Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal | Where’s the passion and the tactics?

How embarrassing. At least when we were hit for six by Man City we were up against a scintillating side in top form and looked good going forward. But today the only positive was that Liverpool were wasteful in front of goal and we didn’t suffer the ‘Old Trafford style’ annihilation our performance deserved.

There are slow starts and there are slow starts, but this was something on another level. Had Sturridge not dinked a one-on-one wide and Toure missed an open goal following Suarez’ incredible volley against the post, we could realistically have been 6-0 down after 20 minutes. Consider that for a moment — 6-0 after 20 minutes. And it would have been thoroughly merited too. That’s how abysmal we were in all areas of the pitch.

Even a thick plank like Michael Owen knew that Liverpool would start like a house on fire — so did most people watching. After all, it’s exactly what they did to Everton a couple of weeks ago so surely we would be prepared for the onslaught, right? Apparently not.

Instead we started the match in pedestrian mode, ambling about, making five yard sideways passes on the rare occasions we had possession and seemingly surprised to be closed down at such pace by a hungry, fired-up red army.

But then a casual start to the game is nothing new for this Arsenal side. We have seen it repeatedly in previous weeks, but our second-half improvements have got us out of trouble. Last week we were 0-0 at home to Crystal Palace after a sterile first half only to step up a gear after the break. Ditto at home to Fulham recently — 0-0 at the break only for Cazorla to rescue us with a second half double. How about the Cardiff game at the Emirates? 0-0 until Bendtner saved the day on 89 minutes to rescue another mediocre performance. And not forgetting how fortunate we were to only be one down at the break against Southampton, who battered us for 45 lacklustre minutes. All of these examples have come since the turn of the year.

I have said it so many times, but why don’t we just start games like we start second halves? Why is our approach so casual from the first whistle? Where is the passion that Liverpool showed? A fast, determined start can win the game for you and that is exactly what happened to us today.

Mourinho said last week that his masseur gave an impassioned team talk prior to their impressive victory at the Etihad. Well, maybe Wenger should put in a bid for him because pre-match motivation is an area we’re severely lacking in.

It was far too easy for Liverpool today

It was far too easy for Liverpool today

What really annoyed me today was the lack of fight once we’d gone a goal down. You’d think losing a first minute goal to a soft set piece would sharpen the minds and appetite of the players, but there was no evidence of that. The fourth goal in particular summed it up — Ozil was brushed aside on halfway and went down far too easily looking for a free kick. When it didn’t come he sat on his haunches before casually dragging himself to his feet as Liverpool broke away to hammer home the killer goal. Where was the desire to get up quickly and try to put a tackle in?

With the exception of the second half against Southampton, Ozil has recently looked like a little boy being made to play with the adults. I have no doubt he will adapt to the intensity of the English game just as Bergkamp and Pires did before him, but it won’t be this year. Hopefully we will get more of a contribution from him next season, but in the meantime his lack of creativity and work rate is hindering the team.

As 1-0 became two, then three and four, there was nothing from the bench. No tactical reshuffle, no attempt to quell the waves of attack we were being subjected to. We started off trying to play possession football at a slow tempo in a 4-2-3-1 and we ended the game trying to play possession football at a slow tempo in a 4-2-3-1.

Where is the plan B? Where is the variation in tactics and formation depending on our opponents?

The short answer is that we don’t have one. Wenger plays the same way throughout the match, in the same formation, no matter the score or opposition. Had he been able to think on his feet and assess where we were losing the battle today he might have been able to halt the red juggernaut, but he carried on regardless.

On Monday night Mourinho altered his formation and personnel significantly as he outwitted Pellegrini, fielding three defensive midfielders in Luiz, Matic and Ramires and sitting back while relying on Hazard, Willian and Etoo to run riot on the counter. Today he played two defensive midfielders and brought back Oscar in a more attacking line up because they were at home to off-form Newcastle who were there for the taking.

Chelsea are able to play in more than one formation and more than one style — Arsenal are not.

A few months ago at Stamford Bridge, a poor Chelsea were 1-0 down against Southampton. At halftime Mourinho bought Ba on and went two up top, playing route one football for the entire second half. They battered their way through the Saints’ defence three times and ran out 3-1 winners.

Mourinho is not afraid to alter formation or style mid-match — Wenger is.

I am criticising Wenger’s tactical nous because I cannot believe how awful we were for 90 minutes with no attempt made to change anything. Rosicky, Gibbs and Podolski came on but they were all like for like swaps and Liverpool should’ve scored another couple as we continually left ourselves exposed on the counter.

