Arsenal tread water at ‘Pool

Arsenal and Liverpool started the match in an unusually cagey manner. The Gunners were content passing the ball out of the back, Liverpool were content with a light press, and when Liverpool had the ball they too wanted to play out from the back and Arsenal gave them a little pressure. They were in many ways the mirror image of each other, with one play perfectly illustrating this: both sides had an early possession where they moved the ball from keeper to CB (wide), back to keeper, to the DMC, back to the CB (wide other side), and drawing the CF out to that CB, then playing the breaking ball into midfield. Nothing came from either possession, but it was odd to see both center forwards chasing the ball nearly into the corner a few seconds apart from each other and both teams moving the ball in the exact same pattern.

For Arsenal it seemed like Arteta was telling Klopp that his Arsenal side can also play the way that Liverpool play and it was a bold move by the Arsenal manager. Many other sides would travel to Anfield and switch up their playing style, do something much more overtly defensive, and the fans often demand that their team and their managers go for something different in these games. That’s especially true after the match if their side has lost 4-0.

But for Arsenal, at this moment, it was the right call and most fans understand why. After two years of coaching, Arteta seems to have finally hit on a style he wants his team to play and it has produced results. So, after a 10-match unbeaten run it was more important at this moment to test his team and this style to see how they react under the most difficult pressure in the league (or perhaps, top three most difficult). In that way they could figure out where they need to improve.

That seems to have been the plan and it was bold. But it was also slightly naive.

Liverpool seemed bemused by Arsenal’s approach in those first 30 minutes. Klopp’s men seemed content to let this match play out the way that it was going: they had 7 shots, 4 in good areas, and forced Arsenal into 10 clearances. On the other end, Arsenal had 2 shots and struggled to get the ball forward as Liverpool forced them into 10 turnovers and seemed to get shots off those turnovers fairly easily. The best chance for Pool was Sadio Mane’s shot in the 28th minute from very close range, which Ramsdale scrambled to claim after a bit of a bobble.

But Liverpool’s contentment evaporated just a few minutes after that Mane chance. Mane seemed to be interested in turning the heat up in this match and went in for an aerial duel with his elbow quite high. It’s the kind of challenge that can draw a red card – especially if you swing it – and Mikel Arteta let the officials know how he felt. Klopp wasn’t a fan of Arteta trying to get his player sent off and let Arteta know about that. Arteta wasn’t a fan of Klopp telling him not to tell the officials what to do and he let him know about that. Then both men started waving their arms at each other and telling their assistants to “hold me back!” like they were going to fight.

The official tried to calm things down by giving both men a yellow card but the entire incident had the opposite effect. Liverpool found a second gear and with the Anfield crowd behind them started snapping into tackles, pressing Arsenal off the ball, and camping high in Arsenal’s half. Arsenal were like Inigo Montoya saying to the dread pirate Westley “I must admit, you are better than me, but I know something you do not know, I’m not left handed” and then switching to his right hand. Only for Liverpool to respond “There’s something I ought to tell you. I’m not left-handed either.”

Tsimikas ghosted Tomiyasu and put in a draw back for Salah. Ramsdale needed to make another brilliant close-range save. Arsenal were cut open again a minute later as Trent Alexander-Arnold got off a great shot.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however. With Liverpool pressing extremely high there was a breakaway chance for Arsenal which needed an inch-perfect stop by Fabinho but that’s exactly whet he did.

Then Aubameyang fouled someone with a very poor slide tackle and got away without a yellow card but conceded a free kick on the right side. Trent Alexander-Arnold stepped up and pumped in a perfect cross. Gabriel couldn’t get to the ball, and despite the fact that he’s the smaller man, Mane scored a header, powered down and through Ramsdale’s hand.

Liverpool dominated from that point on. When Arsenal had the ball, Liverpool pressed high and completely eviscerated Arsenal’s strategy to play out the back. Under Liverpool’s organized press, Arsenal’s players were forced to dribble into cul-de-sacs or make passes to dangerous areas. By my count, Liverpool created 6 shots off pressure between the 33rd and 60th minutes, including one for a goal for Jota, which was one of the best goals you’ll see all season. By the time that Arsenal realized that they should probably switch up tactics, it was too late and Liverpool had a two-goal lead.

Mane has gotten a lot of criticism from Arsenal supporters and he did put himself about several times in this match (including twice against Tomiyasu, the second time resulting in the Arsenal players coming to Tomi’s rescue) but the fact is that Arsenal could have used a player like that yesterday, someone to fire them up and get into it with the opponents. Instead, Arsenal seemed to go limp after the second goal and though there was one good shot for Aubameyang, Liverpool were hardly ruffled. Only Ramsdale’s saves kept this match from turning into a bigger rout than 4-0.

