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Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal: How Unai Emery’s tactical gamble failed to disrupt the Reds’ juggernaut

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Where did Unai Emery go wrong against Liverpool?

The high-octane encounter featuring Liverpool and Arsenal was expected to be one of the games to watch out for in Round 3 of the Premier League but the Reds absolutely destroyed the Gunners, thus turning a much-anticipated fixture into a rather one-sided affair. 

The fans at Anfield might argue that they had their money’s worth, watching Jurgen Klopp’s army continue their juggernaut in the Premier League, however, from a neutral perspective, it wasn’t a great game to witness. 

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Having lost just once in the Premier League since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, Liverpool were the outright favourites on paper but one would have expected Arsenal to put up a better fight, especially after encouraging performances against Newcastle United and Burnley in their first couple of fixtures this term.  

Klopp hardly made any significant changes to the starting eleven that won 2-1 against Southampton, with only a couple of changes coming in the midfield. 

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner dropped to the bench to make way for Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, with the manager making no further alterations to his defence and the prolific front three of Mane, Salah and Firmino. 

Unai Emery, on the other hand, went for a completely different shape, opting for a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation as opposed to the regular 4-2-3-1 style that he had fielded against Burnley.

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However, there were only a couple of changes in personnel, with Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette making way for Granit Xhaka and Nicolas Pepe, who was handed his first Premier League start. 

Dani Ceballos, who played in the No.10 position, filled the gap behind Aubameyang and Pepe, and complemented a midfield trio consisting of Matteo Guendouzi, Granit Xhaka and Joe Willock.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Nacho Monreal started as the two full-backs, with Emery choosing to continue with the centre-back pairing of David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. 

As evident from the way Arsenal went about things in the first half, Emery’s motive was to block the passing lanes in the middle of the park, press Liverpool off the ball, win possession back and then hit the opposition on the counter-attack. 

Indeed, Arsenal had the pace of Pepe and Aubameyang up top to hurt the hosts badly on the break but their narrow shape in the midfield didn’t really pay rich dividends.

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Apparently, Emery wanted to field a compact formation to deny Liverpool any space to exploit between the lines but the Spaniard missed a big trick with his reading of the game. 

Emery seemed to have forgotten that Liverpool rely heavily on the full-back pairing of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson to offer width on either side of the pitch and allow the likes of Salah and Mane to drift inside and occupy the spaces between the opposition’s defenders. 

Turning the clock back to last season, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson had amassed a staggering 23 assists between them in the Premier League, thus making up for the lack of a natural No.10 in Liverpool’s ranks. 

Ideally, even a layman would know that Liverpool do not have a world-class creative midfielder to exploit the gaps between the lines and create space in the midfield, which is exactly the reason why Arsenal’s ploy to play a narrow line never looked justified. 

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Going by what Liverpool had to offer, Arsenal should have emphasized on blocking the supply of crosses from the wide areas but instead, they chose to defend narrow and virtually played the game into Liverpool’s hands from a tactical point of view. 

As a result, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson found themselves in acres of space down the wide areas and although Robertson’s crossing wasn’t up to his usual standards, Liverpool’s relentless attacking play from the flanks finally produced the desired results. 

Yet, realistically, Arsenal’s tactics apparently worked to good effect for almost the entirety of the first half, as they sat back deep inside their own half and coped quite well with the barrage of crosses coming into the box from the flanks.

However, it was always going to be a matter of time before that risky ploy backfired and Joel Matip’s headed goal at the stroke of the interval opened the floodgates for Mo Salah to completely demolish the Gunners in the second half. 

Emery should have known that David Luiz, despite all his technical abilities, power and experience, has a habit of being rash and indecisive against quality attacking players. And that was on display twice in the second half as the Brazilian played a part in each of Salah’s goals.

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Arsenal’s tactical blunder to leave wide open spaces on the flanks allowed Liverpool’s full-backs to attempt a total of 23 crosses on Saturday, with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold accumulating a total of 9 key passes.

Surely, with their calibre, it’s hard to see how they wouldn’t have made a telling difference when provided with so much room to torment the opposition.  

Interestingly, some of the Arsenal fans might argue that things could have been different had Pepe and Aubameyang managed to capitalise on the chances on the counter-attack in the first half.

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That, however, would sound more like a protective measure to keep the manager away from the firing line after the 3-1 loss. 

Liverpool, on the contrary, should be happy with the three points and that victory leaves Klopp’s side at the top of the standings as the only team in the Premier League with a perfect record after three games. 