Speaking of which, Arteta is an ineffective shield against a decent side because he is a former attacking midfielder playing out of position. He can get away with it against teams who try to contain Arsenal (which is everyone bar the top five) but against class outfits like Liverpool his defensive shortcomings are exposed. We badly miss Flamini and I hope Wenger brings the Frenchman back for Wednesday’s match against Man Utd.

Indeed, that game has just taken on extra significance thanks to today’s disaster (yes, it was a disaster because we were beaten so convincingly that it will undoubtedly knock our confidence ahead of a testing run of fixtures). If we lose on Wednesday too we could soon be swapping a title race for a top-four race and that would be a huge shame given how well we’ve performed on the whole this season.

Yet it is this which gives me hope that today may not be the turning point it seems. For all the anger I feel right now, I am conscious that we are way ahead of where most people (including me) thought we would be at the start of the season. One atrocious performance and result doesn’t take away the fact that our defending has been much improved this season, both from the defenders and as a team. Our more cautious, mature approach once we take the lead has also seen us pick up more wins whereas last season we often threw away leads by being too gung-ho. The individual improvement of Szczesny, Mertesacker, Ramsey, Walcott and Giroud should not be forgotten either and it’s important not to lose sight of these plus points no matter how atrocious we were today.

We are quite fortunate that we have such a high-profile game coming up so soon. Wenger has said he thinks we will answer the questions raised by today’s debacle on Wednesday, but unfortunately our record against the top teams is not too clever and we go into the match with our confidence badly shaken.

But let’s give the boys the opportunity they deserve to rectify today and get our season back on track. Wednesday night will show us the true character of this team — hopefully we’ll take a leaf out of Liverpool’s book and start the game with much more purpose than we showed today because it has now become a pivotal match in our season.

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  1. Mickey T

    Yep I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. Wengers lack of tactics and the perfomance today deserve the scathing criticism you dished out but you also correct that all is not lost and we can put it right against Manchester United. Nice article.

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  2. Kc

    Very good article. Arsene will not change the tactics were wrong but the standard of certain players will stop us winning the major trophies. We may bounce back against the mancs but in all honesty we all really know this squad is still two or three top quality players short and are managed by a manager who is very stubborn. We always have a soft underbelly waiting to show its face at certain points during a season Arsene seems incapable of accepting another teams strengths and the fore will not change tactics to negate them.

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  3. jordan Gooner

    Good write up, my concern is the fact we cannot adjust the tactics, when we encounter a particularly problem. We persist with our cavalier approach, keep attacking no matter what. Appart from the Villa and Man City games, I believed we had realised this was not very sensible. I do believe Flamini is still suspended for the United game.

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    • Gooner Steve

      “I do believe Flamini is still suspended for the United game.”

      I stand corrected, that is a blow.

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  4. Colin

    I know it’s easy to pick on Ozil, but today was not his fault alone. There was no defensive midfield or fullbacks to help our central defenders who were slow. Flamini saved the first half against Southampton, and the lack of his endless work to protect Per and Kos told greatly. Going back to our general play, we have slept walked through most games since Napoli away, and Wenger must take alot of the blame for not recognising that decent teams saw the Dortmund game and saw Wengerball is not effective against a high press game.. Hopefully, the Liverpool game will act as a wake up call, and if it does then this thrashingwill be better than a 1 or 2 nil defeat.

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  5. Wolfgang

    Blame Wenger and nobody else. His insistence on ball retention and no shooting until you get a killer pass is to blame. His style is predictable and easy to counter. Against Cardiff it was too easy.The Cardiff players let the gunners pass all day with no pressure applied.
    The reds did not give the gunners time and space.The reds passing was direct and long.The ball was scored with minimum passes unlike the gunners who want to score the perfect goal according to Wenger’s script.
    By the time the gunners get to the box,it’s the same old astory . It’s pass after pass and when the ball is intercepted/misdirected Pool went swiftly in the attack .Two/Three passes and the ball is in the gunners net.
    If the gunners lose to Moyes and there is no guarantee they won’t,get ready for for calls for his head.

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  6. Patrick

    That’s Arsenal fans for ya. Even tho they were ripped apart by one of the best attacks in England they still try take a dig. Liverpool were just too good for an overrated Arsenal side, by overrated I mean Ozil and Giroud, who on current form wouldn’t even get into that Liverpool starting team.

