in which he managed more passes in 45 minutes than any other player in Premier League history.

Arsenal's formation remained the same throughout the season with Arteta utilising a 3-4-3 to suit the ability of his current players. Nonetheless it was the personnel that changed from their last game on Wednesday in the League Cup against Leicester City.

The more defensive-minded midfielder Elneny came in for Ceballos to partner alongside Xhaka with Maitland-Niles replacing Bukayo Saka as the left wing-back. Covering Maitland- Niles as the left centre-back was Kieran Tierney, who took the place of Sead Kolasinac and partnered alongside David Luiz and Rob Holding.

Liverpool playing out from Arsenal's press

Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal like to press their opposition very high in games, regardless of the other team's ability to play out from the back and through a high press. Against Liverpool this was no different and one of Arsenal's main strategies in this match was to stifle Liverpool in their build-up play.

When Liverpool had possession of the ball, they usually played their way through the thirds, starting with the goalkeeper Alisson. Their base formation was a 4-3-3 but when they gained possession of the ball the shape fluctuated between a 2-3-5 and a 3-2-5, depending on the positioning of their single-pivot, Fabinho.


As can be seen by the visual above, Liverpool's full-backs would push very high and wide as they were Liverpool's main attacking width throughout the game much like in every game.

By the fullbacks pushing high, it gave license for the wingers, Salah and Mane to push inside as inside-forwards in order to link up with Firmino and utilise quick one-twos. The trio excel by playing off one another.

Liverpool only play with one pivot in midfield, which is Fabinho. A midfield pivot is the player who operates behind the other midfielders, and usually in front of the backline. They act as the link man who collects the ball from backline and distributes the ball to the rest of the team whether it be to play the ball out wide, play it through the central corridors, or else be a wall pass and pass it back to the supplier.

This is Fabinho's role in the Liverpool side whilst in possession. He likes to drop in between the two centre-backs who push wide and create a back three. If he does this, the shape goes from a 2-3-5 to a 3-2-5.

Their main attacking threat is through their fullbacks on the flanks, however as Arsenal played with a back five for this game, it made it very difficult for Liverpool at the start of the game to be able to get their full-backs, especially Robertson, on the ball in advanced positions because Bellerin was marking him tightly. In order to be involved in the play he would constantly be forced to drop deep.

This was before Klopp slightly tweaked Liverpool's in-possession structure. Wijnaldum would move to the space vacated by Robertson on the left in order to act as a passing option.

Mane also dropped deeper on his side to pick up the ball and as Arsenal deploy a man-to-man marking system off the ball when the opposition are building out from the back, there was not enough central players for Arsenal to be able to man-mark both Wijnaldum and Mane in these deeper areas.

Hector Bellerin was forced to push high and mark Mane, but this let Robertson have space on the left flank to now get involved in the attack and put crosses in.

TA2© Sky Sports

From this image, we can see this exact passage of play unfolding. Mane has dropped deep knowing that Bellerin would be forced to push up and mark him, which in turn freed up Andy Robertson on the left wing to get involved in the final third.

Liverpool scored their second goal from this tactical ploy by Jurgen Klopp. Bellerin was still tightly marking Mane and failed to check his shoulder to see Robertson at the far post before he finished past Leno.

TA3© Premier League

Arsenal's quick build-up play

As well as pressing high against teams who are excellent in possession, Arteta also wants his players to play without fear by building out from the back regardless of the opposition.

Liverpool have become one of the pioneers of the high press in recent years in the Premier League alongside Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side. When they did press high on Arsenal who were playing out from the back, Klopp's men also deployed a man-to-man marking system.

A man-oriented marking system in the high press essentially means that each player is tasked with marking one of the opposition's players during their high press in order to either press him once he receives the ball, forcing a mistake as the Reds do so well, or else prevent the player from receiving the ball at all by marking him so closely that it would be too risky for the opponent to play the ball into him.

