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From 0-2 to 3-2: Analysing Arsenal's five-minute comeback against Liverpool

ANALYST
2.08K   //    26 Dec 2017, 11:51 IST

Mesut Ozil celebrating after an amazing comeback in what was one of the most entertaining games of the season.
Mesut Ozil celebrating the amazing comeback

It is safe to say that Arsenal's clash with Liverpool is among the fixtures which never fail to entertain the fans and the 3-3 draw at the Emirates didn’t prove to be any different. Jurgen Klopp’s men took a two-goal lead early in the 2nd half and it looked like a replay of the 4-0 humiliation in the reverse fixture at Anfield was on the cards.

The clock read exactly 52:55 when Alexis Sanchez pulled one back to make 1-2 and in almost five minutes from then, the score read, Arsenal 3-2 Liverpool. The spirit to fight back after going 2 goals down was exhibited yet again by Arsenal as they did against Manchester United but the only difference being that the Gunners were up against a certain David De Gea who has been in the form of his life this season while here, there was simply no stopping them.

Let’s look into each of Arsenal’s goals in detail to find out if the problem for Klopp is really his back four or if it’s just a clichéd excuse made by the fans, media and many other experts who refuse to look at the underlying issues in other departments. 

Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool (53rd minute)

A couple of minutes after Liverpool scored their second, Arsenal’s passing started to click as the Gunners wasted no time before storming forward to attack the Reds' porous defence. Let us look at two important frames moments before the goal to find out what exactly happened.


Alex Iwobi dribbled inside to make space for Bellerin (circled yellow) to run onto while Mane (circled blue) had an eye on him
Alex Iwobi dribbled inside to make space for Bellerin (circled yellow) to run into while Mane (circled blue) had an eye on him

The image above was seconds before the goal. Mesut Ozil was on the ball with both James Milner and Emre Can trying to close him down but the German playmaker squeezed out a pass in between the two to find Granit Xhaka. On the right flank, Bellerin (circled yellow) was waiting to make his run and Mane (circled blue) who was the left winger, kept an eye on him. Iwobi was ready to make a run from outside to inside the box (red arrow mark) so space was vacated for Bellerin to run into and also to be an additional option inside the box. 


Bellerin (circled yellow) found space and time to pick Sanchez out as Mane (circled blue) lost concentration and didn't follow him.
Bellerin (circled yellow) found space and time to pick Sanchez out as Mane (circled blue) lost concentration and failed to keep track of his man

The image above shows the scenario a few seconds later. Iwobi ran into the box, thereby pulling Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson along with him and space was created. Bellerin (circled yellow) made the right decision and ran into the space while Mane (circled blue) switched off and didn’t follow Bellerin.

The Spaniard had no pressure on him as he took his time to look up and found Sanchez who made a late run into the far post. It is true that Gomez didn’t do a great job of marking Sanchez as he didn’t stop the Chilean from heading it from close range but had Mane tracked back along with his man, he may have well avoided the cross or at least applied pressure and forced Bellerin into an inaccurate cross. Having seen the first one, let’s move on to the equaliser...

Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool (56th min)


Xhaka received the pass from Iwobi and found enough space and time to shoot from long-range as Milner didn't close him down.
Xhaka received the pass from Iwobi and found enough space and time to shoot from long-range as Milner didn't close him down.

This was the scenario before Xhaka had received and taken the shot. As you can see in the image (top frame) Iwobi received the ball out wide and tried to take Robertson 1v1. The Liverpool left-back was on his toes and forced Iwobi to go inwards. Here, you can clearly see Mane had followed Bellerin all the way to the penalty area (blue square) and it was probably because Mane had realised that he left the Arsenal right-back completely free to assist Sanchez for the first goal. So both Robertson and Mane had their men in check while you can see that Milner (circled yellow) was being drawn towards Iwobi and wasn't wary of Xhaka, who was right in front of him in space. 

