How Arsenal Have Changed Since Their Last Premier League Meeting With Liverpool

Mohamed Salah netted twice when Liverpool last played Arsenal in the Premier League, he is still scoring but a lot has changed in the 11 months since
Mohamed Salah netted twice when Liverpool last played Arsenal in the Premier League, he is still scoring but a lot has changed in the 11 months since | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

As this eerie, fan-less addendum to the Premier League enters its final few weeks, the start of this unique campaign has all but been swept away in the fog of time.

Almost 11 months ago – yet, still the 2019/20 season – Liverpool served up a routine 3-1 win at home to Arsenal. So much has changed for both sides since that hazy Saturday afternoon, but there are some things which almost a year has done little to alter.

A glaring individual error and conceding from a corner sound rather too familiar for Arsenal fans still reeling from Sunday’s north London derby defeat. Liverpool prospered with the same formula back in August.

Joël Matip opened the scoring from a devilish Trent Alexander-Arnold set piece on the cusp of half-time, before David Luiz grabbed a fistful of Mohamed Salah’s shirt to give away a penalty four minutes after the restart.

This same duo then tangled again for Liverpool’s third, or rather, Luiz did his best not to tangle with Salah, almost jumping out of the winger’s way to avoid a second yellow card as Liverpool’s number 11 netted an eye-catching solo goal.

David LuizDavid Luiz
David Luiz was at fault for two of Liverpool’s goals in the reverse fixture between the clubs | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Unlike Arsenal’s manager that day Unai Emery (yes, Emery was still at Arsenal this season) Luiz will almost certainly be involved in the reverse fixture.

The Brazilian was able to top this shambolic showing in Arsenal’s first game following the restart against Manchester City. However, Luiz has since earned a contract extension and begun the latest reassemble of his reputation at the centre of Arsenal’s back-three. Mikel Arteta’s change in system has given Luiz an extra layer of security with two centre-backs beside him and seems to have steadied the 33-year-old (so far).

The blunder which allowed Tottenham to level the score on the weekend did involve Luiz, but was hardly his fault as Sead Kolašinac carelessly set Son Heung-min through on goal with a sloppy pass. Back in August, the fact that Arsenal played out from the back also garnered much post-match attention.

Liverpool threatened to steal possession each and every time Arsenal’s players ponderously knocked the ball between one another, with little idea of how they were going to get through the press.

Despite Kolašinac’s error, Arteta has improved Arsenal’s distribution from the back overall. Instead of mindlessly pinging the ball between the centre-backs, Arsenal ensure that they wait to play a pass that will bypass an opponent, therefore actually providing some merit to the practice.

Of course, after only six months – interrupted by a global pandemic – of coaching under Arteta, this is far from perfect and it will be interesting to see if the Spaniard sticks with this approach given Liverpool’s pressing prowess.

Mikel ArtetaMikel Arteta
Arteta has overseen five defeats in 23 games since taking over as Arsenal manager in December 2019 | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

One approach that Arteta surely won’t persist with is the narrow 4-4-2 diamond Emery deployed in the third game of the season. Arsenal’s glaring lack of width with this system gave Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson large swathes of green grass to deliver a flurry of penetrating crosses. Arteta’s recent use of 3-4-3 should clog this space on the flanks if Arsenal’s wingbacks push onto Liverpool’s playmaking fullbacks.

One corner of that contentious diamond was the equally controversial Mattéo Guendouzi. The combustible Frenchman was a favourite of Emery and the Arsenal fanbase after an encouraging debut campaign.

However, 11 months on and Guendouzi’s time at the club looks to be coming to an end after repeated fallouts with Arteta and his recent banishment from Arsenal’s training ground. Stan Collymore may think Guendouzi would ‘thrive’ on Merseyside but he won’t be near either side’s starting XI in midweek.

While Liverpool’s win was ultimately comfortable, Arsenal posed some threat on the counter attack with the jet-heeled duo of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé up front. Yet, deploying Aubameyang through the middle is nothing more than a last port of call for Arteta these days, as the 38-year-old has exclusively stationed his star man on the left wing since his appointment.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Moussa SissokoPierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Moussa Sissoko
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has missed just eight minutes of Premier League football since Arteta was made Arsenal manager | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

On the surface, being shunted out wide has done little to dampen Aubameyang’s goalscoring threat. Since Arteta’s first game in charge, only Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and his upcoming opponent Salah have scored more Premier League goals than the Gabonese forward.

