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“Time to boot it” – BBC pundit attacks Arsenal’s tactics, but Emery’s risky plan had its merits

Arsenal’s collection of chastening Anfield defeats was added to on Saturday as Liverpool overcame the Gunners by a 3-1 scoreline. A Joel Matip header and a Mohamed Salah brace secured the points for the home side, despite a late Lucas Torreira consolation for the visitors. 

Jurgen Klopp’s reigning European champions utterly dominated the game in terms of possession and carved out the best chances. They pressed aggressively from the off and made it extremely difficult to play the ball out from the back.

(Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Liverpool’s celebrated full-backs were able to orchestrate much of their side’s attacking play. This was partly due to Unai Emery deploying his team in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, which left plenty of vacant space on the flanks. 

BBC pundit Garth Crooks, in his Team of the week column, was very critical of the Spanish coach’s approach. Crooks said, “It’s all very well Arsenal…trying to play nice, controlled football in their own third of the field when the opposition are breathing fire and brimstone but you must have players who have the confidence and the ability to cope with that pressure and Arsenal clearly don’t. There’s a time to play at the back and a time to boot it and on this occasion it was the latter”.

TBR’s view

Arsenal did not lose at Anfield because Emery got his tactics wrong. Arsenal were simply beaten by a far superior side. Whilst the Gunners’ tactics did cause them to come under relentless pressure, that would likely have been the case no matter the formation they played. It is also worth noting that none of Liverpool’s goals derived directly from any of the many crosses that Liverpool’s full-backs were allowed to deliver from open play. 

Whilst playing out from the back meant that Arsenal were regularly penned-in in their own final third, there’s little evidence to suggest that resorting to playing it long would have helped. Arsenal aren’t a tall team, and their front two of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe are not equipped to thrive off of that type of service. Playing out from the back, whilst risky, was the only way that Arsenal stood any real chance of scoring themselves. Emery’s side did create chances after all. Had they been able to take them, Emery’s approach may well have been hailed as a masterclass. 

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