Liverpool beat Arsenal 3-1 under the Monday Night Lights in a stunning display of pressing.
The Reds unleashed their full power and were by far the better side, but they needed Alisson to make an enormous 1-v-1 save to maintain their lead. It was an immense display but one punctuated with a couple of defensive errors that kept the scoreline close.
Premier League title odds from William Hill:
- Liverpool 4/5
- Man City 13/8
- Chelsea 20/1
- Arsenal 25/1
- Man Utd 25/1
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After the match Roy Keane said Liverpool, though great, had been sloppy in allowing Arsenal to stay in the contest. Jurgen Klopp saw the word “sloppy” subtitled on a monitor and went off on one of those wonderful Jurgen Klopp rants where he speaks with great speed and enthusiasm to mask what is quite clearly a potent rage. The performance, Klopp insisted, was not sloppy and they gave up chances to Arsenal because they took a calculated risk to press so high and this leaves you open to passes in behind.
Jurgen Klopp on Roy Keane's description of Liverpool's performance: "Did I hear it right what Mr. Keane said? We had a sloppy performance tonight? Did he say that? It cannot be this game, sorry. This was exceptional. Absolutely nothing was sloppy."
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) September 28, 2020
Of course the situation was later clarified and Klopp made clear that there was no issue between him and Keane and that he had simply misunderstood the context of the word sloppy, but social media had already exploded like Mouse in The Matrix bursting into the canteen hollering: “Klopp is fightin’ Keane!”
Then, with battle lines drawn, defences of Klopp and Keane were both mounted. But who was right? Were Liverpool playing with a calculated risk, or were they sloppy? The answer is that they’re both right. Within the contexts they were speaking, each spoke the truth.
Liverpool have lost twice against Arsenal recently, once in the league last season and another in the Community Shield. On both occasions Arsenal’s ability to pass out from the back caused the Reds problems, so for this match Liverpool dialled their pressing up to 11. This was that Big Game “machine” mode that they rarely enter but when they do they massacre anything in their path.
Arsenal were operating at near-peak capacity in terms of their passing out from the back; Liverpool won possession in the final third just four times, which is the fewest of their three games so far this season by quite a distance. And yet Arsenal could barely mount a credible attack because even when they beat the first line of the press they often did so with a sloppy pass that the Reds hoovered up, or they were swallowed up by the second line of Liverpool’s press.
There was often oceans of space behind the Liverpool defenders, but that’s the calculated risk you take when you play such a suffocating pressing game. The alternative is stretching your team out with a high attack and low defence and if anyone wants to know how terribly that turns out just look at Barcelona 2019/20. You have to be compact, and Liverpool are the current masters of that in the way that Barcelona (or Jurgen Klopp’s own Borussia Dortmund) used to be.
Look at the chance Ainsley Maitland-Niles had near the end of the first half. Liverpool have all their outfielders within about 30 yards of each other forming a ferocious mid-block that Arsenal can’t pass through, so David Luiz passes over it with a beautiful ball to Maitland-Niles, who, if he had controlled the ball correctly, could have squared the ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for a tap-in. That’s a calculated risk you take in order to, for the vast majority of the game, utterly dominate your opponents.
You know the numbers: Liverpool had 21 shots to Arsenal’s 4, they had a whopping 66% of the possession and almost double their visitor’s passes. Hell, they reduced Arsenal, a superb passing side, to just 75.7% pass accuracy on the night. They completed 130 passes in the final third, Arsenal managed 23. It was complete and utter domination all built off the back of that calculated risk to press high and as a collective unit.
But Liverpool were sloppy. They were sloppy in that they only took two of their chances, allowing the scoreline to remain close despite the rhythm of the match. Moreover, Liverpool were sloppy at the back; not all the time to be sure, but when you’re operating on the fine margins as elite sides do, even a couple of sloppy moments can kill you.
Just look at the two 1-v-1’s that Lacazette missed to see the difference: pushing your defensive line up to play offside despite being 30 or 40 yards from your own goal is a calculated risk, and Liverpool notably took this risk twice against the Frenchman.
The first time, it worked superbly as Joe Gomez stepped up in time to play him offside (Lacazette went on to miss his chipped shot) but the second time Trent Alexander-Arnold didn’t push up in time with his team-mates and played Lacazette onside. If this wasn’t sloppy (by Liverpool’s high standards, at least) why did Virgil van Dijk scream at him immediately afterwards?
It allowed the Frenchman to run clean through on goal where he really should have scored (instead of shooting straight at Alisson). That bit of defending is sloppy. It’s massively sloppy and Liverpool were lucky to get away with it (Alisson is a world-class goalkeeper and did well to put pressure on but you’d expect a striker like Lacazette to bury that chance).
Hell, look at Arsenal’s goal. It came because they worked their way around Liverpool’s high press to free Maitland-Niles, who ran into a chasm of space behind Alexander-Arnold: that is a calculated risk to both win the ball back high up the pitch and keep Trent in attacking spaces where he can better influence games. But when Andrew Robertson deals with Maitland-Niles’ cross by lofting a backpass straight towards Lacazette and allowed him to open the scoring for the Gunners, that’s sloppy.
So in the end, both Klopp and Keane were correct. Liverpool put in a supreme performance that nevertheless had moments of sloppy play that allowed Arsenal to stay in the game until the 89th minute when Diogo Jota scored to settle things.
Jurgen Klopp clears the air regarding his post match exchange with Roy Keane. 👀 pic.twitter.com/n7BJ4veEQv
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 29, 2020
The Reds are defending Premier League champions and after Manchester City’s slip have already taken an early step towards retaining their crown. Would you bet against them when they are capable of juggling risk and reward as superbly as they did against Arsenal? The Reds are balanced like a Hattori Hanzo sword, slicing their way through the competition on a ruthless rampage.