Arsenal revert to pragmatic approach as Diaby earns Liverpool win

Abou Diaby’s header was enough to see off Liverpool as Arsène Wenger’s switch to drop the goalscorer deeper gave Arsenal more solidity.

The sense of relief was overwhelming at the final whistle. Only one goal had been scored previously in the sequence of supposedly deciding fixtures, Vermaelen’s goal in the defeat to Manchester United only in vain while before that, Dean Whitehead’s own goal was in a competition that ceases to matter much nowadays. You had to go back to the 4-2 victory over Bolton when Arsenal last scored in a winning cause, sending the Gunners to the top of the table. Abou Diaby reminded fans what celebrating in jubilation felt like again and with both Chelsea and United dropping points, the win put Arsenal back into the title race they apparently weren’t meant to be in.

The game itself began in a tepid and somewhat scrappy way, the first thirty minutes representing the relative vulnerabilities both sides were in before the start of the game. Neither side were willing to give an inch with Rafa Benitez as always,  setting his side out to “control zones”. That meant the wide areas which are Arsenal’s Achilles heel were not to be fully tested in transitions as Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez’s instructions were as much defensive as they were attacking. The 4-4-2 deployed by Liverpool also effectively cancelled each other side out in the centre as when in the defensive phase that adjusts itself into a 4-2-3-1 and the triangles Arsenal set about creating were blocked off.

Arsène Wenger realised that the best chance the Gunners were to have in breaking down Liverpool in open play was to disrupt the pairing of Lucas and Mascherano in front of the defence. So with half-an-hour on the clock played, he dropped Diaby alongside Alex Song and pushed Fabregas up behind Nicklas Bendtner. The result was a more open encounter but Arsenal’s greater positive approach saw them through while Diaby gave more structure to the side. Indeed, it was an interception by Song that led to the goal, as Diaby picked up the ball in his own half and powered his way into the box. Fabregas running into an offside position may have helped inadvertently create the space in front of the goal for the cross to be played as it meant the Liverpool backline having to push up. Tomas Rosicky found Diaby with a well whipped cross and the Frenchman caught Degen flat-footed with a strong run and finish.

Arsène Wenger entered the game promising to take a more visceral approach and it showed with Arsenal pressuring the opposition defenders with great intensity. The attacking play was also more direct as the wingers sought to get close to Bendtner at all times and the ball played forward much quicker. The Gunners were not exactly cohesive in terms of passing last night but they were more functional – and even with Fabregas not at his best, the side dug in and produced a result. Bendtner’s inclusion was a big plus as the Dane made it akward for the Kop defence while represented a direct outlet to relieve pressure from the back.

The slight switch, though, to a 4-2-1-3 may have made all the difference as Diaby was afforded more space to come from deeper and duly obliged with a powerful header. The advantage of playing the double pivot with two strong midfielders meant it was harder for Steven Gerrard to get into the game, reminiscent of the shackling job Diaby and Denilson did on Totti in last season’s 1-0 win against Roma. It also gave more cover to the full backs should they have needed it but Clichy and Eboue came out with another plus (7 and 14 attempted tackles respectively); their intensity and willingness to get tight on the wide men when the ball was lost gave Kuyt and Maxi no time to take advantage. Liverpool were unable to profit from the channels on the counter as Chelsea and United did, representing a welcome tactical victory for Wenger and an indication of the Gunner’s growing mental strength.

Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool: Diaby 72.

Arsenal (4-2-1-3): Almunia 7; Eboue 7, Gallas 8*, Vermaelen 7, Clichy 7; Diaby 8, Song 7; Fabregas 6; Arshavin 6 (Walcott), Bendtner 7 (Sagna), Nasri 6 (Rosicky 7). Subs not used: Fabianski, Denilson, Traore, Campbell.

Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina 6; Carragher 6 (Degen), Skrtel 6, Agger 6, Insua 6; Mascherano 7, Lucas 6 (Babel); Kuyt 5, Maxi Rodriguez 5; Gerrard 6, Ngog 4. Subs not used: Cavalieri, Riera, Aurelio, Spearing, Kelly.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)


12 thoughts on “Arsenal revert to pragmatic approach as Diaby earns Liverpool win

  1. We also played much deeper. The average touch maps showed we sat back and were willing to soak the Liverpool pressure.

    The order of the day was to not concede first.

    Wenger said it was a great tactical battle, describing Liverpool as the most tactically astute team in the world.

    In the end we simply had more quality. They have no quality wide men to trouble our fullbacks-the position that’s been the source of our recent vulnerability, and their passing in the centre of the park is not good enough.

    Bendtner offered a focus to our attacking play underlying how important for the team’s balance it is to have a proper forward, something injuries has not allowed us to ave in months.

    Bendtner also put in a lot of defensive work, more than we’ve seen from the guys who’ve filled in while we were missing a number 9.

    All in all, the game was about 3 points. Football is such a funny game. We played much better on Sunday but lost 2-0.

    1. For all Rafa’s pregame talk of sitting back and strike the “boys” with counters, we played in the first half as if responding “so we don’t attack and let you take the initiative and see what you muster up.” Not much, predictably.

      This should be the approach to take if we meet ManUre and Chelski in CL play.

      1. i definitely agree about bendtner’s defensive work. i have never complained about his presence on the pitch just because he works so hard on defense wherever he is.

        i think that if you watch a few invincibles’ games, you’ll notice how functional and incisive their passing was. watching the game at liverpool brought me closer to that memory.

        now, i really hope that we don’t get stuck in this mindset of directness, but instead just add it to our bag of tricks.
        the reason we keep getting caught on the break is not that we are bad at defending, but because we are too predictable.
        we play the high line, the tippy tappy passes around their box, the pressure up the pitch, and it’s not a bad way to play. they just know how we’re going to play and can prepare for that. and if we keep doing the same thing, getting caught on the break is a gamble, and the odds just go in the attacker’s favor in that case.

  2. I was impressed with the defensive work from almost everyone. I was certain we’d concede but after awhile I suddenly found myself feeling sure we’d eke it out. Excellent, gritty, mature victory, despite the flaws in the performance. We need more victories like this. Of course, I was very glad that neither Torres and Benayoun were on the pitch.

  3. I also think Cesc decided to take a hit for the team by risking a booking and possible sending off at that last free kick for Pool in order to ensure victory.

    1. BTW, that handball should have been a free-kick, but never a penalty — unless there is some rule that Liverpool get’s penalties for fouls outside of the area. Anyhow, karma is a bitch, isn’t it, captain divealot (stevie me)?

      1. Absolutely California! Some idiotic pundits called for a penalty, ridiculous! And Gerrard is a disgraceful serial diver who never gets booked while Bendtner gets booked and Eduardo gets demonized.

  4. Song and maybe Arshavin will be out for the Porto game but you can’t but help feel this performance may have boosted their confidence.The interesting point will be if Wenger sticks to this approach as the side has played well with the 4-3-3 in Europe but a axis shield of Denilson and Diaby sounds strong – especially as Porto are excruciatingly good on the break.

    1. I like Diaby sitting deep. He completely stifled Gerrard and, as you note, was able to get forward with a late run into the box or a counter-attack. That is a perfect way for him to play, as opposed to sitting up making short passes around the oppositions box. We have other players who are more effective at that later game.

  5. With the way Diaby (MOTM) defended yesterday, coupled with Denilson (assuming he gets back to form of course), they can be as good a defensive midfield combo as Song and Denilson were early in the season. The away leg does scare me because we don’t have a great away form in the CL lately. And Porto are no mugs, esp. at home.

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