Tactical mind games at the Emirates
Arsenal and Liverpool played to a cracking 2-2 draw this evening, but perhaps just as intriguing was the chess match taking place between gaffers Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers.
Usually Rodgers is lauded for making tactical changes at halftime, but tonight he got it right from the start.
While Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3, the Reds transformed into a 4-5-1 the second they lost the ball. On the left side, Luis Suarez dropped back into the midfield to stifle the running of Bacary Sagna.
Stewart Downing did the same on the right to first impede Kieran Gibbs and than Andre Santos after the former went off injured.
This not only cut off the interplay of Sagna and Theo Walcott or Gibbs/Santos and Lukas Podolskibut it also allowed Liverpool’s three man midfield to tighten its belt in the center forcing Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey into a 2 v. 3 situation.
The only time Arsenal looked dangerous in the first half was when Wilshere was able to pierce a hole in the midfield three. Otherwise, as ESPN writer Iain Macintosh said on twitter midway through the first half, “If I had a quid for every time Arsenal have given the ball away, I might be able to afford a ticket here.”
Liverpool started the second half by sitting a bit too deep and Arsenal were taking full advantage by combining better and using the space left in between Sturridge and the midfield.
Sturridge, however, remained the outlet. After being brought to the sidelined and receiving a tirade from Rodgers about doing a better job of holding up the ball, the former Chelsea man did just that before laying it on for Jordan Henderson to give the reds a 2-0 lead.
It was a goal scored through sheer desire and determination by Henderson and more comical defending by Arsenal.
As the home side continued to combine better, Arsenal won a free kick through Walcott. Set pieces are always the best way to get back into a game when things aren’t going your way and Olivier Giroud took full advantage, heading home his fifth goal in three matches.
Arsenal’s best tactical change of the match then began to shine through as Walcott struck the equalizer just three minutes later.
With Suarez and Downing tiring, Arsenal brought a third player over to support the flanks. With Santi Cazorla coming over to create a triangle and thus a three on two with Santos and Walcott and Wilshire doing a same on the other side Liverpool became overrun on the wings.
This is how the Gunners’ most expensive player was able to get into the channel before firing past a flat footed Pepe Reina.
Rodgers then countered with a tactical move of his own, bringing on Jose Enrique for Sturridge. The left sided Spaniard coming on for a forward might of seemed like Rodgers was playing for a tie, but instead it took the burden off a tired Suarez and allowed Liverpool’s leading scorer to play closer to goal.
Arsenal created the better of the chances in the final 20 minutes and probably should have taken all three points. In the end, however, a draw was probably a fair result for the battle on the pitch and between both benches.