Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho architects second half goal-fest at the Emirates

15 Aug
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Arsenal’s lack of personnel in defence may have been a concern prior to kickoff, but Arsene Wenger’s men were rarely tested for large portions of the first half.

Without Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel, and Per Mertesacker, Arsenal were forced to field a partnership between new signing Rob Holding and Calum Chambers. This could explain why Wenger opted for a defensive-minded midfield pairing of Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin to protect the make-shift back four, rather than handing Granit Xhaka his Gunners debut.

The duo ensured Liverpool’s attacking trio and Georginio Wijnaldum were forced to receive passes in tight areas, which ultimately constrained the away side’s attack. In return, Arsenal’s buildup play suffered as they lacked the creativity and passing range from deep that they would receive had Xhaka or Santi Cazorla operated in that zone. Still, Liverpool’s sole attacking threat in the opening half stemmed through Sadio Mane’s pace in transition and capitalizing on poor Arsenal passes out the back, opposed to exploiting space between the lines.

Klopp’s men were constantly harried in possession, meanwhile without the ball, they didn’t display the dynamic pressing they’ve become renowned for during the Liverpool manager’s reign. Therefore, Wenger’s men enjoyed the better spell of possession, despite experiencing a similar issue circulating the ball towards the attacking players.

Apart from a brief spell where Theo Walcott exploited Liverpool’s main weakness – Alberto Moreno’s positional intelligence – Arsenal’s buildup play was equally subdued. Aaron Ramsey drifted into pockets of space to link play, but the hosts lacked Giroud’s presence upfront and genuine passers in midfield.

Despite the sloppy play from both sides which should be expected in the opening weeks, the pattern of the match wasn’t surprising. Ramsey was able to float into space as Liverpool didn’t field a natural holding midfielder, while the narrow positioning from Klopp’s attacking players was negated due to Wenger’s decision to deploy two destroyers ahead of his make-shift back four.


Ultimately the defining feat of the match involved Philippe Coutinho – a popular Brazilian player that is highly rated based on the goals he scores rather than his overall performances. Here, however, Coutinho’s performance merited the plaudits he often receives, leaving Arsenal shell-shocked in the process.

“It looked like after half an hour with 1-0 for Arsenal — it’s very warm and it’s the first game — that it’s not a Liverpool day. But then we strike back and that’s very, very important,” Klopp said.

“It showed we can score goals. We can always score goals, and we can defend much better — that’s what we have to do.

Coutinho’s downfall in around the final third is his inability to make the right decisions or complete incisive passes around the box, but his efficiency at the Emirates was fairly promising. The late first half stoppage time equalizer was a sensational free-kick that provided a lifeline for the Reds who failed to test Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech in the opening half.

Arsenal’s energy levels declined significantly in the second half, which allowed Liverpool time to retain possession and constantly combine in the hosts’ half. First it was Coutinho’s no-look flick pass that enabled Wijnaldum to charge into half space to locate Lallana’s onrushing surge into the box to put Liverpool ahead. Minutes later, a lengthy Liverpool passing move saw Coutinho make a clever dart into the box to direct Nathaniel Clyne’s cross past Cech.

The simplicity in Liverpool’s move was down to improved interchanging movement along with Arsenal failing to replicate the work-rate showcased in the first half to close down ball carriers. An exceptional individual goal from new signing Mane appeared to put the game out of reach, but Wenger’s substitutions nearly ignited a three-goal comeback.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provided improved dynamism and direct running, which equally resulted in an individual slalom similar to Mane’s that decreased Liverpool’s lead. Then, Cazorla replaced the injured Ramsey and delivered a pacy curling free-kick with 15 minutes remaining to identify an equalizer.

Xhaka’s brief cameo displayed his passing range from deep, but Arsenal were still vulnerable in transition as they pushed men forward in search of a late goal. The worry for Klopp, however, was the near late collapse of a three-goal lead. You expect Liverpool’s pressing and energy levels to improve throughout the season, and though they finally exploited Arsenal’s unconvincing make-shift back four, Klopp’s men must sustain their defensive work-rate and mental discipline throughout 90 minutes.

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Even when Liverpool haven’t played well over the past few years, the Reds could still rely on a Coutinho wonder-goal. However, Liverpool’s win at the Emirates was the complete performance that saw the Brazilian score twice and create another. If Coutinho can consistently replicate performances of this nature on a weekly basis, it would not only merit his current status, but present Liverpool with a legitimate chance in challenging for a top-four spot this season.

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Posted by on August 15, 2016 in EPL, Published Work


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