Arsenal v. Liverpool: stats preview

I have to apologize in advance: while I’m normally on the side of the home team in these big games, my stats indicate a solid advantage for the away team and have Liverpool winning a close match with lots of goals.

First, Liverpool have scored the joint most away goals this season with 24 and Mo Salah has been their top goal scorer in these away games with 8. It’s no surprise then that they concentrate 40% of their attacking touches down that right side in away games though it might surprise you that they take 23% of their shots from the left. This suggests that they attack down the right but switch play to the left in the final phase.

Regardless of whether they switch play or not both of Arsenal’s fullbacks will be constantly occupied by the Liverpool attack and especially their counter attack. This is where Arsenal have to be especially careful, on the counter. Liverpool have scored 5 goals off counters in away games and only 2 counter attacking goals at home. They have a lot of speed in this team, and will look to burn Arsenal with Coutinho, Firmino, Mane, and Salah on every fast break.

Not giving them fast break opportunities is key for Arsenal. Alexis will almost certainly be the focus of fan ire if he continues his home trend of giving the ball away too easily. At home Alexis averages 10.6 bad short passes per game, 1 failed dribble, 1 offside, 3.6 bad touches per game, and 2.8 dispossessed. Klopp’s teams prefer to press high up the pitch but they may invite some pressure in a sort of “rope-a-dope”: letting Arsenal get the ball up to Alexis, then taking the ball off him, in order to take advantage of the spaces behind on a swift counter.

Much will depend here on Ainsley Maitland-Niles behind Alexis. Wenger seemed to drop Sead Kolasinac to the League Cup in order to ensure that he would have Maitland-Niles fresh for this match against Liverpool. Maitland-Niles is a far superior passer to Kolasinac, even though Sead has 4 assists. In the Premier League, AMN only averages 3 bad passes per game, Kolasinac 9. And they both average the same number of total passes per game. Kolasinac, with Alexis giving the ball away in front of him, and Xhaka giving the ball away in the midfield is exactly the kind of lineup that Liverpool are built to maul. Those are Arsenal’s top three most profligate passes and they average 30 wasted passes per game between them (9.1, 11.1, 9.9). Wenger resting Kola for this match makes perfect sense to me.

It could be an interesting battle down the left (their right) with Maitland-Niles a more conservative fullback, who is also one of Arsenal’s fastest players, going up against Mo Salah, the Liverpool superstar summer signing. How can Wenger peg Salah into their own half while also protecting his flanks from Salah’s deadly counters? And especially so with Alexis playing as the right-footed Robben on the left, constantly dipping inside to try to create.

Wenger absolutely must start a back three for several reasons. First, Monreal is his best home player this season. Second, Liverpool might come with a high press. If that’s the case, he needs his best three passers in the back to help break that press. They will simply need options.

Pay particular attention to Mustafi (if he starts) and Koscielny – we have seen a lot of games this season where neither player looks comfortable when pressed. That’s also down to the midfield and the forwards. If Arsenal are pressed high, they need to break that press with a long pass over the top. This is supposed to be Xhaka’s forte but he will not be afforded time to collect, take two or three touches to get the ball perfectly on his left foot, and then spray long passes around. Speed of play, movement, and one-touch passing are keys for Arsenal to break the Liverpool press.

Tottenham did this against Liverpool in week 9. Most notably, Lloris threw the ball out for Kane, who crossed for a streaking Son to score their second. Son nearly added a third off another direct chip which hit the crossbar. One-touch passing breaks the Liverpool press time and again. And if they do defend it, it moves the ball up the field, giving time and space to the Arsenal team.

Spurs scored a further two goals on the day off set plays which highlights a further two weaknesses on Liverpool: Dejan Lovren and set plays.

They have only allowed 6 goals off set plays this season, but 5 of them have come in away matches. They also have allowed some glaring “not set play” but lofted headed crosses for goals in away matches.

