A battle to be the last remaining team in the Premier League with a 100% record.
Jurgen Klopp set out his team in their usual 4-3-3 formation, bringing Jordan Henderson and Fabinho back into the team, replacing James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the side that beat Southampton. Unai Emery went with a 4-4-2 diamond shape, with Dani Ceballos playing off of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new signing Nicolas Pepe.
This narrow set-up immediately looked a mistake by Arsenal when Liverpool switched play from the right to Andy Robertson in space on the left. The Scot charged forward with Arsenal’s midfield unable to get near him before he fired a low cross just out of the reach of Roberto Firmino sliding in at the back post.
Liverpool’s main chance creation comes from their full-backs and they have struggled to build-up through the centre since Oxlade-Chamberlain’s injury, so what did Arsenal do? They gave Liverpool’s full-backs the freedom to do as they pleased and instead flooded the generally unused centre.
Unsurprisingly then, Liverpool were in complete control. Arsenal were
trying to play out from the back but Liverpool’s pressing was working
well, with the near side’s full-back stepping up to join the attackers.
For example, if Arsenal tried to play out through Nacho Monreal on the
left, Trent Alexander-Arnold would often step up and get close to him,
while Robertson stayed back to maintain a man advantage in defence,
enabling four Liverpool players to chase down the four Arsenal
defenders. If the ball went out the other way, Alexander-Arnold would
move back and Robertson would step up to harass Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Some way through the half this was adapted so a Liverpool midfielder
stepped up instead of a full-back, which made more sense as they had
less ground to cover.
Either way, with the Liverpool attackers giving Arsenal’s defenders no time on the ball and blocking passes into the midfielders, while Liverpool’s midfielders stepped up to ensure they would have no space to turn if a pass did slip through, Arsenal were constantly giving the ball away in their own half, with nine players camped out in their defensive third and Aubameyang and Pepe often having to drop deeper too.
Despite their control, Liverpool created few chances early on. They were uncharacteristically slow in possession, taking too many touches before prodding a short pass into a teammates’ feet, allowing Arsenal players to get across and defend rather than exploiting the available space. This changed after 15 minutes or so, when Henderson started taking responsibility for moving the ball. He would move to receive an easy pass from the full-back then hit a cross-field ball out to the other full-back on the opposite flank, who would use the space to whip in a cross. Fabinho followed Henderson’s example soon after and Liverpool began putting Arsenal’s defence under serious pressure.
It was a corner that eventually broke the deadlock, but even that followed the same pattern of chance creation that Liverpool utilised throughout: Alexander-Arnold having the time and space (albeit this time enforced by the rules of the game rather than simply gifted to him by Arsenal’s defending) to send in a cross for Joel Matip to head home. A set-piece served as a better opportunity to score than in open play, as it was one of the few chances Liverpool would get to have their big tall centre-backs on the end of their crosses rather than their smaller attacking trio.
Liverpool doubled their lead just two minutes into the second half. Sadio Mane hit a pass from the left to Alexander-Arnold on the opposite flank, and the young Scouser used the space to pick out a pass into the feet of Firmino, who rebounded it behind Arsenal’s defensive line with one touch for Mohamed Salah making a run. With Salah already ahead of him, David Luiz had to pull back the Egyptian to stop him from running onto Firmino’s pass. This worked, with Salah picking up the ball near the byline rather than in a position to shoot, however Luiz did it with all the subtlety you would expect from a 6ft 2 Sideshow Bob lookalike, giving away a penalty that Salah converted.
Salah got a second ten minutes later. Arsenal were pressing Liverpool, so Monreal pushed forward to get tight to Henderson (somewhat unnecessarily as Joe Willock seemed to have him covered), leaving Arsenal three against three at the back. Fabinho then hits a ball forward to Salah, who tempts Luiz into a challenge that he easily evades and bears down on goal, placing the ball inside the opposite post once he enters the penalty area.
Arsenal did have a few chances of their own, with Pepe and Aubameyang providing a counter-attacking threat, aided by Liverpool being so confident of their control that they frequently left only two defenders back against the attacking pair. Other than those breakaways though, they struggled to put anything together. Even if they did manage to keep the ball for a spell, Liverpool’s pressing often forced them backwards rather than into attacking areas.
Substitute Lucas Torreira managed a late consolation goal, but Arsenal never really looked like they had a chance. Emery had chosen a line-up that only played to Liverpool’s strengths and never changed it, so it was little surprise that Liverpool ran away with an easy victory.