TA4© Sky Sports

In this image, Liverpool's man-oriented pressing system can be seen in play. Roberto Firmino was instructed by the coaching staff to follow Granit Xhaka during this phase of play as he is Arsenal's best on-the-ball midfielder and if he was allowed time and space on the ball, he would be able to pick passes to runners over the top of Liverpool's defence.

This seemed to work for Liverpool quite well as Xhaka finished the game with only 34 passes, which was less than Leno in goal and was substituted by the hour mark. Once Xhaka came off for Ceballos, Arsenal started getting more chances through the central areas.

Ceballos was pushed further forward with Elneny dropping deeper to cover and this meant that Firmino could no longer mark him. It left him more time and space to create, most notably a clear-cut chance for Lacazette in the 63rd minute, assisted by Ceballos.

However, since Arsenal could not bypass Liverpool's press in the first half through the central areas, they were forced to play wide to Tierney every time as Arteta feels he is better than Rob Holding with the ball at his feet.

In order to progress forward with the ball in these areas, Maitland-Niles would push inside almost as a central midfielder instead of staying on the left wing. As he was being man-marked by Alexander-Arnold, he knew that the young Englishman would rush out to press him, opening up a passing lane for a long pass to Aubameyang.

TA5© Sky Sports

This passage of play happened for the opening goal of the game scored by Alexandre Lacazette. Alexander-Arnold was dragged out of position by Maitland-Niles, leaving a passing lane to open up for Aubameyang. Joe Gomez was forced to cover for Alexander-Arnold by rushing out to mark Aubameyang, but this left Van Dijk isolated one-on-one with Lacazette once Arsenal got forward quickly.

Quick combination play from Arsenal and a Robertson mistake set them away to open the scoring.

Liverpool's use of Alexander-Arnold

One of Arsenal's most notable weakness, particularly in their defence is their lack of ability at stopping crosses in the box. This has not only been a problem under Arteta but also under predecessor Unai Emery and club legend Arsene Wenger.

It can be put down to a lack of concentration by the defenders but may also be put down to the lack of an aerially dominant centre-back for several years now. Had Gabriel Magalhaes been fit to play for this match then perhaps Liverpool would not have got so many opportunities from their inch-perfect crosses into the box.

Klopp clearly saw this as Arsenal's weakness in the defensive phase and looked to exploit it whenever they could. Liverpool put 22 crosses in throughout the game, scoring from two.

These crosses predominantly came from the full-backs, particularly Trent Alexander-Arnold as he has one of the highest tallies for assists from crosses in the top five leagues since the beginning of the 2018-19 season and is quite exceptional at crossing the ball.

To allow Alexander-Arnold time and space on the ball whilst Liverpool are in the final third, he usually arrives late and crosses from deeper positions. Against the Gunners, this was no different.

TA6© Premier League

Here is Liverpool's third goal and was the final nail in the coffin for the possibility of Arsenal gaining something from the match. The Arsenal backline were preoccupied with trying to keep Salah from dribbling his way into the box that by the time Alexander-Arnold had joined the equation, the nearest players could not close him down in time, leading to a cross for Jota's debut goal to wrap up all three points.


This game was a very intense, physical and tactical battle between two of the most exciting sides in the league.

Liverpool came away with the 3 points, but this does not mean that Arsenal played particularly bad. There were many positives for Mikel Arteta and his players to take away from this game including the fact that they had multiple clear-cut chances throughout the game and maybe on another day Lacazette would have slotted home.

Arteta has wowed certain pundits and fans with some of the football they have played during his tenure at Arsenal, however most impressive is his tactical nous at setting up his team defensively in the big games, despite coaching alongside Pep Guardiola for so long.

With regard to Klopp's Liverpool, it was another great performance for the champions who are showing no signs of slowing down and will undoubtedly be fighting for the title again this year.

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Thiago Alcantara in action for Liverpool on September 20, 2020
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