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3 Winners and 3 Losers from PL gameweek 5 including Tottenham and Arsenal

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3 Winners and 3 Losers from Premier League gameweek 5

Premier League action returned with a bang after the end of the first international break of the season and Round 5 of the 2019-20 campaign produced some mesmerizing football for all sets of fans to savour and admire. 

Man City’s shock 3-2 defeat away at Norwich City was arguably the hottest talking point from this weekend, while a few of the other big-six clubs, including Man United, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea should also be happy with how things panned out for them in Round 5.

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Arsenal blew away a two-goal lead at Vicarage Road to share the spoils in a 2-2 draw against Watford, while top-six hopefuls Everton were beaten 3-1 away at Bournemouth. 

Watford and Wolves once again finished the week as the only two sides in the Premier League who are yet to register a single victory thus far. 

Without further ado, let us take a look at 3 winners and 3 losers from Round 5 of the Premier League:

Winners

1. Liverpool 

Jurgen Klopp’s side stretched their lead over defending champions Man City to five points at the top of the table, as a first-half brace from Sadio Mane followed by a third goal from Mo Salah in the second half guided the Reds to a comfortable 3-1 comeback victory over Newcastle United. 

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Jetro Willems put the Magpies in the driver’s seat early in the game with his pile driver from the edge of the box but heroics from Mane, and Roberto Firminio who came on as a substitute for Divock Origi midway through the first half ensured that Liverpool stretched their winning run in the Premier League to 14 games in a row, becoming only the fourth team to achieve such a feat. 

While it was more of a regulation victory for Liverpool, the fans at Anfield have every reason to hope that Man City’s stumble at Carrow Road proves to be one of the title-defining moments later on in the season.

Nevertheless, for the time being, Liverpool have a lot of breathing space with a five-point lead at the top of the standings.

2. Chelsea

It was a treat to watch how Chelsea’s young guns completely whitewashed an underwhelming Wolves side 2-5 away from home on Saturday, with Tammy Abraham’s hat-trick making him the youngest Blues player to achieve such a feat in the Premier League. 

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Frank Lampard’s side had come under criticism for blowing away a two-goal lead at home against Sheffield United prior to the international break but the Blues absolutely demolished Wolves in ruthless fashion to get back to winning ways and finished the week placed 6th in the standings.

While Abraham stole much of the limelight with his hat-trick, fellow academy graduate Fikayo Tomori also got the crowd off its feet with an absolute stunner from 35 yards out, as did Mason Mount, who bagged his third goal of the league season.

3. Tottenham Hotspur

Having lost 1-0 to Newcastle United and drawn 2-2 away at Arsenal prior to the international break, Spurs came into the game against Crystal Palace with only a solitary victory in their first four games. 

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However, the home fans will be relieved after the Lilywhites produced arguably their best display of the season thus far and cruised to a comfortable 4-0 victory over Roy Hodgson’s side, who dropped down to 12th place in the standings after that defeat. 

An own goal from Patrick van Aanholt, sandwiched by Heung-min Son’s brace and Erik Lamela’s strike made the score 4-0 before the interval and though Spurs moved up to 3rd place in the standings this week, they still have plenty of catch-up to do if they are to get back in the title race. 

Losers

1. Man City

It was always going to be interesting to see how Man City would cope with the opposition in the Premier League following Aymeric Laporte’s injury and the defensive blunders against Norwich City are sure to have Pep Guardiola scratching his head to find a solution for the upcoming fixtures. 

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Some poor marking allowed Kenny McLean to head home the opener for the Canaries early in the first-half before Teemu Pukki took advantage of some ineffective coordination at the back to set up Todd Cantwell for the second. 

Sergio Aguero pulled one back just at the stroke of the interval but a horrible error from Nicolas Otamendi allowed Pukki to make it 3-1 in favour of the hosts. It stayed that way until Rodrigo found a late goal. City struggled to hit great heights against a Norwich side that ran them ragged with their never-say-die mentality on the pitch. 

Undoubtedly, Man City’s defeat comes as the first big twist in the title race and Guardiola will be aware that his team cannot afford such slip-ups if they are to keep themselves within striking distance of Liverpool at the top of the table.

2. Arsenal

Arsenal didn’t have the worst of results in Round 5 but Unai Emery is likely to be disappointed to have come away with just a draw from the trip to Watford, with the Gunners blowing away a two-goal lead in the second half to somehow salvage a point. 

