Arsenal’s performance in their 4-0 defeat against Liverpool provoked anger and frustration from supporters, sections of the media and club legends.
Arsene Wenger’s team selection and tactics were heavily criticised as he started rumoured want-away midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez but left the club’s record signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench.
Would a different Arsenal starting XI be able to turn the tables on Jürgen Klopp’s side? To help us answer that question we turned to Football Manager and replayed the fixture with a variety of tactics.
Here’s how it unfolded…
The decision to bench Lacazette was one of the most criticised aspects of Arsenal’s defeat. The French striker has seen 196 minutes of action in the league this season with a return of one goal, which happened to come in the season opener against Leicester.
Against the resolute Stoke defence the previous week, Lacazette had been relatively ineffective but Liverpool’s more porous defence should have given Lacazette more of a chance to have an impact on the game. As it turned out, by the time that he was brought on Arsenal were already 3-0 down and disharmony was spreading through the ranks.
In our virtual rematch Lacazette was a key focal point in our attack, linking up well with Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud as our 5-3-1-1 formation proved effective at stretching Liverpool’s defensive line and cutting off their supply chain to their dangerous attacking players.
Our faith in Lacazette was rewarded with a brace and the Man of the Match award as the Frenchman grabbed a goal either side of half-time to put us in the ascendancy.
While Arsenal were poor in front of goal last Sunday (they failed to register a single shot on target) their defensive performance was, frankly, woeful.
Perhaps the most glaring example of this was in the build-up to the opening goal when both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey were distracted by something on the sidelines as Liverpool worked the ball into the box for Roberto Firmino to score. They were branded ‘cowards’ by Jamie Carragher in the immediate aftermath of the match and generally showed a lack of desire and organisation throughout the 90 minutes.
To help keep things tighter at the back we recalled Sead Kolašinac – also benched on Sunday – in place of Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Bellerin and Kolasinac swapping flanks and sitting slightly deeper as wing-backs. The theory was that we would be able to use Bellerin’s pace to help us on the attack but had Kolasinac as cover if Liverpool hit us on the counter.
It worked superbly bar the occasional misplaced pass from the central midfielders and Rob Holding mistimed a couple of tackles that gave Firmino a run on goal.
We could do nothing to prevent Liverpool’s only goal of the contest as Georginio Wijnaldum pounced on some uncertainty amongst our central defenders to head home from a corner. Set pieces were the main source of worry for us as Cech was called into action on three occasions over the course of the match because of our inability to win the first ball during a set piece.
Thankfully we were able to reduce the amount of Liverpool set pieces to a handful.
Arsenal’s display on Sunday combined with the possibility of losing two or three players before the end of the transfer window without much prospect of making additions to their squad means that morale amongst the Arsenal faithful has sunk once again. We saw last season how the negativity from sections of the crowd affected the players at key moments and Arsene Wenger has a job on his hands to prevent that happening again.
Urgent improvement at the back is required but Wenger needs to inject some passion and desire into his squad if they’re to mount any sort of challenge on the Premier League summit.
Lacazette’s link-up play with Özil was a key factor in our victory on FM but we also addressed some of the tactical errors that Wenger made in his team selection. If he continues to pick players who seemingly have one eye on the Emirates’ exit then he can expect more criticism from the fans and the media, more negativity around the club and more calls for his resignation.