As for Lovren, he’s a disastrous defender. For the Tottenham first goal, it was a simple little chip over the top to Kane off a throw in. Lovren literally stopped and did a cartoon double-take to see if anyone was covering for him. Him. The center back. The guy closest to Kane.

Ragnar Klavan is probably just as bad as Lovren. Against Man City, Liverpool will point to the red card ruining the match – and you certainly don’t want to go down a man to Man City – but just as bad was Klavan’s switching off for the first City goal. A simple through ball to Aguero caught Ragnar dreaming of Ragnarok and set up the City first goal.

Arsenal should use Alexis and Lacazette to slip in behind the Liverpool defenders in this match and Ozil to set them up. Attack Lovren and Klavan straight through the middle of the pitch, the most desirable place to attack. Do it over and over and over.

Liverpool have conceded the 4th most away goals this season with 17. However, 9 of those away goals came in the losses to Man City and Tottenham and 5 of those 9 against City when they were a man down. Liverpool have also won their last 4 consecutive away matches and scored first in every game since the loss to Tottenham. They have still allowed 7 big chances in those matches and averaged 1 expected goal against which is down from the 3 big chances allowed per game they were averaging before making some changes at the back.

Klopp was talking some trash about how surprised he was that Ox wasn’t taught how to finish properly. Maybe that’s true. Maybe Wenger doesn’t teach his players how to finish, we certainly aren’t a very good finishing team this season, nor in the season which Leicester City won the League. It’s also true that Ox was almost never fit for Arsenal. Maybe that’s again the manager’s fault but I’m really struggling to see where Wenger would have had time to work with Ox on his finishing.

Also, finishing is something that players often work on on their own. Like after training, Bergkamp, Henry, and others would stay and just work on their finishing. Was Ox doing that at Arsenal? I never heard stories about what a dedicated trainer he was, how he would show up first and leave last, nothing like that. So, this feels a lot like Ox looking for someone else to blame for his stalled career.

Personally, I hope Liverpool give him the ball a lot, deep in his own half, and he does what he loved doing for Arsenal: try to dribble out of the backfield. Those could be some of Arsenal’s best chances for goals.

Predicted score: Arsenal 2-3 Liverpool




  1. I’m sorry to say that I plan to actually watch this game. My brother and I have this tradition of watching Arsenal’s festive fixtures during the family get-togethers, which means we have a tradition of making ourselves miserable during the holidays. The tradition promises to continue on Friday.

  2. I recently discovered that trading bitcoin is a lot less volatile and stressful than watching Arsenal.

    1. There is not much here sadly, that I did not suspect but thanks for the link. This is an important voice telling some powerful truths and well worth a read.

      Two of Trump’s wildly hyperbolic adjectives are actually appropriate here: “sad!” and “disaster!”.

  3. I skipped our last game against Newcastle. I’ve skipped games before when I had work, family or other commitments, but this was a bit of a watershed in that I had nothing at all. Baby was asleep, wife was busy. I just sat and played FIFA on the PS4.

    I didn’t regret it. So much so that I did the same for the West Ham game in midweek.

    I plan to do the same for Liverpool on Friday. I even have the day off, but whenever I ask myself whether I am truly entertained by watching Arsenal these days, the answer is usually no.

  4. Agree about us needing to play the 3-4-3. Normally I prefer a 4-3-3 so we don’t get overrun in midfield, but I suspect this current team is literally incapable of avoiding getting overrun against a quality high press team like Klopp’s Liverpool so we shouldn’t even try. We should follow the successful blueprint of the Spurs win and get the ball back to front as quickly as possible so our front three can do damage. Ideally we’d have lots of long low balls from our back three to our forwards, but precise balls in the air work as well.

  5. We can and will score against Liverpool. The tough part is keeping the door shut at the other end. I still have nightmares about the 4-0 game from earlier this season (shudders). This would’ve been a game I’d have considered starting Coquelin next to Xhaka for some speed through the middle. If the Swiss is poorly supported, we’re in for a long match.

