Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal: Reds left to rue continued defensive fragilities

With Liverpool’s positive attack undone by poor defensive work against Arsenal on Sunday, Jack Lusby rues Brendan Rodgers’ continued mistakes.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 29, 2014: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers before the Premier League match against Stoke City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will have been relieved as Martin Skrtel’s stoppage-time header earned his side a valuable point in Sunday’s home Premier League clash with Arsenal, which leaves the Reds in the top half of the Premier League table as a short Christmas break ensues.

A deserved first-half goal from Philippe Coutinho was quickly cancelled out by a header from Arsenal’s Mathieu Debuchy, before a goal from striker Olivier Giroud put the Gunners ahead.

After the game Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spoke of his side’s “bad memories,” after last season’s 5-1 loss at the hands of Rodgers’ side, but this time Liverpool were unable to capitalise on the north London side’s deficiencies.

It was a similar tale to last season from Rodgers, with an impressive attacking bent let down by some poor defensive work, and an apathetic in-game tactical approach.

The manager will surely talk of a corner turned, but it was more of the same from a Reds side lacking true cutting edge.


Excellent Attack

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 21, 2014: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia in action against Arsenal during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Prior to this clash, Rodgers came out swinging, defending his tactical innovations for the Manchester United loss and subsequent AFC Bournemouth victory.

“The other night it was a British coach playing 3-4-3 so he has probably thrown the team together. ‘He has played seven midfielders?’ If it was a foreign coach it would probably have been seen as a wonderful tactical idea of playing the game. ‘Sterling playing through the middle – what is he doing? [Lazar] Markovic out wide?’ But that is the key for us – trying to get the players in position who can make us effective.”

Although the manager came off rather self-aggrandising, the 3-4-3 formation and its effect on Liverpool’s attacking game was once more evident at Anfield on Sunday.

Rodgers continued, by claiming: “When you have got the players to play in the way we want to work you can see the issues and the problems we can cause opponents.”

By deploying Lazar Markovic in an unnatural left wing-back role, Rodgers has actually allowed the young forward to initiate play from an effective area.

Furthermore, deploying Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in their favoured central roles has restored their potency.

Coutinho was particularly threatening, especially in terms of defending from the front (with four tackles won), taking on a flat Arsenal defence (with two successful take-ons) and clearly with his persistence in front of goal.

It was the midfielder’s shot that finally breached an impressive Wojciech Szczesny’s goal on 45 minutes.

Finally, Adam Lallana contributed another effective performance alongside Coutinho in a more advanced position, after spending the majority of his early Liverpool career shifted from role to role.

Adam Lallana Versatility

Lallana made five key passes, more than any other player on Sunday, as well as a joint-high six tackles, with Coutinho and Lucas Leiva similarly imperious defensively.

The quartet of Coutinho, Sterling, Markovic and Lallana have proven a hugely effective attacking force in Rodgers’ new system, but their hard work was unfortunately undone, as ever, at the other end of the pitch.


Miserly Defence

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 21, 2014: Arsenal's Mathieu Debuchy beats Liverpool's Martin Skrtel to a header to score the first equalising goal during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The welcome presence of Mamadou Sakho in the starting line-up will have warmed most Liverpool fans, with the centre-back exiled under Rodgers this season in favour of the abysmal Dejan Lovren.

The French international was a positive influence in terms of possession—the only centre-back at the club able to consistently play a forward pass from the back—and decisive in the tackle.

Joining Kolo Toure in Rodgers’ defence, Sakho’s presence vindicated his supporters.

However, the other half of the Liverpool back line—Skrtel and goalkeeper Brad Jones—were not reading from the same hymn-sheet.

Amid an overall poor defensive effort, Skrtel and Jones’ contribution to Debuchy’s equaliser was a head-scratcher—the centre-back failing to challenge the Arsenal man in the air, and Jones completely wrong-footed on his line once more.

Jones was again, unfortunately, at fault as Giroud’s goal went through his legs.

An initially encouraging, cohesive performance diminished into a familiar chaos; Toure’s failure to intercept Santi Cazorla’s cutback for Giroud’s finish outlined an infectious failure.

Although Skrtel provided the invaluable equaliser, it remains a bizarre decision for Rodgers to replace Toure with Rickie Lambert on 80 minutes instead of the Slovak (if any defender was to go), and it was the manager’s inability to effect the game from his technical area which was, too, uncanny.


Uninspired Substitutions

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 6, 2014: Liverpool's Rickie Lambert shows his frustration at the assistant referee as his side are held to a goal-less draw against Sunderland during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With the game in the balance, the impetus was on Rodgers to affect the game tactically—particularly after his media riposte prior to Sunday’s tie.

Rightly, he looked to his attacking reserves, and although the comparatively paltry duo of Lambert and Fabio Borini stood out as the most influential, his decision to replace Toure and Markovic with the pair was bemusing.

What was more outstanding here, however, were the players Rodgers decided to leave unchanged.

These were, namely, a tiring Steven Gerrard and Lallana.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Monday, August 25, 2014: Liverpool's Steven Gerrard looks dejected during the Premier League match at the City of Manchester Stadium. (Pic by Chris Brunskill/Propaganda)

Markovic’s direct, unrelenting pressure was a significant threat to a once-more unimpressive Calum Chambers, and as his aforementioned statistics show, he was Liverpool’s most threatening, direct outlet.

While impresive, Lallana, as per usual, faded as the 90 minutes went on—of 11 Premier League appearances, the midfielder was been substituted seven times.

Furthermore, Gerrard continued his midfield disappearing act in his third start in a week—another familiar scenario—with the attacking contributions of Lucas outlining his growing fatigue.

It remains an immense disservice to such a loyal servant of the club to persist with a 270-minute week for the Liverpool captain—as has been previously proven, given a rest, Gerrard is a much more effective player.

Meanwhile, summer signing Emre Can continues to waste away on the Anfield substitutes’ bench.

Overall, Liverpool’s 2-2 home draw with Arsenal on Sunday was more of the same, and an ultimately disappointing result given the level of dominance Brendan Rodgers’ side had throughout.

Credit is due to the manager for his attacking innovation, but there is much work to do both defensively and with Rodgers’ in-game management once again.

Statistics via WhoScored.

How should Brendan Rodgers have influenced the game with his substitutes? Let us know in the comments below.