There’s been lots of talk about Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal lately, and rightly so because the Spaniard is undertaking a top rebuilding job. However, ahead of their difficult away trip at Anfield, I take a deep dive into the game and why expectations should be tempered.
Liverpool are the best pressing teams in the world & one of Arteta’s main priorities has been to ensure Arsenal improve the technical level within their build-up to compete technically w/ the likes of Liverpool but also to stamp their own authority on games. He has achieved that.
The likes of Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel, Partey, Tomiyasu and Lokonga have proven to be top acquisitions for Mikel Arteta’s rebuild. They all excel technically and profile wise within the role Arteta requires them to perform. However, their biggest test yet comes at Anfield.
There is absolutely no doubt that Arsenal have the required structure to build play and this, in tandem with their top technical quality, would suggest that Arsenal are in a position to go toe-to-toe with Liverpool. However, recent evidence in Arsenal games suggests otherwise.
Arsenal games have undergone the same theme in a lot of their recent wins – they start superbly by utilising their technical quality in the build-up to control games before using their top positional play and quality in the final third to break teams down (Spurs, Leicester, etc).
However, after that high-paced and high quality start, Arsenal fade, and this is down to a lack of experience at the highest level within the squad. They have the quality and Arteta affords the team a top structure, but when the going gets tough they lack experience.
This lack of experience is absolutely normal considering where Arteta’s project is – the team have amazing quality & a top structure in the build-up phase but merely lack the required experience to truly go toe-to-toe with the likes of Liverpool who have “been there & done that”.
As such, I expect Arsenal to start well because they have a top structure/quality. However, I expect them to fade like they have done recently and this is where Liverpool will punish them by sustaining pressure and forcing Arsenal back into a deep block for the rest of the game.
Once Arsenal face a moment where their control on the game is challenged they have an inexperienced reaction to it and fall back into a deep block when they need to be brave and continue to play out from the back and press high, but they lack the maturity & experience to do so.
This is partially because the likes of Xhaka are injured who has typically been the anchor within Arteta’s build-up structure, but even with Xhaka ARS still lacks experience. Saka is too inexperienced to be a reliable outlet, Gabriel is too raw to reliably hold an aggressive line
The likes of Partey has never played in a team that dominates the game on the front foot so he’s not a dominant figure (counter)pressing wise when he ideally should be. Instead his nature is to be passive, fall back and worry about what’s behind him. That’s not what Arteta needs.
In an ideal world, the likes of B. White, Gabriel, Ramsdale, Saka, Smith-Rowe, etc, etc, have been playing at the top level for years and have experience of playing in aggressive systems and performing roles like holding a high line, pressing high, being an outlet – they haven’t.
As such, that will come with time, and that’s completely okay. However, for now, against a seasoned team like Liverpool, even if Arsenal score early (like they have done recently), they are largely reliant on scoring on the counter/luck/Liverpool having an off day to get a result
If Arsenal do score early they can sit back & use that low block to their advantage before attempting to hit Liverpool on the counter, but even at that Liverpool’s sustained pressure should be too much for Arsenal to handle. Again, if they don’t – that’s where they’re in trouble.
Liverpool will push the inexperienced and subsequently passive Arsenal back into a deep block thanks to Liverpool’s technical/tactical/physical quality combined with their experience. As such, I’m expecting wave after wave of attack from Liverpool against Arsenal’s deep block.
Sure Arsenal will have periods in the game (particularly early on) where they get success because they have top technical quality and a superb structure, but I expect that Liverpool’s aggressive press will be too much for Arsenal to handle mentally & they’ll fall back/be passive.
LFC have a plethora of methods of breaking Arsenal’s low block down such as (counter)pressing, combination play, crosses, corners, etc – all that whilst sustaining pressure which is a method of creation creation itself. Even when ARS are probing, Liverpool are always dangerous.
If Arsenal are on the attack, Liverpool can counter them and score with their devastating transitional quality. If the ball is loose in midfield when a goalkeeper plays long, Liverpool are elite at winning second balls and punishing the opposition in transition w/ runs in behind.
So, Liverpool are not only elite at exploiting Arsenal within 2nd ball/midfield or counter-attacking situations, but they’re also elite at breaking teams down (which I expect to be the primary theme in the game thanks to Arsenal’s lack of experience). Liverpool are just too good.
Overall, Arteta’s project is an exciting one but expectations should be tempered ahead of the inexperienced Gunners’ clash at Anfield as a result of the beast they face. Arsenal *could* win, but it’d require a major shift in mentality & everything to go their way. That’s unlikely.