Klopp forces Arsenal out of their comfort zone to mastermind late point
Recent clashes between Liverpool and Arsenal have tended to be helter-skelter affairs, and the 3-3 draw at Anfield on Wednesday night proved no exception. The last two meetings had delivered a 5-1 win to Liverpool, a frantic 2-2 draw and a total of 67 shots. Even the 0-0 game at the Emirates in August featured 34 efforts and could just as well have ended 3-3.
On this occasion the scoreline reflected the nature of the game; a breathless and chaotic battle of high-octane pressing, heavy duelling and rushed passing. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp had warned against a patient approach and duly kept his promise, releasing his players at Arsenal from the off.
In some senses, it worked. Arsenal had to shelve their short passing and resorted to hoofing it up to Olivier Giroud, yet still conceded two goals to Roberto Firmino. At least the long-ball policy paid dividends: Giroud was involved in Aaron Ramsey's equaliser and he scored his team's second goal. Ten minutes into the second half, the Frenchman made it 3-2 and Arsene Wenger decided to retreat.
From that moment, Liverpool dominated and created a series of opportunities, particularly from the left. The breakthrough came in the final minute, Christian Benteke's towering header setting up fellow substitute Joe Allen. Certain managers might have criticised the lack control and organisation on show but Klopp and Wenger seemed pleased with their teams, suggesting games between these sides might well continue to unfold in a similar manner.
Klopp's pressing pays off
Anticipating Arsenal, Klopp relied on his pressing game to create chances. Set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Firmino up front and James Milner on the left, the hosts closed down from the first whistle, with Alberto Moreno setting the tone by barging into Joel Campbell inside a minute.
The hurried approach meant fluent moves were rare, but the sheer intensity put Arsenal on the back foot. The second goal particularly symbolised the Klopp way: Jordan Henderson stormed forward and misplaced a pass, but immediately chased after it, won the ball back, and let Milner play in Firmino who found the top corner. Forget flair, this was all about fight.
With Arsenal not given a split second on the ball, Wenger fought fire with fire. This resulted in periods where both teams pressed high, attacked quickly and left huge gaps in midfield. The positioning of Moreno summed it up, the Spaniard making his challenges high up the pitch for a full-back, and while Klopp admitted that his players had "lost control" at times, he will have been content to see 24 successful tackles -- a figure above their season average of 22.8 per game, which is already the second highest in the league.
Giroud thrives on direct tactics
Perhaps the greatest testimony to Liverpool's intensity was the way Arsenal changed their style. They generally play the fewest long passes in the league and remain the most accurate side, with a pass completion of 85 percent before this game. Yet here, they recorded only 71.1 percent.
That is a significant drop and you could see why even Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich occasionally resorted to long passes when facing Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. The most telling factor was the distribution of Cech, who made few attempts to play out from the back, instead waving his defenders up the pitch before pumping it towards Giroud.
By half-time, the goalkeeper had completed more passes than any other Arsenal player, and had also played the most passes into the final third. By the end, Arsenal's most frequent passing combination was Cech to Giroud.
This centred most of the attacking play around Giroud. On 14 minutes, Arsenal equalised when a long ball was worked to Campbell, who found the onrushing Ramsey. About 10 minutes later, Ramsey played a one-two with Giroud and forced a corner, which Giroud duly scored from. The striker continued to generate opportunities with flicks and layoffs, with much of the final-third play originating from Cech's deliveries. Giroud himself should have struck his second when inexplicably missing an open goal, but made amends on 55 minutes by turning on a sixpence to fire low past Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool create down the left
Forced to respond, Liverpool pinned Arsenal back for the final 35 minutes. Most of their efforts were generated in this period, with a notable number coming from the left side. Moreno was busier than Nathaniel Clyne, receiving 14 more passes, while the right-footed Milner was predisposed to play passes infield rather than dribble down the flank, unlike Jordon Ibe on the opposite flank who attempted 10 take-ons and pulled off four.
The Arsenal system also invited combinations in this zone. The right-sided centre-back was Per Mertesacker, who is slower than Laurent Koscielny at closing down, while the right-sided central midfielder was Ramsey, who took several forward runs and remains a less defensive player than Mathieu Flamini. Corresponding to the positions of Liverpool's created chances, Arsenal hardly committed any tackles in this particular area.
Wenger's gameplan nearly succeeds
In truth, they had plenty of worries elsewhere. Defending deep has been a successful feature of Wenger's big-game tactics in the last 12 months, but here it invited a worrying number of attempts. The shot statistic for the first 55 minutes was 8-11; for the period after, it was 14-3.
The visitors also doubled their number of created chances, and Arsenal relied on a series of blocks, deflections and clearances to stay in front. By the end, Liverpool had recorded a surprisingly high possession figure of 59.3 percent, and Klopp was right to say Liverpool deserved their last-minute equaliser. For a game of such emotion and intensity, the dramatic finale felt befitting.