Liverpool went down to league leaders Arsenal at the Emirates last night, in a 2-0 display that ultimately showed the flaws of Rodgers’s 3-5-2 system. Don’t worry, this isn’t a knee-jerking self-mutilating article, but it is important to look back and point out the mistakes from the match.
Right from the start, a worry crept up my spine when i saw the names Flannagan and Cissokho in the starting lineup. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t bad players, but obviously against a top opponent like Arsenal you’d want to field your best 11. With both Enrique and Johnson out due to an injury and illness respectively, Rodgers had to call on young Flanno and loanee Cissokho to start. I had my doubts over the both of them going forward, something which is crucial in a 3-5-2.
However, Rodgers made the right choice in selecting his midfield. Coutinho started on the bench and Hendo filled in at the “10” role. Rodgers realized the importance of shutting down Arsenal’s tenacious midfield – opting not to select Henderson at right wing back and instead having him ahead of Lucas and Gerrard. The three center halves, plus Lucas and Gerrard, were meant to shut down Arsenal’s deadly short passes, but that wasn’t the case. Countless times Arsenal played short 1-touch passes around the penalty box with the Liverpool defense helplessly watching. The 3-5-2 system’s flaws showed when Arsenal scored their first. Flanno and Cissokho were higher up in the pitch, causing Sakho to come out to the left to try and stop Sagna from crossing. The ball found it’s way to Cazorla, unmarked because Flanno was nowhere near the box, headed a bullet into the post before finishing with his right foot. During the course of the first half, Liverpool’s defense would be opened up time and time again, especially down the wings. Also, both wing-backs hardly made an attacking threat. They both put in some crosses, but they lack the spark of Johnson and Enrique, who could at times terrorize the opponent’s defense.
The lack of creativity in the midfield was particularly worrying as well. For a team that boasts the deadliest strike partnership in the EPL, our midfield was simply unable to feed them with chances. Arsenal shut the midfield out from the attacking third, giving Gerrard and co. very little chances to supply the ball to the SAS. Of course, both Suarez and Sturridge had a few chances here and there, most notably Suarez’s 1-on-1, but throughout the course of the game, the midfield trio of Lucas, Gerrard and Hendo found themselves holding the ball with no chance to pass forward. Henderson is a not a “10” player, and it was easily seen in the first few minutes of the game where he dribbled through the middle of the Arsenal defense and finished it with a weak left foot. If that player was Coutinho or even Suarez, it would have surely been 1-0 to the visitors.
For all the flaws the 3-5-2 system had with inexperienced wing backs, during the break we saw Coutinho coming on for Cissokho and Liverpool reverting to a more traditional 4-3-1-2. However, Liverpool soon found the midfield congested and tight, giving the midfield no space to move at all. I personally felt that in a 3-5-2 system, Liverpool found more spaces to attack through the middle and the wings. It was a hard formation to defend against, and im not too sure Arsenal’s defense had the capability to defend the 3-5-2. Had we continue the same formation in the 2nd half, i believe that we could have at least scored 1. When we went back to the 4-3-1-2, Arsenal’s defense looked like a brick wall.
Perhaps, Liverpool could argue that it should have been 1-1 going into the break. A quick counter-attack saw Suarez bursting past Sagna before he was cynically brought down by the Frenchman. Suarez instantly resumed play and passed it straight to Sturridge, who played the ball across for a simple-tap in from Henderson. Bizarrely, referee Martin Atkinson pulled the foul back as it was taken too quickly, a decision that left Suarez and Gerrard fuming. Pundits during the break all agreed that the referee’s decision was a crucial mistake, and it wasn’t the first time either – go back to the same player against Sunderland when Altidore muscled his way past Sagna and finished beautifully into the corner of the goal, only to be pulled back by Atkinson for a foul outside the box. Had it been 1-1 at the break, Liverpool might have had a chance to nick it.
Fret not though Redmen. We simply lost to a better team away from home. We’re still sitting in third and tied with 2nd place Chelsea on points. We’re still early in the season and anything can happen, just remember that this is the best start we’ve had in 5 years. The last time we had such a successful start to the season, we finished it in 2nd place. The only thing we can look forward to is obtaining all 3 points against fulham next week and prepare for the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park. The season is far from over.