Liverpool Demolish Arsenal With Slick Transition Game

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Arsenal were horrendous against Liverpool. Arsene Wenger made some curious personnel choices from the beginning, and they lacked any sort of ability to limit Liverpool’s qualities in transition throughout the 90 minutes. That cannot be disputed, but as much as the Gunners have been the team to generate the most discussion in the aftermath of yet another ordinary performance, Liverpool’s role in the triumph cannot be understated.

Put simply, they were electric. Their front three, which featured the excellence of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah, was next to unstoppable, and though the three players behind them might not have played with the same level of eye-catching pace and power, midfielders Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum were no less impressive.

All of these guys played with a mix of defensive energy, which saw them press Arsenal in the early-going, and sheer counter-attacking quality. These things allowed Liverpool to put four goals past a lacklustre Arsenal side, and they were so strong, so athletic and so superior that Jurgen Klopp must surely have considered this amongst the club’s top renditions of “heavy metal football.”

Alongside the exertions of the players, Klopp must take a fair amount of the credit for the win. He got his tactics right against Arsenal, something made even more significant by the absences of Liverpool’s major playmaking options. Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho weren’t available for selection, so Klopp had to stick with the side that dismantled Hoffenheim to claim UEFA Champions League qualification. Ordinarily, missing quality creative players would’ve hurt Liverpool, but here, against an Arsenal line-up who were determined to play, it didn’t. In contrast, it actively helped them.

The first goal was perhaps the catalyst for this. Arsenal, in customary fashion, tried to play out from the back. Granit Xhaka attempted a clipped ball out towards the left-hand touchline, but Liverpool fullback Joe Gomez screamed forward to cut it off. A couple of quickfire passes then followed, and once the ball made its way back out to Gomez, he crossed into the goalmouth. Firmino charged onto the pass and nodded it home, and with Liverpool now 1-0 up, they had Arsenal where they wanted them.

Now Arsenal had to open up, at least to some degree, in order to get back into the game, and Liverpool could sit off a little more and wait for opportunities to break. That suited them beautifully, because they didn’t need playmakers who could fire sharp passes through small spaces to put them through on goal. They just needed to play the waiting game and, when the chance arrived, hit efficient, straightforward balls into the feet of their pacey frontline. The requirement for creativity and invention was therefore minimised, and given that Liverpool were playing an Arsenal side who like to pour forward in numbers and therefore tend to lose focus on the importance of defensive transitions, it was even less important.

Liverpool’s third goal perhaps offered the most obvious example of this. Here, the Gunners moved up for a corner and left only Hector Bellerin in a defensive position. The ball quickly arrived at the young Spaniard’s feet following a defensive header from Liverpool, but he failed to control it adequately. That enabled Liverpool to pounce. Salah sprinted right at Bellerin, and picked up the loose ball rapidly. He then dribbled forward with purpose and pace, so much so that no-one got near him. Eventually, after a searing run from one end of the field to the other, he beat Petr Cech with a slick finish.

That, of course, was an extreme example of how little creativity Liverpool needed on the day, but the second goal was also similar. This time, Arsenal lost the ball in the final third, and the Reds launched a quickfire counter-attack in response. They played four short passes, along the carpet, to progress the ball forward, and when Mane got it with space ahead of him, Liverpool were well on their way. He soon finished the job by cutting inside and firing the ball into the back of the net, and following a simple chain of passing and a little bit of quality at the pointy end, Klopp’s men had yet again made a mess of their opposition.

This kind of high-end, high-percentage football enabled Liverpool to shine against the Gunners. They were energetic in defence, efficient in transition and lethal in the final third, all of which culminated in a cracking 90 minutes of football. They were so good, in fact, that their lack of pure playmaking ability was forgotten. Or, as Klopp put it, “The performance was perfect and the result is a result of the performance.”

Klopp once famously said that pressing was the best playmaker around, and although Liverpool weren’t always pressing throughout the course of this ‘perfect’ encounter, the German manager again illustrated that you don’t need a designated playmaker to fashion openings in attack. Instead, what’s required is a strong tactical set-up that accentuates your strengths while capitalising upon the opposition’s weaknesses. Liverpool then combined that strategy with energy, athleticism and cutting edge, and once Arsenal’s shortcomings were added to the mix, the Reds’ all-round display helped them to ruthlessly puncture the Gunners’ backline time and time again.

In a lot of ways, this was ‘heavy metal football’ at its finest.

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