Premier League 2020/21 Betting: Arsenal can beat Liverpool and get top four

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta
Arteta has been hugely successful so far

Alex Keble predicts that Arsenal have the tactical sophistication to beat Liverpool at Anfield and even make the top four this season...

"Looking ahead to how they will approach Liverpool on Monday sheds some light on how the manager’s tactical sophistication is a cut above the likes of Frank Lampard."

We might only be two weeks into the 2020/21 campaign but watching just 180 minutes of each club is enough to begin to see patterns emerge in the race for a Top 4 Finish.

That might sound premature and overly dramatic, as if giving in to modern football's worst instincts of short-termism and the perpetual declarations of crises and saviours. But English football is in the midst of a tactical transition that looks set to divide the sport for the next decade to come, and the defining feature - 'automatisms' - can be spotted within just a couple of games.

At Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester United, the team's tactical patterns both on- and off-the-ball are relatively improvised; the structures taught in training, of course, but only in broad strokes as players are told to freely improvise on match day. At Liverpool, Manchester City, and now Arsenal, excruciating attention to detail creates hyper-structured possession and pressing, until set moves are etched into muscle memory.

This latter approach is how the world's best coaches now organise their tactics, allowing their teams to think four or five moves ahead, to swarm and re-compress in perfect synchronicity, and to control the tempo of a game not through creativity but via automated actions. They are insulated from emotional volatility and the accompanying spells of poor form, hence the 93+ points needed to lift the Premier League title in each of the last four seasons.

Arsenal under Mikel Arteta are still some way off Liverpool's or Man City's level, but they are heading in a direction that increasingly makes them look a good bet to finish in the top four this season, at 9/52.78.

Looking ahead to how they will approach Liverpool on Monday sheds some light on how the manager's tactical sophistication is a cut above the likes of Frank Lampard.

Arsenal high pressing can force errors

In the 2-1 win over Liverpool in July, admittedly against a side with nothing to play for as the season wound down, Arsenal capitalised on two poor defensive errors. However, it does Arteta's ruthlessly organised high press a disservice to suggest these were random, anomalous mistakes.

Alexandre Lacazette cups ear 1280.jpg

Virgil van Dijk gave the ball away for Alexandre Lacazette to score only because Arsenal's man-to-man press had cut off all of his passing options, while Alisson's error was pounced upon brilliantly by Lacazette, charging in to steal the ball away from Andrew Robertson. That sort of organisation, targeting key individuals in the press as well as ensuring the team remain compressed between the lines, is typical of the work Arteta has done since his arrival.

He has shown a level of intricacy in positional work far exceeding, for example, Lampard at Chelsea, where the press is so disorganised they were been forced to simply sit deep and await the onslaught when facing the champions. Last weekend, Liverpool gradually ground Chelsea into submission. They won't be allowed to do that when Arsenal come to Anfield.

Arsenal runners can catch Liverpool's high line

One thing that separates Arteta's structured possession and fluid formation switches from the patterns of his tutor Pep Guardiola is the Arsenal manager's tendency to play a more vertical game. Depending on the opponent, the Gunners will ensure there are multiple runners at any one time looking to receive direct balls in behind the opposition defence, each one moving in sync to create decoy runs. These could leave Van Dijk or Joe Gomez twisting and turning.

That's certainly what Leeds United managed to do in the season opener, when Marcelo Bielsa's wild runners forced the Liverpool centre-backs into uncomfortable positions. Liverpool's tendency to allow both full-backs forward can leave them light on either side of defence, which is where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Lacazette, and Willian will look to dart.

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Arteta is keen not to allow his side to fall into the trap of stale possession, favouring assertive forward passing options to U-shapes across the back. He might have struggled to achieve that with consistency so far, but against a possession-dominant Liverpool team there will be more space on the counter-attack than usual.

Saka and Tierney roles in the hybrid are dangerous

But for a more detailed view on the intelligence and microscopic detail Arteta applies to player positioning, we should focus on how Arsenal shift from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3 in possession. It's all about the movement of Kieran Tierney and Saka on the left wing - and it just happens to be the area that will cause most damage to Liverpool on Monday night.

Tierney has recently been fielded as a left-sided centre-back for two reasons. Firstly, his technical ability allows him to play incisive line-breaking passes into midfield, preventing Arsenal's possession from becoming sterile. Secondly, it means Arsenal can fluidly change shape when they have the ball, with Tierney arcing out to become an attacking left-back (mimicking, to some extent, Chris Wilder's overlapping centre-backs) and left wing-back Saka dipping infield to become part of a central midfield three.

It is no secret that Liverpool's narrow 4-3-3 can be got at down the flanks. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are expected to provide the width in attack as Klopp's front three stay narrow, which leaves just the two centre-backs (and a dropping defensive midfielder) to attempt to cover the wings should the opponent manage to break.

Alexander-Arnold is likely to struggle to cope with how Tierney and Saka drift around on that flank, forming triangles with Aubameyang as he makes diagonal runs off the same channel. To make matters worse, Liverpool's full-backs are generally limited effectively by opponents fielding wing-backs free to step up and meet those crosses. Klopp's men could be outnumbered and out-thought on the left flank - and at both ends of the pitch.

That is not to say Arsenal are close to Liverpool's level, of course. They will not challenge for the league title this season, no matter what the final score is at Anfield on Monday night. But what their performance will likely show, adding to the evidence accruing over nine months of Arteta's reign, is that Arsenal are more tactically astute than any of their top-four rivals.

English Premier League: English Premier League (Top 4 Finish 2020/21)

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