Yet, the fact that Aubameyang has as many as nine strikes in this period is thanks to a spate of clinical finishing given that his expected goals tally suggests he ‘should’ have netted closer to six or seven. Aubameyang’s sharp shooting will be desperately needed if Arsenal are to foster any faint hopes of being the latest to take points off the newly-crowned champions.

Before the sides met back in August, Jürgen Klopp hailed Arsenal as ‘one of Europe’s best teams’. Incidentally, the German is a better manager than mystic as his side goes into Wednesday’s contest 43 points ahead of their opponents.

This chasm – which is the same tally 13th-placed Newcastle have mustered after 35 games – demonstrates that Arsenal are operating in a different realm to Liverpool. Arteta has made some gradual improvements to the side but they remain so far off the upper echelons of the league – let alone the continent – it’s incredible to think that this was a genuine belief this season.


Frank Lampard Has to Take Some Blame for Chelsea’s Recent Inconsistency

Sheffield United v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Sheffield United v Chelsea FC – Premier League | Pool/Getty Images

Being third in the Premier League table with just three games remaining is a scenario that surely every Chelsea fan would’ve bitten your hand off for at the start of the 2019/20 campaign.

Enduring a transfer ban in the summer, the departure of superstar Eden Hazard and a 4-0 trouncing at Manchester United on the opening weekend; the chances of securing a Champions League berth this term appeared incredibly slim.

Daniel JamesDaniel James
Daniel James rounded off a 4-0 triumph for United over Chelsea on the opening weekend of the season | Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

But in just his second season of professional management, former Chelsea great Frank Lampard has masterminded a stellar campaign in west London in which the Blues have mightily overachieved.

Following a campaign of stubbornness and rigidity under Maurizio Sarri, Lampard’s adopted an exuberant, free-flowing approach spearheaded by youth at Stamford Bridge, and the Blues boss has to be credited for the successful integration of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, etc, into the first-team squad.

And while the former Derby boss’ tactical identity and ideals are quite tricky to pin down, there’s little doubting that’s he showed off enough tactical acumen in his debut campaign as a Premier League manager.

Of course, there was the deployment of a 3-4-3 which stifled Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham in a 2-0 victory back in December, while his tactical flexibility was on full display just a few weeks later just a few miles down the road. His decision to introduce Jorginho for wing-back Emerson and switch to a 4-3-3 ultimately turned the tide in Chelsea’s favour after Arsenal had seized total control in the opening half-hour, as the Blues went on to win 2-1 with two late goals.

The introduction of eventual goalscorer Jorginho changed the dynamic of the contest back in December | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Sure, it hasn’t been plain sailing for Lampard’s boys – they struggled to win at home for a period of time, for example – but that was totally expected for a youthful side with an inexperienced coach.

However, the Blues’ form following the restart has been a little more concerning and although much of Chelsea’s woes has been attributed to erratic defending and the inability to deal with set-pieces, Lampard too is worthy of a fair share of the blame.

After spending much of the season switching between a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, with the odd three at the back chucked in now and then, Lampard has consistently opted for a 4-3-3 since the restart. A decision which has often backfired against inferior opposition.

Andriy YarmolenkoAndriy Yarmolenko
Andriy Yarmolenko snatched victory over Chelsea with a last-minute winner on the break | Michael Regan/Getty Images

The games which stick out are West Ham, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, fixtures in which Chelsea’s issues in a 4-3-3 were ruthlessly exposed.

Defensively, the formation offers less protection against opposition counters due to fewer players providing central compactness, while the typical deployment of Ross Barkley and Mason Mount in fluid, roaming number eight roles has hampered the Blues’ ability in the first phase and capacity to progress up the field.

Thus, their inability to control transitions and build-up from the back has led to an overall feel of a lack of control in all three of these games. They were unable to sustain any pressure, while they themselves were reliant on counter-attacks as a primary route of chance creation. Any patterns or attacking structure, meanwhile, were absent, with the recent magic of Christian Pulisic often bailing the Blues out.

After scoring twice from set-pieces at West Ham, Chelsea were beaten via a swift break which Andriy Yarmolenko coolly rounded off. Although it was quite easy to blame Antonio Rudiger for allowing the Ukrainian – who couldn’t have telegraphed his intentions more – inside, Chelsea only had two defenders shielding the counter in the dying embers. That was on Lampard.