Liverpool were just very good. Their last two goals showed a class in attack that is sorely lacking at Arsenal. Jota created a counter attack from nothing with a brilliant flicked header, and Mane’s cross to Salah for the goal was superb. And for the 4th goal Alexander-Arnold did what he does best – getting in deep and drilling an unstoppable cross which only needed a body on the end of it to score.

After the match, Arteta said he’s taken lessons from this match, that it was a learning opportunity. But it’s difficult to tell what lessons Arsenal can take other than Liverpool are still miles ahead of Arsenal. Arsenal may be in 5th place (as of this article) but after watching Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man City this weekend you’d have to conclude that Arsenal aren’t in that group.

Many saw this match as a test for Arsenal after their 10-match unbeaten run. It was supposed to be a match which told us more about Arteta’s playing style and the abilities of his team, to tell us what level Arsenal can aspire to. Well, there’s no question Arsenal are not a top three team so it seems that the real test is coming up when Arsenal play Man U, West Ham, and Everton. That’s where we will see where they fit in race for the 4th place cup.



  1. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Liverpool are a top team with a most of the team around their peak ages.They have been together for 4/5 years so they know exactly how they play and confidence that titles give you. The only way we were going to get a result was to luck one defending deep.

    where we measure ourselves is against the teams 4 and below. the next game will be a good indicator of where we are. Beat newcastle and we can write off this game off. I can’t wait to see the mentality of this team.

  2. Yep. That’s exactly it. Feels like we can probably contend for 4th if we play well. But those top three are well ahead. Another year of experience and a better attack needed before we can think about being competitive there. And yeah, the 3rd goal in particular looked like an Arsenal attack from back when we did have a good attack.
    It was worth a try, but I’d rather be a little more conservative and only lose by 2 instead of 4. And in fairness, Liverpool do seem to be up for these matches against Arsenal for whatever reason. They play much more consistently well against us.

  3. Dismal defending by Gabriel and White, our much vaunted CB pairing. Amazing but true fact… Ramsdale conceded 4 and was our best player. That’s how bad the back line was.

    On Goal 1, the TAA free kick, no way should Gabriel allow himself to be out-jumped by Mane, who’s significantly shorter. That’s simply not a goal that Liverpool is scoring against Brighton or West Ham. His body shape is all wrong anyway… the only place he’s heading that ball if he beats Mane to it is goalwards. VVD also did a sly basketball “screen” on Tomi to give Mane running room. THAT was a well coached set-piece.

    On the other goals, White was desperation diving/sliding all over the place, a sure sign of positioning/communication breakdown. All very Mustafi.

    On the 3rd goal, Salah’s, we played a suicidal high line. The defence was so badly out of position from Jota’s clever nod-on that Ainsley was ahead of Gabriel in running back towards our goal to prevent them scoring.

    For the 4th, the defence was all over the park. But it WAS a gorgeously worked goal (though not as sumptuous as Jota’s, the 2nd)

    We like to talk about how Arteta improved Arsenal’s defending. We might want to burn this tape.

    Yes, Liverpool and the other top 2 are leagues ahead. But they shouldn’t be 4-nil leagues ahead.

    To me this game showed that is was far more than about personnel… it’s about coaching. Liverpool are a superbly coached football team, and when they are swarming forward, they’re a synchronous joy to beyond. And apart from Jota, Alexander Arnold caught my eye. He’s like a soccer quarterback..

    1. After match day 12 we’re joint worse with ManUre with 11 errors leading to shots, and worst with 4 errors leading to goals.

  4. I thought / expected us to be more competitive yesterday. Not a great performance but in isolation that’s OK.

    However…… when Arteta joined he focused on making us harder to beat. This season that’s gone to shit. Against the top 3 we’re 0 points, 0 goals, 11 conceded. And it’s not like we’re playing gung-ho Bielsa-ball. For much of yesterday’s game we were eleven behind the ball.

    There’s a pattern forming. Against the top sides we’re miles away from scoring PLUS we’re flimsier than eighteen months ago.

    Approaching one third through the season Arsenal rank 8th for goals conceded and 14th for goals scored. XG and XGa ranks even worse (10th and 16th). We’re a mid table team in attack and lower third team in defence.

    Wham, Spuds, Leicester, ManUre and Arsenal are fighting for 4th-8th. At least two of these are going to improve.

    Arteta needs to find a better balance. It’s possible we can flat track bully our way to 6th, but it’s not a recipe for success.

