Blue-collar Arsenal fight back in second half to gun down Liverpool

Arsenal showed great mental strength to come back against Liverpool in the second half and were inspired by a bolt from the blue from Andrey Arshavin.

To many, he comes across like Roger Moore in ‘The Saint’ yet beneath the taciturn and urbane exterior is a man who has worked for years on his self-discipline in order to keep his fiery temper in check. But following an uninspiring first period, Arsène Wenger felt half-time in the Anfield away team dressing room was the right place to wake the sleeping volcano. “The boss screamed,” said Cesc Fábregas. “He was really disappointed with us in the first half. I’ve never seen him like that before. He said we didn’t deserve to wear the Arsenal shirt and he was right because we really weren’t good, we weren’t up for it. But that gave us a boost and the second half was one of the best second halves we have played this season.”

Normally so protective of his team, the (controlled) dressing down did the job as Arsenal came out of the blocks in the second half quickly, their focus so sharp they were able to take the lead in no time and were not under any real threat for the rest of the match. Rather than tactically or physically, it was the change in mentality which won the game for Arsenal and indeed arguably, lost it for Liverpool. The luck ran out for the Reds – a penalty shout which in all honesty would have been a free-kick outside the area, a 50-50 challenge between Mascherano and Fabregas went the other way and which resulted in the goal – but they were also unable to keep their high intensity play going after the break.

Andrey Arshavin, starting an away game in the centre, was once again going to be Arsenal’s pivot where goalscoring play was to be built around but Liverpool were very quick in the first half to close the Russian down. The defence was committed to ensuring nothing was going to go through them and by denying Arshavin any room to manoeuvre, limited the space for the wingers to get behind. But in eight quick minutes, that all changed. With Arsenal winning a free-kick in their own half, Arshavin promptly dropped deep to receive the ball thus dragging Agger out. The space this created for Nasri down the left as Aurelio was required to tuck in effectively brought the Gunners the goal and with a help of a little deflection and Glen Johnson’s knee, the ball ended up in the back of the net. Johnson was caught again for the second as Arshavin, lurking behind the England full back, blasted an unstoppable shot past Pepe Reina.

It may have seemed unlikely in the first period as Liverpool played at a very high tempo, disrupting the Gunners on the ball and taking advantage of gaps left in the channels from transitions. Arsenal definitely needed some variety; an outlet to go more direct or in behind and as a consequence, the opposition defence found it easier to defend. Fernando Torres should have put Liverpool in front when he shot low at Manuel Almunia when no-one but he and the keeper were in the box. As it was, Dirk Kuyt gave the home side the lead when Almunia unconvincingly went for a punch but the ball falling straight to Kuyt to complete the formalities.

At the back, Vermaelen was once again a superb influence, Fabregas still initiating while the midfield shield of Song partnered by Denilson, allowed Arsenal to soak up the late pressure. The Brazilian in particular had an assured and composed game and was the go to man when Arsenal were in trouble in possession. “Denilson gives us stability,” said Wenger before the game. “Because we’re a team that goes forward, we need to win the ball back in strong positions and he contributes to that. He’s a good passer and keeps it simple – which is always a sign of class.”

The importance of the match was magnified following Chelsea and Manchester United’s dropped points and maybe that was translated in the nature of Wenger’s half-time team talk. The side has lost matches against its key title rivals this season but the Gunners are now back in a good position. And asked if his team were back in the frame, Wenger said: “Mathematically yes, and mentally certainly.”

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson (Degen), Carragher, Agger, Aurelio, Mascherano (Aquilani), Lucas, Kuyt, Gerrard, Benayoun (Ngog), Torres.
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Insua, Skrtel, Dossena.

Arsenal: Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Gallas (6), Vermaelen (7), Traore (7) (Silvestre), Fabregas (7), Song (7), Denilson (7)*, Walcott (5) (Diaby 6), Arshavin (7) (Ramsey), Nasri (6).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Eduardo, Vela, Wilshere.

Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)

Liverpool Team Statistics Arsenal
1 Goals 2
1 1st Half Goals 0
3 Shots on Target 4
2 Shots off Target 3
4 Blocked Shots 2
3 Corners 4
19 Fouls 16
4 Offsides 2
3 Yellow Cards 3
0 Red Cards 0
66.2 Passing Success 71
27 Tackles 19
74.1 Tackles Success 84.2
48.5 Possession 51.5
52.4 Territorial Advantage 47.6


23 thoughts on “Blue-collar Arsenal fight back in second half to gun down Liverpool

  1. To be fair, we were lucky. We got away with the penalty decision and Johnson’s own goal was not the most convincing. But hey, we’ve been on the wrong end of this stick for so long, maybe it’s karma paying back.

  2. Slight change by Wenger at HT to play Theo on the left and straight down the middle as a CF for the 1st 15mins of the second half to threathen the back their defence thus their pressing stopped and then we could dictate hence we got 2 goals and shut them out.

  3. We have the chance to win some thing if the manager can sign some to good players.

    One mid and one striker.

    We are in abetter position if we can win the few remaing matches of first round.

  4. Brilliant report again.
    I think we could learn a few important things from the way Liverpool played the first half. They pressed collectively and hunted the ball down like a hound of dogs, winning almost every challenge. They also attacked with added dynamism, moving the ball quickly through the channels. Their game plan was to win the ball close to the half line and launch a sweeping counter attack with magnificent speed and movement.
    But, Arsenal seized the initiative in the second half. At one point the possession stats showed 77% possession to us! The movement for the first goal was top quality. Walcott did well to start the run from the left right to the goalmouth. Arshavin should also be given credit for taking out his marker. It led to Johnson scoring for us due to the pressure to clear the ball. The second goal was unbelievable. As they say, football is more a mental game than a physical one.

  5. Great report.
    Glad you mentioned Denilson.I thought he had a very good game yesterday so went to check upon the guardian website. Stats wise as usual the best all round player on the pitch. As wenger says gives stability and judging by the number of interceptions reads the game very well. The other thing he always seems to do so well is get quickly in position to give a team mate the option of a short safe pass.
    Great Arsenal team performance second half but while Liverpool put in a great first shift they were never going to be able to keep that work rate up for 90 minutes so while I agree with you to some extent kv a team has to pace itself
    all the best Dave

    1. Many people do not accept the pass completion rate of Denilson as a valid point to prove that he is a quality player. They say all his passes are sideways. But taking into account the position in which he plays, he needs to play out short, safe passes to ensure the ball doesn’t reach the opposition. If the opponent is able to nip the ball in the center of the field, it will result in dangerous counter attacks.
      I agree with you Dave that a team needs to pace itself. But what a great team requires is variety. We should avoid being one dimensional and be flexible and versatile in our tactics. Versatility is key to being a top team in the modern game in my opinion.

  6. I was actually a bit disappointed with Denilson.

    Like the entire team, he improved in the second half, but in the first-half, his defensive frailties were hard to ignore.

    I feel he got his body position wrong on a number of occassions, and commited to the tackle too early, which is why the likes of Gerrard and Johnson were able to comfortably skip past him on a number of occassions.

    Either way, it was a great result; although the general positioning of our side was indicative of how difficult it may be to play a physical away game with such a diminutive striker – Arshavin’s lack of height left us unable to relieve pressure on a lot during the course of the game, with the side seldom able to play a direct ball over the top to him,

  7. Crikey cheers dave.

    I’m amazed at the stats for song. 3 tackles all game and lost 2 of them!!

    Also denilson was better in interceptions, tackles and passes compared to all our players yesterday.

    Most impressive. I’m beginning to see why AW plays him all the time

    1. I’ve got to wonder about those stats. Song was phenomenal: an invisible wall in front of the defense. But even more impressive, when he gets the ball, one suspects that nobody will take it from him. He is, of course, very strong. But he has also learned a trick or two from Cesc and become expert at turning away from defenders (or at one point slipping between two of them) to get a pass away.

      I don’t wonder about the Denilson stats, but don’t believe they tell the whole story. In the first half he seemed our most energetic player. But he also seemed a bit over-excited, giving the ball away several times and clattering into Mascheranno. I know he can play smart, but I really felt that he might get sent off if the second-half had continued like the first. Instead, it was a completely different game and he looked magnificent as we first took the game over and then closed it down.

      Finally, I found the decision to take Theo off somewhat curious. With a 2-1 lead, I would have thought Theo the perfect player for counter-attacks as Liverpool were forced to press forward. Instead Wenger opted to leave Nasri on and ad Diaby — effectively soaking up the pressure and giving us better defensive/ball retention capabilities. And it worked.