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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brace in the first half was cancelled out by goals from Tom Cleverly and Roberto Pereyra after the interval, the latter coming from the penalty spot after the Argentine was tripped by David Luiz inside the box.

A victory over Watford would have propelled the Gunners to 3rd place in the standings, ahead of Spurs, who currently hold that position, but some poor defending and lack of resilience at the back cost Arsenal heavily once again.

3. Everton

A victory over Bournemouth would have seen Everton finish the week in the top four but instead, the Toffees currently find themselves outside the top-ten, languishing at 11th place in the standings after suffering a 3-1 defeat to the Cherries away on the south coast.

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Callum Wilson’s opener was cancelled out by Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header just at the stroke of the interval before Ryan Fraser made it 2-1 with a free-kick and Wilson put the game to bed with his second goal midway through the second half. 

The Toffees failed to capitalise on their chances and this defeat definitely comes as a big blow to their hopes of challenging for a top-six place. 

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3 Talking points from Watford 2-2 Arsenal ahead of PL gameweek 6

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3 Talking points from Watford 2-2 Arsenal ahead of gameweek 6

Arsenal and Watford played out arguably one of the most enthralling encounters in the Premier League so far this season, as the Hornets came back from two goals down to salvage a point at Vicarage Road in their first game following the return of Quique Sanchez Flores as the new manager. 

Arsenal had more of the possession in the first half and went into the interval with a two-goal advantage, thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brace.

Sead Kolasinac set up Aubameyang for the opener with a driving run while Mesut Ozil’s wonderful pick-out paved the way for Ainsley-Maitland Niles to assist the Gabonese for his second.

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However, Watford came out with more determination in the second half and took the game by the scruff of the neck. The Hornets completely dominated the proceedings, had more efforts on target and were by and large the better side by a long margin.

Gerard Deulofeu’s clever interception inside Arsenal’s penalty area allowed Tom Cleverly to pull one back in the 53rd minute before a mistimed challenge from David Luiz on Roberto Pereyra inside the box led to Pereyra’s equaliser from the penalty spot nine minutes from time. 

Watford had plenty of chances to wrap up a famous victory at home over the Gunners but Bernd Leno made some smart interventions to save the blushes for the Gunners, who have only themselves to blame for blowing away a golden chance to finish the week in the top 4.

Here are 3 talking points from Vicarage Road:

1. Playing out from the back

The new ruling in the Premier League, which allows players to be inside the box during goal-kick situations, certainly favours teams opting to play out from the back with short exchanges. And Arsenal, who pride themselves in using such tactics to good effect, were the architects of their own downfall on Sunday. 

Watford were very much alive to the Gunners’ tactics and when they tried to play the ball out from the back with short lateral passes. The Hornets adopted a high pressing style to disrupt their rhythm. 

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In the build-up to Watford’s first goal, Leno passed the ball to Sokratis, who apparently thought that passing it to a crowded Matteo Guendouzi was a good idea.

Deulofeu, who was just waiting for a sniff to win the ball back, put out his leg to intercept the ball inside the box and Cleverly made it 2-1 with a cool finish. 

That, however, wasn’t the only time when Arsenal were sloppy when playing out from the back. Guendouzi was robbed off the ball inside his own penalty area in the first half and had it not been for Leno’s fine reflex save, the Gunners would have got some serious stick from their own fans. 

Quite clearly, Arsenal were too slow while playing out from the back and Emery, who knows a lot about the implementation of such tactics, will be aware of the fact that he needs to put in a lot more work on the training ground to avoid such embarrassment in the future. 

2. Watford’s resurgence under Sanchez Flores

The 2-2 draw was probably a fair reflection of the balance of the game but Quique Sanchez Flores would know that his team was ever so close to registering its first victory of the Premier League this term. 

Having failed to win any of their league games since April last season, the Hornets looked short of confidence under Javi Gracia but the appointment of Sanchez Flores has come as a breath of fresh air amongst the players, who put in a lion-hearted performance and showed the audacity to take the game to Arsenal. 

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The writing seemed to be on the wall for the hosts when they went into the interval with a two-goal deficit but the way they fought back to salvage a draw speaks volumes of their character and resilience, highlighting the change in mentality that the new manager has already brought to his unit. 

Looking at the stats, Watford had as many as 31 attempts over the course of the ninety minutes on Saturday, 10 of which were on target, while Arsenal managed to get only 4 out of their 7 attempts on target.  

