Broadly speaking, this wasn’t a game that required a lot of high level analysis. Liverpool had a plan to push Arsenal into wide areas early in their attacks so they would aim hopeful crosses into Liverpool’s three centre-backs and it pretty much worked. A very rusty looking Arsenal just weren’t able to move Liverpool’s defensive block around enough and once they coughed up a goal, it was always going to be a long way back.
After the match, I spoke to Liverpool coach Matt Beard about his team’s approach. I asked whether Arsenal starting with a back three surprised him. “Not really, even when they play with a back four they build with three defenders anyway. We planned for back three and a back four. We wanted to make sure we dominated centrally. They like to get it into midfield, get it back and then go around you. We stopped that happening so they had to go wide and we wanted to force a turnover every now and then.”
With Noelle Maritz unavailable through injury, Jonas Eidevall opted to play Cloe Lacasse and Katie McCabe as wing-backs with a back three of Lotte Wubben-Moy, Jen Beattie and Steph Catley. A right-back was the one thing Arsenal didn’t get in this summer’s transfer window and you have to say it’s not a great sign that losing Noelle Maritz, the only recognised right-back in the squad, led to a system change and one that Arsenal didn’t have much time to work on.
Liverpool nearly get caught in a transition moment in the opening seconds as Missy Bo Kearns plays a loose pass back towards her own goal which Russo intercepts.
Russo lays the ball off to Maanum who finds Lacasse and the Canadian finds a way past Nagano and to the by-line.
Her cutback finds Foord whose shot is blocked but it’s a good situation. It’s a good example of the areas of the team connecting, pressing well and getting to the by-line. It also demonstrates what Beard was explaining in that Arsenal like to build centrally and go wide at the end of a move. It didn’t happen often enough in the game, save for the early parts.
Another early attack here and you can see the idea forming. Maanum is a right inside forward with Lacasse right wing-back. Foord is a left inside-forward with McCabe at left wing-back. Arsenal wanted to use those combinations to expose Liverpool’s back five.
Walti and McCabe manipulate Liverpool out of shape by exchanging passes and Walti finds Foord in the left channel. Again, this is exactly the space Arsenal want to find.
Foord pulls back to Maanum and it requires a last ditch block from Grace Fisk to prevent Maanum from testing Laws.
Here’s a good example of Matt Beard’s assessment of how Arsenal like to go central before going wide late in a move. Wubben-Moy finds Walti as Arsenal build from the back.
Walti finds Maanum, who is again tucked over to the right, who then moves the ball onto Lacasse.
Lacasse sets the ball back to Walti and Maanum is on her way.
Walti’s ball to Maanum is excellent and Arsenal create another very dangerous situation but Bonner cuts out the cross.
Another quick example here, as Arsenal play out through the middle, get the ball to McCabe wide left and she looks for that angled ball in the half-space to Foord.
In the end Foord is crowded out here but, again, you can see it’s a good situation and Arsenal are getting close to the Liverpool goal. However, this pretty much entirely stopped happening after the first quarter of the game. When Rachael Laws went down injured in the 23rd minute, Matt Beard gave Liverpool a teamtalk at the dugout and these situations stopped happening.
Liverpool begin to get to grips with the game thereafter. As Little receives the ball from Walti in central midfield, look how many purple shirts are there to close her down. Closing down central spaces to force Arsenal wide was a key part of Liverpool’s game plan.
She dribbles out of danger and finds Catley out wide, so far, no big issue. But this is the sort of pass Arsenal would prefer to make higher up the pitch.
Now Foord and McCabe are looking to combine much wider in far less space. Even if this pass from Foord isn’t overcooked, on the very extremity of the pitch McCabe would not have been able to create much danger there and now, because Foord has to drop deeper because the wide pass comes earlier in the move, there is no run inside McCabe into the channel like the ones we saw in the opening 20 minutes. The space between the Liverpool centre-half and right-back is untroubled.
The first half drifts to a pretty listless conclusion. It’s not fantastic but there is little to be alarmed about per se. All in all, quite similar to the Paris FC game in Sweden a few weeks ago where Arsenal were not great, not terrible and then suddenly found themselves 2-0 down. It was similar here as Liverpool found a wide overload the likes of which Arsenal were trying to put together and Miri Taylor gives Liverpool the lead. The change in game state is significant because now Liverpool have something to hold onto and that engenders even more commitment to defending and shape.
Jen Beattie receives the ball here and you can see that Liverpool have Arsenal vastly outnumbered in the centre of the pitch.
She plays a one-two with McCabe to try to move things along a little but is faced with exactly the same issue as she gets the ball again.
She works the ball wide to McCabe but she is also met with a sea of purple. Again, just look at how locked down Liverpool have the central area.