  6. I agree with Zeddington. I was in Japan last week for work and missed 3 Arsenal games: Southampton, West Ham, and Newcastle. When I came back I realized I didn’t really miss them hat much, and didn’t bother to arrange my work around Welbeck shinning the ball into the net against West Ham in the League Cup. But I will follow Bunburyist’s lead in allowing the Liverpool game to ruin my holidays. And that is regardless whether I watch it or not.

  7. “This is where Arsenal have to be especially careful, on the counter.”
    Famous last words!

  8. They have only allowed 6 goals off set plays this season, but 5 of them have come in away matches. They also have allowed some glaring “not set play” but lofted headed crosses for goals in away matches.

  9. Liverpool’s tactic is obviously to blind us into submission with their hideous neon orange kit.

    My kids would wear that color on an armband for Halloween trick or treating.

  10. Okaaaayyyyy…..I didn’t see that coming – even at 2 all.

    Did anyone notice Klopp’s dead ringer during the celebration for the 2nd goal?

  11. In truth, Xhaka’s magic got us back into it. He’d been having a stinker till then. Gawd, we were awful.

    1. “Magic”? He hit a hard but speculative and extremely low percentage shot that went straight through their horrible keeper’s hands.

  12. So glad I missed the 1st half!

    Quick hit thoughts on 2nd half:

    -Our lack of speed through the middle was a killer as previously hypothesized. Wilshere is quick on his first step but can’t go through the gears with that front 4 and we know about Xhaka.

    -The presence of AMN on the left vs. Kolasinac blunted the attack and effectiveness of Alexis but diminished the threat of Mane

    -Bellerin finally won a tackle and looked more like his former self

    -Xhaka once again switched off at the very very last after tracking a runner into the box (Coutinho’s opener: Xhaka was in position to put him off but simply stopped running); his all around play was not bad in the 2nd half but this is a recurring theme. Someone show him some tape on this or else have Mertesacker plant a boot into his backside for each time it happened this season, cumulatively.

    -Defensive shape lost structure too easily with players being drawn toward the ball too often. Liverpool’s “bait and switch” maneuvers were depressingly predictable and effective.

    1. Bellerin did not look like his former self to me; I thought he was awful, one stupendous cross aside.

      I didn’t think Xhaka was ever in a position to catch Coutinho, who is just too fast for him and had a step on him to begin with (not letting him, or the rest of the team, off, for awful positioning, mind). This being very different than the Lingard second goal against Man United, for instance.

      Other than that, completely agree.

      1. Btw, being slow through the middle wouldn’t have mattered as much if we had just decided to cede the central midfield to them and played with a back three, as we did against Spurs (where Spurs drove a truck through our Ramsey/Xhaka midfield that day too, but our back three held firm, for one thing because they were rarely caught as far upfield, and for another because Spurs don’t have the outright speed of Liverpool). Or, failing that, dropped Iwobi for a more defensive midfielder and played Ozil further forward. Or, if we needed Ozil’s composure on the ball in a deeper position, then dropped Wilshere or Xhaka for a more athletic/disciplined DM (heck, we could’ve even put Kola back in and played AMN in midfield, or AMN in midfield, Nacho at LB, and Mustafi at CB).

        There were many, many combinations of players/formations Wenger could’ve picked that would have offered more defensive cover, and played into Liverpool’s hands less, than the 11 he started against Newcastle in a 4-3-3 (a midfield trio of Xhaka, Jack, and Ozil?! Really?! Doesn’t exactly scream tackling and physicality and athleticism and discipline, does it??????????????).