Jorginho, Oliver McBurnieJorginho, Oliver McBurnie
Jorginho struggled in the single pivot as the Blues fell to a 3-0 defeat at Sheffield United | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

And after somehow escaping Selhurst Park with all three points, they were made to pay against Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United.

Injuries forced Lampard into deploying Jorginho at the base of midfield, naively pairing him alongside the aforementioned number eight pairing. While the Italian was woeful in possession, his lack of athleticism was exploited by the Blades as Mount and Barkley failed to offer any kind of support and the visitors slumped to a 3-0 humbling.

Going forward at Bramall Lane, meanwhile, Chelsea once again looked toothless against a deep block in their 4-3-3, with a clear void of blue shirts between the Blades’ lines.

But for Lampard, the issue is easily fixable: switch to the 4-2-3-1 you so often used earlier in the season against deeper blocks.

While it’s a system some like to claim is past its expiry date, it nonetheless provides greater protection against the counter with the presence of a double pivot – whom can also assist the build-up phase – and scope for combination play in between opposition lines with the use of a number ten, thus leading to a greater chance of success against sides that sit deep. For the Blues, sustaining attacks should come easier in this system.

Josep GuardiolaJosep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola masterminded a 4-0 rout over Liverpool with his use of a double pivot | Visionhaus/Getty Images

It’s a conundrum that Pep Guardiola is trying to figure out over at Manchester City. So often does his deeply loved 4-3-3 leave City more prone to errors in the build-up phase – see Che Adams’ halfway line strike in Southampton’s 1-0 win over the Cityzens – and vulnerable to the counter – see their 2-1 loss at Chelsea, while the 4-2-3-1 (or at least the presence of a double pivot) brings about more control and protection.

Guardiola’s use of Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri as a pairing against Liverpool ensured City were able to mitigate the Reds’ high press and find creators between the lines at a canter in their 4-0 thumping of the champions.

The Cityzens’ aforementioned defeat to Chelsea, meanwhile, was the perfect time for Lampard to utilise the 4-3-3.

With adept short passers Mount, Barkley and N’Golo Kante making up the midfield three behind hold-up specialist Olivier Giroud, the Blues were able to orchestrate counters efficiently while Willian and Pulisic provided two outlets out on the flanks.

Christian Pulisic starred in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over City, as Lampard’s 4-3-3 worked a treat | PAUL CHILDS/Getty Images

The American ran riot in transition that night and the result proved Lampard has the personnel to deploy his 4-3-3 against the ‘big’ sides, but not yet against teams which will sit back and invite pressure. They simply have too many flaws.

The Blues’ clash with Norwich on Tuesday night would be an opportune time to switch back to the 4-2-3-1 – although the Canaries are that bad Lampard should get away with sticking to his guns – while closing fixtures against United and Liverpool, huge in the race for the top four, should see Chelsea set-up akin to how did against City.

But nevertheless, it’s something for Lampard to think about heading into next season in which the arrivals of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and potentially Kai Havertz will bring about different dilemmas but also more solutions.


Bayern Munich Targeting Tanguy Ndombele as Part of Midfield Overhaul

Tanguy Ndombele
Chelsea FC v Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

Bayern Munich are targeting a move for Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele as the Bavarians prepare for a mass exodus of midfielders this summer.

Ndombele has endured a frustrating campaign in north London thus far as a result of fitness woes, while his supposed strained relationship with manager Jose Mourinho and lack of minutes following the Premier League’s restart has thrust his future at the club into considerable doubt.

Tanguy Ndombele has made just two substitute appearances for Spurs since the restart | NEIL HALL/Getty Images

Despite the Lilywhites insisting the Frenchman’s not for sale this summer, Ndombele may seek to force an exit from N17 if he doesn’t see his future brightening up under Mourinho.

And one of the clubs looking to pounce on the incredibly talented midfielder are Bayern, with French news outlet Le10 Sport suggesting that Die Roten’s lack of funds following the purchase of Leroy Sane this summer mean they’re keen on an initial loan deal for Ndombele with an option to buy.

It’s the sort of move they’ve been able to pull off in recent times, most notably with James Rodriguez and Philippe Coutinho, although it appears unlikely that Spurs will agree to such a deal.

Nevertheless, with Thiago, Javi Martinez and Corentin Tolisso all potentially departing the Allianz Arena this summer, the need for midfield reinforcements is clear for Hansi Flick.