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    • DeanoLFC

      You seem to of contradicted yourself mate ‘they were ripped apart by one of the best attacks in England’ -‘wouldn’t EVEN get into the liverpool starting 11′, as you said we have 1 of the best attacks in the league so it’s not really a bad thing to not be able to get in there,agree with u on the fact that arsenal are over rated there are not many players if take, szchesney and Gibbs that’s about it

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  7. Wolfgang

    Moyes will be keen to add to Wenger’s woes. Ten points behind Pool,he will try to make up for lost ground.As we all know the gunners cavalier attacking style is suited for counter attacking teams .That is why his record against MU is very poor.
    If he refuses to alter his playing style don’t be surprised the red faceless side win again.
    Then what?When he went all out attacking all the other side has to do is wait for correct moment to hit. With gaps in the defence is it any wonder Sterling Sturrideg can’t score.As for the gunners when they want to shoot they are confronted by massed defences and still Wenger insist on threading aball through when a high ball will do.
    This could be the defining season especially if the gunners win nothing. Then what?More of the same of pattern weaving soccer which gets you nowhere.

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  8. John

    Patrick@ I’m an honest person and I think Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling is just as dangerous as Man City’s attack. With Liverpool missing literally a whole defense I thought Arsenal could give as good as they got, but to be fair, Flanagan, Skrtel, Aly and Kolo played pretty well. With good defenders to come back like Agger, Sakho, and Enquire, Liverpool are just as strong in defence as in their attack, a really top midfielder is possibly all that’s missing and that Ukrainian fella in the summer will add to a already impressive, dynamic, quick, Liverpool attack. Arsenal will do a lot better against United cause we’re at home and United don’t have that terrifying pace in their attack. 3-1.

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  9. S j little

    Boring predictable side and back passing, players paid over 50.000 a week to do what granny can do!
    Wenger is way past his sell by date.
    The only decent player is Flamini and he only got because he, Flaminin, made it obvious he more gumption than the rest of Wenger little men put together.
    Never mind we,ve still got a broken Mack swedish guy to join our school for invalids!
    When are we going to see a couple of winger who don’t go backwards, sideways and backwards until they have the ball back in out own penalty box.
    Does Wenger really think he can anything with players like Monreal?

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  10. rahaizad

    What is so depressing about the rout is that Wenger will still thinks we do not to buy anyone because our team is good enough. Draxler overpriced ? By the looks of it Ozil is over-hyped and will be the 2nd in line to Lamela as the flop of the season.

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  11. Wolfgang

    Arsene is preparing for the future when the season 2014 is vital. Arsenal have a good chance of winning the epl.Berbatov was available but the fm didn’t want him.
    When you see how Pool scored you wonder why the gunners can’t do likewise.Admittedly the first Pool goal could have been off side .To play os in such a scenario is naïve because Pool players are one yard from goal.You can’t trust the linesman.
    Don’t be surprised this season will end in bitter disappointment like 2011.I would like to think the gunners defence has improved since then except for last night.
    I believe the big german is a liability. Against speedy Sterling and Sturridge,he did not stand a chance.
    In 1998,after the 4-1 defeat by Blackburn Wenger reshuffled his defence and went to win the double.I doubt he can repeat it.If Mu were to score 5 again,Wenger’s reign will come into serious focus.ain

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  12. Malaysian gunner

    I watched the game live on Astro tv in sunny Penang,island of good food. That the gunners have lost doesn’t surprise me. It’s obvious to anybody except Wenger maybe,
    the gunners style require time and space.Liverpool denied them both and played a more direct style without making making many passes.
    I am afraid unless the gunners can make a dramatic improvement,it could be another season to forget. I doubt they can win the cl .As for the FA cup,it could result in a replay setting the stage for fixture congestion and player fatigue in view of the number of injuries.
    Opposing managers especially the big teams have figured a way to stifle Arsenal. Yet Wenger still sticks to his one style excessive passing.Don’t be surprised they lose to Moyes ,I just hope I am wrong and hopefully Arsenal can win either the epl or FA cup.

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  13. Jd

    Two heavy defeat scoreline in a leAgue campaign is no good for a suppose league wining team, most people see arsen as a past it manager, he was bralliant at some point but anymore, by d way who are his player scout? And ain’t a good manager identify his weakness then plan how to sort it out either by getting new players or re shuffling his packs? How difficult is that if not for penny pinching , The arsenal have said most players would jump at the chance of joining arsenal but what was all that confusion about of not identifying who to get and go in for the kill like Chelsea does, is not always about spending big money, how on earth can you end up with a broken back player when desperate for fit players? How could you go from draxler to a thirty something weak person, it baffles me to say the least, arsenal approach to recruitment is a big shame, and pls Guys stop expecting doom if wenger was to leave, there are many young manager out there that would come in and re channel out a new approach

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  14. Omar

    Its not a coincidence that we always struggle against teams that press us. i thought at the time that walcotts injury would be the end of our title ambitions and thats not only because of his goals and assists, but because tactically it makes it easy for the other teams to press. Every single arsenal player wants the ball at his feet, no1 makin any sort of run behind so makes it logical to keep pressing high. if the smaller teams start doing that against us more often we are gonna be in trouble too.