        But, typical Wenger, he thinks, “we won our last game, so no reason at all to change a thing when Liverpool come to town. What could possibly go wrong?” Yes, that’s the same Liverpool that beat us 4-0 earlier in the season, and have repeatedly, REPEATEDLY scored 3+ goals against us in recent years–with both Klopp and Rodgers in charge–playing almost exactly the same high press/high energy/lightning pace style, again and again and again. You’d think one of these days we’d decide to do something slightly differently to counter their game plan, but obviously that was never going to be today…

        1. Wenger’s not going to change his stripes at this point. Might as well enjoy the good moments when they come, like the Ozil goal. That’s a real gem.

      2. Watch it again: Xhaka and Jack both bust a gut to stay with Coutinho but Xhaka pulls up at the very last. He couldn’t have known the ball would deflect up like that but the point is he has to finish tracking his runner, especially in the box. Might not have caught my eye if it was not a recurring theme.

        1. Of course that situation doesn’t come about if the midfield creates pressure on the ball, or, seeing that the midfield isn’t pressuring up, the defense sits back. It’s a classic Arsenal mistake: push the line high but fail to get pressure on the ball.

  13. Coutinho still has a heck of a lot to do, to finish with an improvised lobbed header. Hes processing a lot… his position, his runner, Cechs movement towards him, while having the speed of thought to seize — perfectly — on a breaking ball in a split second. These are the variables that I think PFo’s analysis in particular misses. I prefer to applaud a very, very difficult finish. That’s not Xhaka’s ball. He’s running back facing his goal. What’s he meant to do? Push him over? Why is Kosc dealing with a cut in from the left? Wtf are AMN and Nacho! That took away the centre, where a CD should have been to head that ball away. Jack also bears a lot of responsibility for slipping at bad time. Other than that, he was one of the better players in what was a dire defensive performance. AMN justified his pick at LB.

    1. Typing from a tiny cell phone screen to beat a dying battery is never a good idea. I mean CB, of course. And posed a question instead of made an exclamation. But you get my drift.

    2. He makes a very conscious decision to stop running after Jack peels off to cover the far post. I still think if Xhaka just keeps running with Coutinho, he can at least alter the header, which, as you point out, was difficult to begin with. It’s not the biggest mistake in that sequence of events and there is a large slice of luck for them in that goal too, but I thought it was notable as part of a series of similar events, even if it’s not the most egregious.

      1. Fair enough, doc. One of the big questions that Arsenal has to answer is how they became unglued so fast after losing possession and Wilshere losing his footing in the middle of the park; unglued to the point where our right-footed central defender is the one forced to repel a threat from the left side of our defence.

        (Salah, btw, has been the league’s best player to date. No one, not even KDB, has given defenders the heebie-jeebies to the extent that he has. Every time he got on the ball it induced a minor panic, and Liverpool looked like scoring. We couldn’t handle him at all. Correction… hat tip to AMN for playing him rather well and limiting his threat. He and KDB both failed to settle at Chelsea, interestingly enough).

        But back to the game…
        Xhaka and Sanchez were overall poor (though they had their good moments), and both scored goals. It was that kind of game, Xhaka’s howitzer was the game’s biggest turning point, and we might have won it but for an Alexis turnover of a routine outlet ball — on a shot, from Firminho — that Xhaka should have done a better job of blocking, and that Cech should have saved. The head hurts, doesn’t it? At 3-2 and half an hour to play, no one could call this crazy, crazy game, which was a defensive coach’s nightmare.

        Jack looked capable at all times of having the craft to make something happen either on the pass or the surge/dribble, and Ibowi had one moment of brilliance — an absolutely wonderful take of an OTT pass, the minute before he was substituted for Welbeck. Other than that, he did little, far as I’m concerned. Bellerin is playing on reputation, and Debuchy, on the evidence of recent games, must be pushing him for his spot.

        1. Perhaps predictably, I thought Ozil (uncharacteristic mistakes in last few minutes aside) was clearly better than Jack.

          I like Jack, and thought he had a pretty good game, but the Jack love-in on here and over at arseblog has surprised me a bit.

