25 Aug 2015

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. £81m transfer trio looking good

As recent history proves, games between Liverpool and Ar5ena1 tend to be filled goal-filled affairs, but after 26 goals (combined) in the last ten meetings, both clubs drew a blank in last night's Premier League game at the Emirates. Liverpool will be much happier than Arsenal with the result, and after two underwhelming performances in a row, there are signs that the current team may have a lot more to offer than many anticipated.

The GOOD

* Effective defensive performance all round, with Skrtel and Lovren [£20m] solid as a rock at the back. Unfortunately for Mamadou Sakho, it looks like he's going to be warming the bench for a while yet. Strangely enough, in a game dominated by defending, Skrtel and Lovren made only one tackle between them during the entire 90 minutes. Clearly, anticipation, and positioning are key attributes of the duo's current defensive effectiveness.

* Firmino [£29m] had a decent game, and almost created the winner for Benteke. The Brazilian also created three chances, which sounds low, but it's more than any other Liverpool player on the night.

* It's no coincidence that Liverpool's performance improved with Lucas in the team. Playing with a dedicated defensive midfielder (arguably) gave the attacking players more confidence to push on, and allowed Milner and Can to operate further up the field (not that it made any real attacking difference). The proof is in the pudding: Liverpool created 12 chances, and had more shots on target (8) than the first two games combined.

* Another good game from Benteke [£32m], and his hold-up play stood out once again. I find it amusing how some fans are using his close-range miss as some kind of evidence that Benteke is not good enough. Luis Suarez's first season at the club was defined by the sheer number of opportunities he wasted, but that didn't stop him scoring shedloads of goals for the club.

* Gomez and Clyne were solid once again. Gomez got caught out on a few occasions, but he contributed to yet another clean sheet, and along with Lucas, he made more tackles (6) than any other LFC player.

* Defensively, Can and Milner did a good job in midfield. They are poster boys for Rodgers' obsessive focus on pressing and harrying the opposition, and on that basis alone, they excelled (although Can is developing a habit of needlessly scything down opponents in the latter stages of games).

* Great to see Rossiter get a taste of the action. The experience will do him good, but to he honest, he looked a little out of his depth (which is understandable). Still, did well defensively in the last ten minutes, and that's probably what Rodgers wanted. After all, heaven forbid the manager sends on a player with instructions to try and win Liverpool the game.

The BAD

* Can and Milner have good engines, but over a season, that means nothing without end product. Both need to weigh in with goals and assists on a regular basis, and on this evidence, I don't see that happening. I keep hearing fans rave about those two, but defensive contribution aside, what do they actually bring to Liverpool's midfield? Industry, stamina, and running are great, but those qualities alone will not win games.

* Jordon Ibe had a nightmare. I'm loath to single out a teenager, but he regularly gave the ball away, and couldn't beat a man for love nor money. Is it possible Ibe has been found out already? There isn't much variation in his gameplay, and he'll need to develop in that area if he's to kick-on at Anfield.

* On a related note: Why bring on Ibe, and not Ings or Origi? Ibe is 19 - he doesn't need to play every game; Ings, is 22, and is an experienced Premier League goalscorer. Why not give Benteke a little support up-front for 20 minutes? If Rodgers isn't going to bring Ings on as a sub in games when Liverpool need a goal, what was the point in buying him in the first place?

* For all Liverpool's much vaunted focus on 'working and pressing', Arsenal dominated the second half, and had 65% possession for the game. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the whole point of pressing is to force the opposition into mistakes, which then allows Liverpool to have more possession. Well, based on the possession stats, this approach appears to have failed at Arsenal.

* Liverpool just couldn't get a grip on the second-half, and resorted to parking the bus, and absorbing pressure. Some fans may be happy with such a negative approach, but Liverpool will have to win some away games this season, and parking the bus is not an effective strategy for an entire season of away games.


The UGLY

* Liverpool may have improved defensively this year, but against Arsenal passing accuracy, and ball retention was exceedingly poor. Passing accuracy examples: Gomez = 64%. Coutinho = 65%. Benteke: 59%. Ibe: 66%. Lucas: 66%. Skrtel and Lovren generally average 85%+ passing accuracy, but even they were only in the low 70s. Ditto Firmino and Clyne. Only Milner (80%) and Can (85%) got above 80%.

* As a team, Liverpool averaged 71% passing accuracy overall. Contrast this with Arsenal, who achieved 85% overall, with every one of their players (bar Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain) achieving 80%-90% for the game. The reason I raise this issue is that passing accuracy under Rodgers is generally excellent (3-year average = 84.6%), but this season, it's taken a nosedive.

* 2 goals scored in 3 games. Whatever way you slice it, that is a cause for concern, especially since one of the goals was offside, and shouldn't have counted. As I've argued repeatedly over the last few weeks, Liverpool's creativity is being subjugated by an incessant focus on defending and pressing. Does anyone doubt that Rodgers is preaching a 'defend-first, attack later' philosophy in training sessions? After the defensive issues of the last three years, that may be understandable, but there needs to be a balance.

* This is not an Liverpool issue, but even for a non-fan, it was supremely irritating to watch Arsenal's defenders repeatedly give the ball away. For a long spells in the first half, it was amateur hour in the Gunner's defence, and it's a crying shame that Liverpool couldn't capitalise.

When all is said and done, Liverpool have seven points from nine, which is a great foundation upon which to build. Plus, in the Premier League era, every time the team has started the season with 3+ clean sheets, it's led to a a top four finish. Examples:

* 2003-4: Clean sheets vs. Villa, Spurs, and Everton. Final position = 4th.

* 2005-6: Clean sheets vs. 'Boro, S'land, Spurs and Man Utd. Final position = 3rd.

* 2013-14: Clean sheets vs. Stoke, Villa, and Man Utd. Final position = 2nd.

* 2015-16: Clean sheets vs. Stoke, B'mouth, and Arsenal. Final position = ????

Notice the numerical correlation? '03-'04 and '13-'14, then '05-'06 and '15-16. Plus, there's a year's gap between clean sheet sweeps in both time periods.

Obviously, I'm clutching at straws here (!) but here's hoping history repeats itself this year.

Author: Jaimie K



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