  5. I feel for a few of the players. When defending against a team this good, there can be no weak links. There were 3 before the floodgates opened: White (indecisive and nervous), Tavares (sloppy), Lokonga (lax). The hard work of the others undone by a lack of quality in key moments by the first three. They’re young, they’ll get better, but it was a bit sad to see.

  6. Tim. Great post. We had a great run of form for the last couple months but despite the great play we are still on pace to score only 41 total league goals this season. We cant expect to maintain good form and I am not sure how we can get consistently better and hope to compete for the to0 4 when we have so little firepower. We need to buy a couple goal scorers


    Players have been coached on how to position their bodies to jump on set pieces and how to stay on their feet and defend since their early teens and most even start earlier. You mentioned mustafi and if players like him or Gabriel hasn’t figured out how to avoid basic mistakes after more then a dozen years of coaching then you can’t really expect a new manager going to fix it.

    In the last 8 league games we only conceded 3 goals so we were coached well during that run.The difference yesterday was pool has better players and last season we were the 3rd best team in the league in terms of goals conceded so the preponderance of evidence would suggest the team has been well coached defensively

    1. We were a defensive mess in yesterday’s game, Bill. No two ways about that.

      Our back line — particularly our CBs — were terrible. They conceded, too easily, goals that lesser teams would not have. That is a fact, as much as it’s a fact that we’d only conceded 3 in the previous 8.

      The point about coaching applied to Liverpool’s play. It’s more than the fact that they have great personnel. Theyre well coached. That said, we should have defended their goals better.

      Matt makes a great point about us being 0-3 and -11 GD against the top 3. So you can wax lyrical about the previous 8 games, but that stat line cant be ignored. We kind of look like flat track bullies. let’s see how we get on against the likes of United and West Ham.

      1. Appreciated Claude. Josh has rightly pointed out before that to play in Europe’s top competitions you need to qualify on merit. To play Europe’s best realistically you should be holding your own with the best league teams.

  7. I couldn’t see the game and I’m not looking forward to re-watching it. I thought we would lose, I hoped for a closer fight, but given our inexperience, this result was always a possibility.

    Ramsdale said that because we’re a young team we sometimes stick to the gameplan too much, which I thought was a really interesting comment. I don’t know if his boss agrees.

    1. I noted that comment as well Greg. Very much surprised me, especially coming from one of Arteta’s new and chosen ones.

      It really does make me wonder whether Arteta has loosened the straitjacket in terms of how he is communicating to the team this season.

      Separately, seeing that a) we need another goal scorer on the pitch, and b) how influential TAA is in playmaking for Liverpool, I do wonder if Arteta shouldn’t consider following Southgate’s lead and play Saka at RB once KT returns at LB. And then play Pepe/Martinelli/new acquisition up front on the right.

      1. Yeah, there’s the straitjacket thing and also it raised a lot of curiosity from me in terms of what actually Arteta’s approach is behind the scenes, and what he ultimately wants from the team.

        We’ve always complained that Arsenal under Arteta look overcoached, I think that goes two ways. On the one hand I’m sure he’s prescriptive and hands down orders. My feeling also is that the players have been too happy to put the responsibility on the manager and just do what he says, instead of taking responsibility on the pitch as play unfolds. That’s a feeling, based on nothing more than an instinct really, that Arteta wants the players to meet him halfway. Certainly he took responsibility on the pitch when he was a player.

        It also makes me think back to the problem that we now have an inexperienced team under an inexperienced coach. These players all have a massive upside to them in terms of potential development – but really it’s a pretty big gamble to put them under such an inexperienced manager.

        It’s exactly at times like this when you would expect a good manager to be adding value to the team and the squad, and I’m not sure Arteta has it in his locker to do that.

        For example, your suggestion of putting Saka at RB and someone else up front. Or similarly, I was thinking of playing Tavares further forward. That’s the kind of thing an experienced manager would be able to do with a high level of confidence of what the effect would be. It might be exactly the kind of move that would help to unlock our attack. But I’m not sure Arteta has the level of experience, which is a worry.

        1. The inexperience all around definitely showed, I agree. Arteta is learning on the job, and at some point that won’t be good enough. Arteta’s ceiling looks like more of a limiting factor than our squad’s talent. For a long time, I would have said the players were just too far below the level. Now there’s a squad with potential that needs to be developed and fostered. Not sure how far Mikel can take them.

          Having said that, young team are always inconsistent. They’re going to get battered before they get better (assuming they do!)

