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Tactics Board: Liverpool suffocate the Gunners with gegenpressing masterclass

Shane Keegan examines how Jurgen Klopp’s side dismantled Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday.

Updated Nov 22nd 2021, 9:34 PM

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LIVERPOOL CAME INTO this game on the back of recent wobble, collecting just one point from their previous two games against West Ham and Brighton.

Arsenal, on the other hand, had won their last three and were unbeaten in eight.

With Chelsea picking up another comfortable three points in the early kick-off, Jurgen Klopp’s side needed to get the bit back between their teeth.

They certainly managed to do that.

liverpool-england-20th-november-2021-jurgen-klopp-manager-of-liverpool-c-and-mikel-arteta-manager-of-arsenal-disagree-and-are-kept-apart-during-the-premier-league-match-at-anfield-liverpool-pic Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta during a heated exchange on the touchline. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Liverpool produce an exhibition in gegenpressing to demolish Arsenal

When Klopp first arrived in the Premier League, there was one word which constantly popped up in every article and conversation that attempted to explain his methods – gegenpressing.

Translated, the phrase simply means counter-pressing. The idea behind the phrase is that a team are at their most vulnerable if possession can be regained from them just as they themselves are attempting to launch a counter-attack.

To do this effectively, a team needs to be brave by playing with a high line so that their players are close together and thus can hunt in packs.

And when the ball is won back, they should instantly look to go for the kill. While Klopp’s sides don’t have a patent on the concept of gegenpressing, they do tend to show a commitment to it that few others can match.

It isn’t a flawless approach and can be a high-risk strategy, but when they get it right it can completely suffocate the opposition to the point where they can see no way out.

Saturday evening’s demolition of Arsenal was a case in point.

Nowhere to go

The first example came on 13 minutes when Thiago Alcantara played a pass to Diogo Jota just outside the box and he attempted go past Ben White.

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White makes a good tackle and when the ball breaks lose, Arsenal look well set to deal with any danger as they have four players around the ball while Liverpool only have Thiago.

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But it’s the Spanish international who comes out on top, retreating quickly to get a block on Bukayo Saka’s attempted pass and deflecting it back into the path of Jota. He in turn slips in Mohamed Salah, whose cut back was just out of the reach of the incoming Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

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It wasn’t until the second half that Klopp’s favourite tactic really took off though. Again it started with Thiago, this time finding Oxlade-Chamberlain.

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His attempted pass was poor and results in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang picking up the ball. But have a look at just how quickly Liverpool’s midfield triangle descends upon him, allowing Fabinho to take the ball off him and set Oxlade-Chamberlain away again. His shot goes just wide of the post.

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Just two minutes later, Arsenal wouldn’t be so lucky. This time, Oxlade-Chamberlain fired a diagonal ball out wide to Trent Alexander-Arnold, who is closed down by Nuno Tavares.

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The young Portuguese left-back initially does very well, winning the ball and accelerating away into space. With Emile Smith Rowe running outside him it looks as though Arsenal will get out safely until he plays a dreadful ball straight into the path of Jota.

There is no excusing what was an awful mistake but it is worth noting how the Liverpool players helped create the error.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was very quick to close from the front while Alexander-Arnold’s recovery run meant that the pass out of Smith Rowe was never really on. Jota, as ever, had also got himself back out into a position where he could be a nuisance.

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Following the interception, Jota’s footwork, in selling dummies to both White and Aaron Ramsdale before finishing into an empty goal, was a joy to watch.

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Shortly after this goal, the below graphic appeared on Sky Sports.

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To be up 8-0 on possessions won in the final third of the field after 55 minutes was quite remarkable and highlighted just how outstanding Liverpool had been in this respect.

But they weren’t done yet. Just a minute after the graphic came up, Liverpool gave another perfect example of gegenpressing.

Jota picks up and the ball in a good position and tried to play in Mane but White makes the interception.

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The ball ends up with Gabriel who passes out to Tavares, but as he does so Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexander-Arnold start the counter press.

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Tavares manages to wriggle away from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s challenge but only gets a few yards further before he is double-teamed by the retreating Alexander-Arnold and Thiago.

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Thiago is quick to find Oxlade-Chamberlain and as he slides in Salah, we can see Alexander-Arnold has no intention of sitting back and watching.

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Salah cuts back and finds him and only an excellent block stops the marauding full-back from finding the back of the net.

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Amazingly, just a minute later and it was more of the same. Kostas Tsimikas breaks down the left and plays inside to Jota but his touch lets him down and the ball falls to Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

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As the Arsenal substitute passes to Smith Rowe, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexander-Arnold are again so quick to close down the space.

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Smith Rowe is forced into passing the ball back towards Maitland-Niles but the ever-prowling Jota steals in yet again to flick it away from him and set Oxlade-Chamberlain away.

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He finds Salah, who cushions it to Jota only for Ramsdale to make another fine save.

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Conclusion

Liverpool were brilliant in all aspects of their play in this game.

Their pressing approach when Arsenal were trying to build up was just as effective as their gegenpressing, and the pace of their attacks sprung from deep was devastating.

Arsenal were quite simply blown out of the water. The only bright spot for them was the man-of-the-match display by Ramsdale.

In a game in which they were beaten four-nil, that probably tells you all you need to know.

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