      1. i thought the same about Theo. ah, our wonderful memory of his 2 long sprint at Anfield was way too vivid, isn’t it?

        the trade-off to make at that moment was: are we going for the killer or are we going to tough it out in midfield? after all Theo is a rip and run type.

        well Arsene being Arsene, he flooded the park with 6 central midfielders with no strikers and no wingers. unprecedented for Arsenal, even given the fact that we are particularly rich in that department this year.

        the plan could have backfired if we had got nervous and given away setpieces. we didn’t. that shows we’re a lot more mature and has earned much more confidence now than last year (oh horrible memory of the 4-4s)

      2. I agree that stats should not get taken in isolation. Denilsons stats are consistently good from game to game so it would seem to be virtually impossible for it to be a problem with the input of the data.
        A different set of data would give a different picture but from what I see Denilson would still do well ; complete conjecture of course 🙂

        I agree Song is very impressive at keeping the ball when under pressure and doing a neat trick to find himself a morsel of space

  8. agreed with supergunner: we played 4-4-2 early in the second half and, eh, 4-6-0 when both Theo and Andrei were pulled out. Theo didn’t really have to touch the ball to be really dangerous in center – he was just at the right place at the right time. One to pressure Johnson, the other to make sure that the ball wasn’t headed out of the box and arrived to Andrei. That’s very promising that he understands the position well.

    In midfield yesterday, Denilson is the heartbeat for me. Those who don’t appreciate his little sideway passes should now. It got so tight that it was Cesc who missed passes in the middle so often. It’s difficult to release the ball under pressure of two opponents and another one lurking to cut it – a lot more difficult than it looks on TV. We came out of the first half breathing yesterday was thanks to Denilson.

    I’m very happy for the win yesterday, not only because we’re catching up at the right pace. We got a bit of luck, fire and a moment of magic. And they added up to a win. The last time we got something that good was the home game against Utd. It felt so long ago.

    1. The tactic used at the start of the second half reminds me of Brazil’s. They essentially play what looks like a 4-2-3-1 but in reality, with the players’ subtle functions, is indeed a 4-4-2 diamond. Walcott looked like he was alongside Arshavin, but he sought to play more like a left forward (like Robinho or Nilamr) which makes it harder to mark.
      With the Gunners missing a direct presence, variety and unpredictability is the order of the day.

    2. I thought Nasri had dropped into the midfield and it looked like a 4-4-2. I thought it was his presence that allowed us to control the midfield in the second half. I was surprised to see Lee Dixon (BBC) has the opposite view. He explains that the problem in the first half was that Nasri and Theo were too close to the midfield in the first half, effectively allowing ‘pool to congest that area of the pitch and that we became effective when they moved further up up the pitch in the second half. Brain seemed to agree that there was no change in formation. Anyhow, whatever happened, it is good to see the team solving problems through positional flexibility.

      1. There was an article by Gabriel Marcotti which highlighted the problem with MOTD analysis. Pundits can’t watch all the matches (although it is unlikely they missed this one) so they take snippets and analyse those parts as a segment of the whole game.

        Lee Dixon is usually good; Keown arguably better. The side’s attacking performance didn’t improve that much in the second half. They were more focused and it was just as well that Arsenal scored early as it helped calm the team down while ‘Pool never really recovered. Arsenal were just closed down quicker and crowded out hence giving the illusion they were playing closer when the situation demanded they drop naturally.

        The formation stayed 4-3-3; the players just had more movement about them while Liverpool tired physically and also mentally. Nasri did tuck in slightly (the two quick goals meaning the attacking play didn’t suffer and ball was kept better) but never really moved to the centre.

  9. We were due some luck. How many times has it gone completely against us in the big games? In my book, we’re still in credit.

    We have 6 winnable games between now and January, and if we win we could be top of the league by mid-January.

  10. Hi all.
    I found something interesting and I want to share it with you all. I just played the game FIFA 09. The formation and tactics of Roma are deadly. They play a 4-6-0 which is more of a 4-2-3-1. The wingers operate in the channels and Totti, the lone man up front is virtually a CAM. He constantly drops deep to give passes to the wingers and through balls to put other on rushing players. They attack and defend together. If anyone have the game, you must definitely try it. It is the ultimate avatar of 4-6-0!
    Sorry for going off topic.

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