    2. Arteta said pretty much the same thing as Ramsdale in a post-match interview originally on the .com (if I’m not mistaken) and covered on

  8. Claude.

    Sepating a coaching mistake from a player just getting beat by a better player is not as simple as you make it sound. I would argue it’s just as likely the reason we were a mess defensively yesterday and against the other top 3 teams this year is those teams have players who are better at executing then ours. If our coaching was bad we would look disorganized and defensively ineffective against a lot of other teams but that’s has not been the case. There are thousands of hours of film on Liverpool and Man City available to every manager in the PL and if there was some coaching solution to stopping them someone would have figured it out by now but they keep winning because they have better players.

    The objective of a better team is to confuse and get the opponents out of position and take advantage of their skill players superior ability to make plays. You see the same thing in all professional sports. A good pitcher makes hitters look bad in baseball. The best wide receivers in American football are consistently successful because they have the ability to out execute the cornerbacks across the line from them. The best basketball players are consistently successful because they are just better then the players trying to guard them.

  9. Claude.

    In the end the truth is probably somewhere in between the 2 ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately there are not many Pep’s or Klopp’s out there who are currently unemployed. There is no way to prove it but I believe if you gave Pep our current squad with its lack of firepower and gave Arteta Man City’s squad it would Arteta competing for the top of the table and Pep would be fighting for a Europa league spot.

  10. arsenal were completely out-played and out-coached. the only players who looked like they could compete with liverpool were ramsdale, gabriel, tomiyasu, and lacazette. everyone else looked a whole two steps behind. i think partey was still injured. sambi looked absolutely overwhelmed by the speed at which liverpool played and i understand why arteta took him off. however, that moment probably required elneny before ainsley. after the spat between managers, i knew it was going to affect the game and i just felt that it was a moment for pepe. liverpool gave saka time and dared him to prove he could pose a threat from wide with his weaker right foot. because they gave him time, he held the ball too long and failed to be dangerous.

    lastly, i know i’ve talked about it a lot but aubameyang is not the answer at center forward. we know what emile, saka, and laca bring to the attack. someone tell me what aubameyang provides to the arsenal attack? auba’s missed the last two penalties, although he followed up one of them; penalties that lacazette has won. the goals arsenal have scored this season have mostly been set plays. the team have scored from a few corners, odegaard had the best goal of the season so far with that sweet free kick. the emile goals have been a product of him being johnnie on the spot instead of good football. i would play emile in the 10 spot, auba in the 11, and lacazette in the 9.

    1. I’m still girding my loins to go and watch a replay of the match, so I don’t know how it played out.

      You say that Auba is playing CF – isn’t it kind of Laca playing as CF and Auba as second striker?

      Auba is the kind of forward who needs you to give him a platform, he’s not a CF like Lukaku who will give you one himself. He needs movement and link-up players around him and a dominant, dynamic midfield who can move the ball fast. I think that’s the vision but it’s not being realised yet – and he’s only going to be around until the summer anyway.

      I agree he’s a problem, he was for the whole of last season as well. He is often our out-ball and he needs to be able to hold it up or pass it, and that just isn’t his game. Too many passes ping off him, too many turnovers put us right back under pressure, too many promising situations are not developed.

      It’s like having a Lamborghini when you live in a neighbourhood full of speed bumps and potholes.

      I guess he’s only around until the summer. I’m a bit stumped as to the kind of forward we should be getting in to replace him. I guess Martinelli and Balogun are being primed, but they both have a long way to go.

      1. It’s easy to exaggerate Auba being “a problem” . Our entire forward line — Auba, Laca, Emile, Saka — was well marshalled by a superb and fluid Liverpool. Not one of them passed that examination at Anfield. Our best chance of scoring came from Partey.

        Jota showed everyone up for central forward play. It’s not just about manfully and vainly trying to hold it up. That nod-on to runners beyond him for Liverpool’s second was almost as good as his goal. Liverpool area one-touch wonder. Laca wouldn’t get on their bench. Auba would, because Klopp will know how to properly deploy him to maximise his skillset.

        Tavares had done well in previous games, but I think we missed Tierney for what he gives us going forward.

        Watch the game. Youve nothing to fear.

  11. Bill, you’re very binary and linear in how you see football, but sport isn’t like that. Otherwise, Buster Douglas would be an ex-boxer no one had heard of with no victories of note (You know who Buster Douglas is, right? 🙂).

    The odds favour the team that is better on paper, but coaching and tactics (which you shown us over time that don’t believe are a factor in anything) can close the gap. West Ham beat Liverpool, but Liverpool are the manifestly better team.

    Arsenal defending on the goals were bad, and sides finishing lower than us will do a better job defending, and not get beaten as badly. We have Ramsdale to thank for it not being 7-0. We were cut open time and again. That we conceded 3 goals in the previous 8 games is great, but . we might have conceded 7 on Saturday. Goal 1 and 3 were prime examples… bad set piece defending, and crazy high line from our defenders. Instead of talking in vague sureties, let me hear what you have to say about goals 3 and 4 in particular.