          1. Saying that Wilshere had a good game is not the same as saying that he played better than Ozil. That’s a strange way of looking at things. Jack’s coming back from (a) a lengthy injury (b) being away on loan last season and (c) starting way at the back of the midfield queue. That his progress is a source of interest to Arseblog et al is completely understandable. Yes, Mesut played well, particularly in the second half.

          2. Yeah sorry, wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth. I was mostly reacting to all the comments at arseblog saying Jack was our best player.

        2. “At 3-2 and half an hour to play, no one could call this crazy, crazy game, which was a defensive coach’s nightmare.”

          On the contrary. I could call it, and did. That Arsene didn’t seek to make a change–of personnel and/or tactics– to tighten things up when we had quite inexplicably taken the lead at 3-2, was absolutely criminal management. Everyone could see that Liverpool looked dangerous pretty much every time they attacked, and we had a lead with 30 minutes to go in a HUGE game, and yet Arsene doesn’t bring someone on to screen the backline, switch to a back three, etc. Suicidal.

  14. I can understand the Wilshere love to a point. I liked his angled passes from center while he was under pressure and I liked his ability to advance the ball through the lines with his quickness. I have to say though i don’t really understand where the idea of Wilshere as a great creative player comes from. He’s primarily a guy who can move the ball through midfield to the real creators; around the D and facing competent defenders he doesn’t have the strength to hold the ball up, the acceleration to win dribbles when opponents expect it, or the ability to cross with consistency and accuracy. He’s pretty good with through-balls but his game lacks the subtlety or quickness of thought that makes Ozil such an outstanding provider. The proof is in the pudding: his career assist rate is something like 0.15 per game. He doesn’t pick locks and he doesn’t put goals on a platter, but he works around pressure and opens opportunities for others, in other words, he is what Alex Hleb was to the Arsenal midfield of 06-08, or Cazorla in 12-15, though not nearly as good with his weak foot as those two. And let’s not even talk about goals, or the lack thereof. Wilshere is truly a #10 in name only.

    Don’t get me wrong, Jack’s talents are valuable. In his pomp, he could be a facsimile of someone like Veratti, a tenacious little midfield terrier who is that crucial link between defense and attack. The problem is, his tenacity, though highly visible in short bursts, is not underlined by consistent discipline in possession, consistent effort in tracking runners or consistent awareness of defensive responsibilities. Up to this point in his career he has been a defensive liability when starting in a midfield role and it’s hard to see that changing. That’s really not viable in the modern game, especially when he is competing for grass time with Mesut Ozil and Alexis, who have similar issues with concentration when out of possession but at least can point to a much more extensive body of offensive production to justify their playing time.

    We have spent a lot of time wishing a career on Jack that he will probably never have, projecting the precocious promise of his 16 year old self. The actual player, unfortunately, turned out to be short of exceptional. Though it pains me to say it, Liverpool’s Emre Can is two years Jack’s junior at just 23 and already looks a better player, with tools that better suit Arsenal’s obvious deficiencies. If I were managing Arsenal, I would swap the two in a heartbeat, but I don’t think Liverpool would be game for that.

  15. Wenger is beyond stupid. Starting Iwobi? Sanchez? These are players who specialize in passing to the opposition. Only Wenger thinks they don’t.

  16. “Anyone still want Klopp to manage Arsenal?”

    Above Arsenal in his first full season and most likely at the end of this one as well, on less than half of Wenger’s total net spend ?
    Yea, Tim , I’d take him.

    At least there’s still a decent chance Klopp might get his team’s balance righ short of spending Guardiola / City crazy a$$ money .
    But if he fails, Liverpool are still way more fun to watch than Arsenal right now.
    The first half was simply just soul crushing .

          1. Life is a risk. It doesn’t matter. We aren’t winning the league with any manager, unless there’s some stroke of luck.

    1. Nah, Klopp’s been like this defensively his entire career and “above Arsenal” isn’t much of a measuring stick.

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