Tiemoue BakayokoTiemoue Bakayoko
Tiemoue Bakayoko enjoyed a loan spell at former club Monaco this season | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

If they’re unable to broker a deal for Ndombele, Chelsea’s Tiemoue Bakayoko has emerged as a fall-back option.

Bakayoko has enjoyed more fruitful spells out on loan at Milan and former employers Monaco following his difficult debut campaign in west London and it’s understood that Paris Saint-Germain are interested in signing the box-to-box midfielder this summer, while the Rossoneri are also keen on a deal.

Chelsea are holding out for €35m for the Frenchman’s services, which means Bayern may have to get creative if they want to bring in Bakayoko ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.


Marcelo Bielsa’s Brother Hints at Contract Extension for Leeds United Manager

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa could secure promotion with Leeds on Thursday | James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images

The brother of Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa has hinted that the Argentine would be open to extending his contract at the club.

The 64-year-old is on the verge of leading the Whites to the Championship title, which would seal promotion back to the Premier League after an extended 16-year absence.

Bielsa is revered by Leeds’ supporters for his style of management, while it’s thought that he’s happy in Yorkshire because of the impressive facilities on offer and overall identity of the club.

Pablo HernandezPablo Hernandez
Pablo Hernandez grabbed a crucial late winner against Swansea at the weekend | Harry Trump/Getty Images

His brother Rafael, who openly admitted that the pair haven’t spoken recently, has now told TYCSports that he can see no reason why Bielsa would not want to commit his future to Leeds, particularly if they do win the Championship.

“I did not visit him, but I read that in the city he is a rock star. He likes the identity of the club and its facilities.” he began.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to him but the question should be, how could you not renew your contract if you go up as champions? It’s always better to go to the Premier League with a team where you know all the players.”

Leeds could be promoted back to the Premier League if they can overcome Barnsley on Thursday and if Brentford drop points against Preston. Patrick Bamford could hold the key if he returns to goalscoring form, and Bielsa – Rafael, that is – is confident that he’ll fire the club to glory.

He added: “On Thursday, Patrick Bamford will get his reward for the two goals he missed in the last two games. I think fate will reward him.”

Patrick BamfordPatrick Bamford
Bamford was guilty of some big misses in Leeds’ last match | George Wood/Getty Images

Further weight behind the idea of Bielsa penning a new deal as Leeds has been provided by The Athletic’s Phil Hay – who has followed Leeds for over two decades – after he confirmed that the manager is willing to stay providing the terms of a new deal are right for him.


2 Man Utd Home-Grown Defenders Waiting in the Wings for First-Team Chance This Season

Ethan Laird has already played two first-team games for Man Utd
Ethan Laird has already played two first-team games for Man Utd | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams are both doubts for Manchester United’s must-win game on Thursday against Crystal Palace after suffering injuries in Monday’s draw with Southampton.

Shaw rolled his ankle in a painful looking incident, requiring a scan to assess the damage. Williams, meanwhile, needed stitches to close a gash on his head following an aerial challenge late on.

Luke ShawLuke Shaw
Luke Shaw suffered a painful ankle injury against Southampton | Pool/Getty Images

United have been performing well in recent weeks, but it is a reminder of the fragility of the squad looking ahead and highlights the increased possibility of more chances for youngsters between now and the end of the season as the club remains in three separate competitions.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinted at more opportunities for home-grown talents when speaking at a press conference last month. Where defenders are concerned, that particularly includes teenage pair Teden Mengi and Ethan Laird, both of whom have been training with the first-team.

Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe both remain injured, creating opportunities, especially now with extended benches of up to nine players allowed for the rest of this campaign.

Laird, who will turn 19 next month, is a right-back that has been on the fringes of the first-team all season. He has two senior appearances to his name already, both in the Europa League, and started the trip to Kazakhstan when United faced Astana in late November.

Teden MengiTeden Mengi
Teden Mengi has impressed at youth level | Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Mengi only recently turned 18. He is still yet to make a first-team debut but was on the bench that night in Kazakhstan and is reported to have impressed United coaches with his speed.

Although a centre-back by trade, getting a senior opportunity in his favoured position while still so young seems unlikely. But he has featured at left-back at Under-23 level this season and his pace would lend itself to that role were Solskjaer to turn to now him in the coming days or weeks.

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