Furthermore, the Hornets finished the game with 53% possession, which is largely a result of their unrivalled dominance in the second half, while the work rate of the players and the ability to carve out chances on a regular basis were a few other hallmarks of their performance. 

Despite the impressive 2-2 draw, Watford stayed at the bottom of the Premier League table with just 2 points from their first 5 games but they certainly won’t be there for long if they continue their resurgence under Sanchez Flores.

3. Luiz a liability once again

Arsenal’s persistent woes at the back over the past 12 months have been one of the biggest talking points of Unai Emery’s reign at the Emirates and the club’s hasty decision to bring in an impetuous centre-back like David Luiz in the summer has already shown early signs of backfiring, with the Brazilian veteran conceding yet another penalty on Saturday. 

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Luiz was quite horrible with his decision-making and mentality at the back in the games against Liverpool and Spurs, and his clip on Pereyra just inside the box paved the way for the Hornets to equalise in the second half.

Looking back at how things shaped up over the ninety minutes, the very fact that Watford managed to register 31 attempts is a clear indication of the fact that the Gunners just didn’t do enough at the back to close down the attackers soon enough. 

In fact, they were lucky not to have conceded three or four goals, thanks to some goalkeeping heroics from Leno and some poor finishing from the home side.

If Luiz continues to let the team down on such a regular basis, Emery might have his work cut out in guiding the team to a top-four finish this season. 

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[Image] Premier League Team of the Week for gameweek 5 featuring Chelsea duo and Norwich star

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2019-20 Premier League: Team of the Week Round 5

Premier League returned to action with a bang this weekend after the end of the international break and Round 5 witnessed plenty of turnarounds in fortunes for some of the big-six clubs.

Liverpool beat Newcastle to preserve their perfect record, Spurs and Chelsea returned to winning ways after a lacklustre start and Arsenal played out an enthralling 2-2 draw away at Watford.

Wolves continued their losing habits and Everton stumbled against Bournemouth, while newcomers Norwich City grabbed the headlines with a shock 3-2 victory over Man City at Carrow Road.  

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There were plenty of individual performances that got the crowd off their seats and it is now time to assemble the standout performers from Round 5 in our Team of the Week.

Premier League Team of the Week

Tim Krul (GK)

The Dutchman showed a tremendous level of calmness and composure between the sticks against a world-class Man City attack and made several key saves to propel his team to an upset victory. 

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Serge Aurier (RB)

Perhaps a rather surprise inclusion in the list, the Ivorian announced his return to Spurs’ starting eleven in an emphatic manner and stole the show against Crystal Palace with a superb all-round display. 

Harry Maguire (CB)

The England international returned to face his former club Leicester City and did ever so well to keep Jamie Vardy at bay in the Red Devils’ 1-0 victory at Old Trafford. 

Fikayo Tomori (CB)

He might not have done an awful lot defensively in Chelsea’s 5-2 victory over Wolves but his 35-yeard screamer is likely to be one of the top contenders for the Goal of the Season award.

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Andrew Robertson (LB)

The Scotsman assisted Sadio Mane’s equaliser in the 3-1 triumph over Newcastle and put in yet another lion-hearted performance down the left-hand side of the pitch.

Scott McTominay (CDM)

The youngster was one of the brightest sparks in United’s victory over Leicester this weekend, thwarting the Foxes with numerous interventions in the middle of the park. 

Emiliano Buendia (LM)

Norwich City, as a unit, completely outplayed Man City in the 3-1 win at home and the Argentinian was one of the standout performers with his creativity and uncompromised work rate. 

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Heung-min Son (RM)

The Korean hasn’t had the best start to the season but he finally rose to the occasion and bagged a brace in the 4-0 drubbing of Crystal Palace, including a stunning volley that rattled the net. 

Roberto Firmino (CAM)

The only inclusion in the elite eleven who came on as a substitute, the Brazilian changed the whole complexion of the game in favour of Liverpool and completely bamboozled the Magpies with his guile, craft and work rate. 

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (ST)

One of the sure contenders for the Golden Boot this season, the Gabonese international took his tally up to 5 goals with a well-taken brace against Watford. 

Tammy Abraham (ST)

The Chelsea academy graduate just can’t stop scoring at the moment. The youngster bagged a hat-trick in the Blues’ 5-2 triumph over Wolves and took his tally up to 7, becoming Chelsea youngest-ever player to score a Premier League hat-trick. 

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