Three Things We Learned from Arsenal 3-1 Liverpool – by Alan Alger
Arteta has a 10 out of 10 Sunday…
Mikel Arteta got every single major call right in our 3-1 beating of Liverpool this weekend. He got all the minor ones right too. We can’t be sure how soon the boss knew that Gabriel Jesus wouldn’t be fit for the clash, but the alternative plan arguably caused more damage to Liverpool than had the Brazilian been fit.
Kai Havertz holding up the ball and bringing Martin Odegaard into the play created so much width as Liverpool’s defence got together in a closer line of four. Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka both had standout goalscoring performances from exploiting those wide areas as our opponents couldn’t cope.
The squad management was also brilliantly executed too. Jorginho is a huge player to have in games against the better Premier League teams. We have certain players that are better off in certain game situations and against certain opponents.
Think back to Granit Xhaka’s resurgence last season when used in the right way. No more inconsistent runs of form. I now believe Arteta has a handle on when to use the squad to their strengths. For instance – as well as Jorginho shining in games where we need to win midfield battles - Leandro Trossard is better coming on as an impact sub than starting, Oleksandr Zinchenko is better in games where he doesn’t have to defend too much.
This squad management is key and Arteta’s use of his ‘Finishers’ (his way of giving his subs a name that means they’re still motivated) has been vital – as mentioned in a previous column. We now have around 40 goal involvements (assists and goals) from substitutes in our last 50 league matches. Trossard (goal) and Kiwior (assist) added to that tally yesterday.
Better chances and better finishing make mistakes less impactful…
We have one of the strangest defensive records in the whole of the Premier League. We rank among the very best teams in terms of hardly giving our opponents a sniff of the goal, but we also rank extremely high in errors leading to conceded goals.
Obviously we added to that latter total yesterday in what we can now reflect on as comical fashion – by the way has there even been a flatter half-time on the concourses?
A basic reading of those stats says that if we cut out the errors we’re talking about the kind of defensive solidity we saw way back in 1990-91 when George Graham’s ‘Almost Invincibles’ conceded just 18 goals.
Plainly we are incredibly hard to score against unless we give the opposition a helping hand!
The players seemed shell-shocked by the equaliser and that seemed to carry into the first few minutes of the second-half - our only bad period of the game. They showed great mental fortitude to quickly sweep that aside.
Finishing our chances well is key. A lot of people misread what ‘Expected Goals’ is trying to tell us in situations like this. I know it’s been a bugbear of mine that some people do not add context and caveats to xG, but yesterday was a nice example of what I meant when referring to the West Ham home game in December. That night we scored almost exactly the same xG rating than against Liverpool but didn’t score once.
At Christmas the vast majority of our chances were rated lower and therefore had a much higher chance of variability and failure, whereas yesterday we had fewer chances but of higher quality to make up the 3.54 total. That reduction in the variability and better finishing (and of course an element of luck) provided a comfortable cushion.
Talking of West Ham, we owe them one as much as we owed Liverpool…
I really felt we owed Liverpool one yesterday and I think some of the celebrations after the match – both in the stands and on the pitch – highlighted just how much we’d been waiting to put them to the sword.
The draw at Anfield last season, that started our slide away from the title, and the cup exit last month had maintained a rivalry traced many decades back. It felt good, and frankly who cares about the ‘Celebration Police’. I pay good money to be part of the kind of atmosphere we witnessed yesterday.
Next Sunday’s game at West Ham is one of six remaining visits we have to make to top half teams in the current table. Our remaining fixtures aren’t especially kind in terms of a title chance. We improved that figure to about 17% yesterday, but that’s roughly the same as where we started the season.
We definitely owe West Ham one. Like Liverpool they clawed back a draw to harm our title push last season and have since won well at the Emirates. Their players and fans are especially motivated by our capture of the outstanding Declan Rice, but we cannot let them make it a hattrick of victories against us this season, otherwise parts of yesterday’s brilliant win will have been in vain in terms of that title percentage.