Arsenal go backwards to go forwards again but there is no option for Walti but to go wide, which is what Liverpool want. Because Arsenal played with wing-backs and inside forwards, this is where the majority of their players were stood too. In hindsight, they probably should have just fielded a slightly awkward fitting right-back and retained Maanum into a more central area to give Arsenal a powerful body there.
Catley takes the ball forwards and then her pass to Foord out wide is massively undercooked. This is another factor in the performance that defies tactical analysis. Arsenal’s execution was sloppy all day with lots of misplaced passes- which is likely a symptom of a strange and disrupted pre-season schedule.
Jen Beattie wins the ball back with a solid interception from Liverpool’s throw but once again, is met with a sea of purple in central areas.
The ball is worked back to Wälti who puts a cross into the box. Not a terrible idea in this isolated scenario. The issue was that too often this was Arsenal’s only recourse- crosses into the box where Liverpool had three centre-halves waiting for them.
Here Russo does brilliantly to take a throw in on the turn and drive to the edge of the box but, again, she finds the angles centrally are not generous.
The ball is worked wide to McCabe again via Walti.
She comes back to Catley and, again, there isn’t a better option for her than to cross into a penalty area full of Liverpool defenders. Arsenal are no longer finding those angles in the channels because Arsenal generally like to go central, wide then central again and Liverpool are disturbing that rhythm by clogging up the centre.
Arsenal’s rare moments of danger in the half came from Lia Wälti’s disguised passing. Here is an example of when Arsenal want to go central-wide-central and Wälti picks out an excellent ball to McCabe here that eliminates Liverpool’s central block.
Unfortunately, McCabe’s cross is cut out but this is an example of Arsenal going wide because that is where the space is and not because they are being forced there.
Here Wälti shows incredible vision to find Blackstenius’ run but the ball is just a little too heavy. But you can see just how eye of the needle Arsenal have to be in central areas. They weren’t able to create these situations often enough to sustain pressure.
Here we see another example of how difficult Liverpool make it for Arsenal in central spaces. Foord dribbles in-field and is immediately met with resistance.
Instead of collecting a pass, Cooney-Cross is now in a duel situation.
Cooney-Cross wins the tackle but Liverpool pick up the loose pass and go forward. Beattie is forced into a sliding tackle now.
Beattie wins it and Arsenal look like they can break with Pelova until…
Ceri Holland snaps back and wins the ball with a perfectly executed slide tackle of her own.
Beattie picks up the bits and pieces from that contest and tries to find Foord but…
She is stopped in her tracks by a great tackle from Nagano. When you are 1-0 down on 88 minutes, exchanging slide tackles in the middle third of the pitch is not really the sort of game you are looking for if you want to keep your opponent under pressure.
Once again in stoppage time we see McCabe carrying the ball forwards and Liverpool have a lot of players located centrally. McCabe goes wide to Cooney-Cross.
Cooney-Cross can’t find a forward or central option and she doesn’t find an overlap either because Arsenal have lost their shape. She goes back to McCabe, who puts in a cross a long way out from the Liverpool goal. Again, it’s the sort of situation Liverpool baited Arsenal into. The cross drifts out of play for a goal kick and Arsenal gave Liverpool lots of throw ins and goal kicks to break up the rhythm of the game, something Jonas Eidevall acknowledged after the game.
“In the second half we struggled to generate any real momentum because the game becomes a stoppage game, there are a lot of set pieces and with the time it takes, we always play against a set defence. We weren’t successful in stacking situations upon each other and trying to disorganise them and generate the necessary momentum.”
Desperation takes hold and Arsenal go long to Beattie but Liverpool have the numbers centrally to deal with her threat. Any knockdown here has a higher chance of falling to a purple shirt.
Liverpool clear, Pelova looks to bring the ball under her spell but Lundgaard is close by, takes the ball off her and another potential attack fizzles out due to a lack of space and Liverpool’s commitment in the centre of the pitch.
There were plenty of soft factors behind this defeat too. Arsenal’s passing and execution was off-beam and reminiscent of a team that had endured a strange pre-season schedule. Of course, Liverpool were beset by injuries and lost a couple of players and their assistant coach to covid in the days leading up to the game.
Liverpool were very good at taking advantage of Arsenal’s sloppiness and disrupting the rhythm of the game. Misplaced passes that trickled out for throw-ins and goal kicks meant the game stopped for significant periods and Liverpool’s defence was able to reset.
Liverpool clogged up the centre of the pitch and once the home side went a goal down, they lacked the inspiration and the tidiness to truly move Liverpool’s defensive block around. Goalkeeper Rachael Laws had a comfortable afternoon and that will sting Jonas Eidevall and the team a lot.
If you want a visual representation, Arsenal set up very roughly like this
And Liverpool just kind of did this.
When you are being suffocated by an opponent, short combinations can get you away from pressure but Arsenal’s midfield box was too stretched and too often left those central players with nowhere to go. Arsenal didn’t manage a shot on target after the 43rd minute and that says a lot.
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