    You fail to grasp the point about coaching as well. You could see from the way that Liverpool set up and executed on the set piece (screening and all) that it was something they worked on. VVD nullified our weak side help, and that helped to give Mane a clear run. You make a curious point about Gabriel learning to defend set pieces since he was a kid. Don’t you think that players can make errors that are specific to a particular game? The way he played at Anfield (badly) does not make him a bad player, or mean that he’ll play that way all the time. In fact, he’s been good for us this season*.

    Stop being so linear and rigid. Sport isn’t.

    *(for others besides Bill, Gabriel played well in patches against Salah, but on the goals, he was woeful. To Matt’s point about us getting leathered by the top 3… is that mental fragility, inferiority complex and something Arteta needs to address? In fairness to him, we’ve looked a pretty good side of late. Besides the class gap, why did we lose our heads at Liverpool?)

  12. Claude

    As I said the reality is probably somewhere between the 2 extremes we are debating. To me it feels like the conventional wisdom which seems to be prevalent on this site is the managers have complete control over everything that happens and they choreograph every movement the players make and they are supposed to improve players and come up with tactical solutions to compensate for everything from a lack of firepower to a mistake prone defender. I understand the manager is the captain of the ship and ultimately he is going to be held responsible but there is only so much he can do with the talent he has available. For example, to my eye Auba is not the same player he used to be and at this point in his career we can no longer expect him to carry the scoring load. That leaves us without a single player you expect to score in any game. There is a chance we could go thru this season with only one or if Auba struggles we could potentially go thru the season without a single player scoring in double figures in our league games. There is no tactical solution for a handicap like that.

    1. “Somewhere between the two extremes” is a cop out argument. It gets one out of having to go into specifics or go in search of nuance. Besides, Bill, i studiously avoid arguing in “extremes”

      i agree with you that scoring is important, and you need players capable of high volume scoring. That’s why we’re after that young chap from Fiorentina. We’re in minus GD one-third of theway through the season. That’s not good. We can both agree on that.

      This though, is way overstated 👉🏽”That leaves us without a single player you expect to score in any game”.


      One last thing… even with high volume scorers, tactics do matter. You’ll get less out of your HV scorer if chance creation is low. Lewa would be productive in any system, one suspects, but less productive in some. By your logic, he’d score 36 goals a season for every team he plays for.

  13. I’m keen not to read too much into the ‘Pool game but a heavy defeat is not the time to write it off saying ‘they’re better than us’ or ‘we’re a young side’, but the time to take stock and improve. A couple of thoughts:

    We’re not firing in attack (7 league goals from open play). Auba gets the flak but it was insane to extend him and not build the attack around him. I don’t have the answers but it seems we have two senior forwards we can’t maximise and three junior forwards who aren’t ready (or getting games). It smacks of poor squad planning.

    Our weakness in midfield was laid bare at Anfield. They weren’t taking pressure off defence or providing ammo for the forwards. I’m not sold on a midfield double pivot. Games like this are crying out for a three. Partey just doesn’t cut it for me and I most definitely wouldn’t have bought Odegaard. Midfield desperately needs a rebuild but the current squad are on longish contracts and will be very difficult to move on. Phillips (Leeds) and Bissouma or Buendia should have been last Summer’s priorities. I’m not optimistic we have the personnel for a top midfield unit.

    On defence I didn’t realise watching the game that Tomi lost possession 16 times and didn’t make a tackle. Tavares made 4 tackles and lost the ball 18 times. The definition of a bad day at the office. So far this season in away games we’re conceding on average 18 shots per game and pretty much always get out-shot. Without Ramsdale’s MOTM performances this team would be in a whole world of pain. I get that Arteta rebuilt defence but that just places greater emphasis on coaching leadership. Personally I think it’s naïve to play a back four with so little experience.

  14. “it seems we have two senior forwards we can’t maximise and three junior forwards who aren’t ready (or getting games). It smacks of poor squad planning”.


    and this
    “Our weakness in midfield was laid bare at Anfield. They weren’t taking pressure off defence or providing ammo for the forwards”

    And overall a superb analysis.

    Taking a step back, though… what Mikel managed — even with the bad squad planning you ref — to drag us to 5th in the table. Im taking that as a green shoot. We have to be more competitive against the best sides

    I dont want to get too down about this… we knew that the top 3 are a class apart. Id be worried about how our defending fell apart (even if it’s one of the best frontlines in football)

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