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  15. mohd

    Arsene likes to emphasise possession. Arsenal had 57% and 11 shots .
    Liverpool 43% and 22 shots.Needless to say if the fm emphasises possession but doesn’t want to shoot it’s back to square one.
    I maybe wrong. Arsenal are one of the few teams playing possession football with one hundred passes before shooting. No wonder they are unable to shoot to score if the opposition gets in their faces.
    He wants creativity. When teams don’t allow the gunners to play iedeny them time and space the gunners will have ahard time. There is no plan b.
    His record against Mu since 2004 is very poor. He plays in one attacking style which suits perfectly a counter attacking team. I hope I am wrong but don’t be surprised he loses to Moyes,

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  16. Shanzu

    An excellent well written report and agree in essence with all you have said. With the squad we have, Wenger cannot adapt our game to suit opposition tactics like Mourinho is able to carry out successfully. We have no dynamics in our attacks, it is a pure passing and constructive attack that starts deep from mid-field and depends entirely on Giroud to put the finishing touch. In my opinion he lacks coordination and finesse in his final touch, his only quality is to hold up the ball and a strong shot. We need a world class finisher who has pace, good coordination and confidence in his goal scoring ability – who does this remind you of, someone like Henry? Plan B is essential if we are to succeed this season. What is wrong with playing the long ball every now and than against teams like L/pool who try to stop us in the mid field area. The MU game is now pivotal to any success this season cos after this we have L/pool and Bayer Munich – easy no problem according to Wenger just need to be strong in defence!!???!!!???!!!!!??

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    • Gooner Steve

      “With the squad we have, Wenger cannot adapt our game”

      Yeah, that’s the trouble. He has built a one dimensional squad full of small, mobile, technically gifted creative types. Where are the Yaya Toures to give us some physical presence if we need it? Why have we only got one recognised defensive midfielder when we should have at least three in the squad? Why have we only got two men capable of playing the lone striker role (one of whom is Bendtner)? I don’t count Podolski because he can’t play with his back to goal, hold the ball up and link play — he needs to play in a pair up front.

      Wenger needs to address these squad shortcomings in the summer. No more excuses, we have had plenty of money for a couple of years now and since the Puma deal we are in a fantastic position financially.

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  17. Nico

    Yes agree with you how ever as munch as we can blame Wenger because overall he is responsible we do need to also question the players themselves against Liverpool. WTF has Ozil been doing? Getting worse game by game. So to Giroud, really disappointed with Ozil seems he has no interest or passion for the game! Plodding around watching the rest of the team trying to do something.

    Think we will see our gam e raised for Utd – if this embarrassing performance is not enough motivation to stimulate these players into positive response then they don’t deserve to win the title. Look how Chelsea have been fighting and tabling inspired performances. This comes from the manager and Wenger needs to motivate – I believe complacency set in and this defeat could hopefully be a wake up call however we don’t need any more, just need the fighting spirit and more urgency about our performances. We will beat Utd at home as long as our defensive qualities which have been great up to Liverpool return and our attacks are more purposeful. Personally I think we should start with Rosicky, the Ox, Carzola, Ozil (although he should be dropped after his nothing performances recently) and Arteta in the middle

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    • Gooner Steve

      I agree to an extent, but we can’t praise Wenger for getting us to the top of the table and then blame the players when we capitulate against Liverpool. The players were not motivated or properly prepared for Liverpool’s explosive start and they didn’t press at all during the game, so the buck stops 100% with the manager for me.

      Ozil is seriously off form but it’s Wenger who keeps picking him — why not give him a breather on the bench and play Cazorla behind Giroud? Who knows, it may take some pressure off Ozil or even give him a much needed kick up the backside.

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  18. Nico

    Agreed Steve however I did not ask for Wenger to be praised I merely said that the players also have to be accountable. Yes drop Ozil for sure!

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  19. Shanzu

    Guys, Wenger has already accepted full responsibility for the abysmal performance against L/pool AND quite rightly so!! After all he is the manager who dictates on tactics, team selection, motivating the players to perform etc. It appeared to me that the players became confused and were shocked after going down 4-0 in 18 minutes! They had NO solution to this and nothing was coming from the equally shocked management on the bench!! As I said before we do not have the depth in our squad to sustain such intense pressure by changing our game and so all just tried to the best that could be done under the circumstances. A very sad situation to be in but after all this is not the first time that we have recently experienced such a thrashing remember MU, MC, Newcastle, Spurs etc. The players are not to be blamed cos what happened out there was the Management’s fault. For Wenger to praise the fans as being the best players on the day is a disgrace and he should publicly apologise to his players for saying this. It is time he considered his position and either move on or retire gracefully leaving the post to a younger more dynamic modern game thinking manager.

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