Arsenal and Liverpool shared the points in a thrilling encounter at the Emirates Stadium. While Arsenal’s 10-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday, Liverpool’s title push continues full blast. In this tactical analysis-opinion piece, I will have my say on the general performance of the Reds concentrating on Fabinho’s display in particular.
Unai Emery used a 4-2-3-1 that turned into a 2-4-3-1 in attack, with the fullbacks overlapping on a regular basis throughout the game while they opted to defend Liverpool with 4-4-2. Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, preferred his favourite 4-3-3 and looked to press high up the pitch, as usual, to cause troubles for the Arsenal side that tried to play out from the back. It’s possible to see in the average positions graphic below how the Arsenal fullbacks supported their midfield and provide options in the attacks while they seem to be much more enthusiastic when it comes to attacking. Jurgen Klopp played Mo Salah on the right flank against Arsenal, in contrast to what he had preferred him to play previously, and tried to support him with long balls often. Wijnaldum was not there to use the inner corridor and support Salah in most of the attacking situations but it was because Wijnaldum had to support Fabinho instead of him. James Milner, on the other hand, was able to support Mane regularly on the left-hand side overlapping a lot of times. When Wijnaldum plays alongside Henderson, he generally goes further forward to support the attacks as well as helping the team defend but against Arsenal, he had to defend first.
Although Liverpool looked to gain possession quickly by pressing high up the pitch, there were some sequences – especially in the first half – in which Liverpool seemed to be reducing the intensity of press and tried middle-pressing. Even when Liverpool pressed high, Arsenal were successful in most of their efforts in playing out from the back with the help of Leno and other players. They were quite comfortable on the ball and that made Liverpool struggle to win the ball back very quickly except for 2-3 positions.
Fabinho Needs Time
Liverpool had superiority in numbers, in midfield but this did not provide Liverpool with such massive advantages as Fabinho’s efforts could not live up to expectations again, in my opinion. He lacked a high level of composure and failed at delivering accurate passes in some significant moments of the game. There’s no doubt about how crucial it is to have superiority in midfield especially when it comes to having a mentality such as Liverpool’s. They have dynamism, combativeness, pace, and most importantly intelligence, in their midfield and this allows them to fight more effectively to win the ball back and use it cleverly afterwards in a direct play when they try to pick up the magnificent three in front of them with clear, fast, accurate passes. But Arsenal’s two-man midfield played a far better game, to me, when compared to Liverpool’s 3-man midfield and they completely dominated the midfield. They were able to gain possession quickly and link up the play very well, contributing to the attacks.
To me, one of the most important reasons why Liverpool midfield failed to make a good impression against Unai Emery’s Arsenal is that Fabinho is still not having his best days in Merseyside. He either loses possession in some significant moments or he just can’t act quickly enough to find the right player to pass the ball to when they are trying to get organized for a decent attacking move. I don’t think he can be a regular in the Liverpool side quite easily especially when all the midfielders are fit and I am really curious about what he will bring to this team when he is fully settled.