The bottom frame of the image shows the scenario a couple of seconds later. Bellerin (circled red) didn’t stop his run despite reaching the box and thus got into an offside position. This made Mane’s job easier as he didn’t have to follow Bellerin anymore and hence the Senegal winger joined Robertson to close down Iwobi’s angle.

Iwobi didn’t have a better passing option than Xhaka as the latter didn’t have Milner anywhere near him. It is strange how Milner (circled yellow) was drawn wider despite Liverpool having a comfortable 2v2 scenario there. There was absolutely no reason for him to go wider at the cost of leaving a reputed long-range shooter like Xhaka in that much space.


Milner (circled yellow) was drawn out-wide and gave Xhaka too much space (red shaded area) in the final third to go for goal.
Milner (circled yellow) was drawn out-wide and gave Xhaka too much space (red shaded area) in the final third to go for goal

The first observation about this goal was that Mignolet made a mess of what could have been at least, parried away for a corner. Yes, the goalkeeper could have saved the shot but it is also high-time that critics make themselves aware of such basic errors occurring in other areas of the pitch. 

Arsenal 3-2 Liverpool (57th min)

Once the Gunners got the equaliser, the pressure was high and it was nearly impossible for Liverpool to play their way out into Arsenal’s half. Klopp’s men tried to play out from the left flank using Robertson but the pressure from Iwobi, Wilshere and Xhaka forced him into making a bad pass. Wilshere won back possession and played the ball to Xhaka. The Swiss midfielder had Ozil, Sanchez and Lacazette in place to immediately initiate the attack. 


Milner (circled red) positioned himself too deep and left Can 2v1 with Xhaka & Ozil in midfield.
Milner (circled red) positioned himself too deep and left Can 2v1 with Xhaka & Ozil in midfield

As you can see in the image above, the back four of Liverpool had the front three of Arsenal well covered and the problem was rather in their midfield. Milner (circled red) found himself in an irrelevant position yet again as he was occupying the space which Klavan was already there to cover. On the other hand, Can was stuck in a dilemma of closing down Xhaka or covering Ozil who was about to receive the pass. 


It was too late for Milner (circled red) and Can (circled yellow) to track-back and stop the attack.
It was too late for Milner (circled red) and Can (circled yellow) to track-back and stop the attack while Gomez (circled blue) was drawn wider by Sanchez

Xhaka’s pass to Ozil was enough to beat Can (circled yellow) and this troubled the Liverpool back-four as right-back Joe Gomez (circled blue) got drawn by Sanchez on to his right. It was too late for Milner (circled red) to do anything and by then Liverpool looked like they were seconds away from danger. Ozil played a simple give-and-go with Lacazette to find himself 1v1 with Mignolet and a precise chip put Arsenal in front for the first time in the game.

Although the goal involved individual brilliance from both Lacazette (for his back-heel pass) and Ozil, it is puzzling what Milner was doing there when Klavan was right behind his back, covering the same space as himself. If you take a look at the image where Xhaka’s about to release the pass to Ozil, it is fair to expect Milner to charge forward to either close down Xhaka or cover Ozil and shout out the instruction to Can if he can go for Xhaka or stay with Ozil. Given that Milner came on as a substitute to wear the captain’s armband, it is normal to expect at least so much intent and communication.

Conclusion

Could Milner have done more to avoid at least one of the Arsenal goals? Had Henderson avoided the injury and stayed on for the whole game, would have he done a better job in the two situations? If no, then is Liverpool’s requirement a pure defensive midfielder than a centre-back? Is it better to temporarily deploy Emre Can as the defensive midfielder with Georginio Wijnaldum and Philippe Coutinho ahead of him? 

Klopp admitted that there was a lot to learn from the appalling five minutes at the Emirates and there is no doubt that he would have made his fair share of observations. It will be interesting to see how the Liverpool boss is going to address all of the issues given that they are entering one of the busiest phases of the season. 

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