The way Brendan Rodgers selected his formation, lineup and alignments all over the pitch resulted in a fantastic first half from Liverpool, but his substitutions later on helped Arsenal nearly score and deliver heavy pressure in the final minutes of a 0-0 draw.
Rodgers’ forced decision to start with Lucas and Emre Can in the midfield worked well for him. It allowed for the players up front (Christian Benteke, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, James Milner) to press high and create a lot of havoc near the penalty box. Liverpool got Petr Cech to make five saves in the first half. All of those chances came from forcing Arsenal to lose the ball in their own half.
Coutinho and Benteke were unlucky not to score. The brilliant Brazilian hit the crossbar and the post and also put in some work through passes to James Milner and Benteke they should have done more with. Benteke was busy winning most of his aerial and ground duels with two inexperienced centre backs, but his miss from three meters against Cech is something a striker of his caliber simply cannot miss.
Liverpool worked well far away from the Arsenal goal too. They defended with a line of six players and three in front of them. They denied Arsenal the ability to put the ball behind the defense in another impressive performance from the young left back Joe Gomez, while Nathaniel Clyne makes the nightmares Liverpool fans have about Glen Johnson disappear slowly into oblivion.
What didn’t work? The moment the match became a bit unruly and formations fell out of shape, Liverpool struggled. Players were moving into areas they shouldn’t be in, and while Milner and Can tried covering for everybody, showing impressive fitness, Arsenal got closer and closer in the second half through the open spaces and movement of their attacking players.
Taking a tired Firmino off and introducing Jordon Ibe was a killer pill for Liverpool for most of the second half. Ibe played on the wing and nothing else, losing almost every ball he had possession of and mostly doing defensive work. The second and third substitutions, throwing Alberto Moreno and Jordan Rossiter into the match, balanced things out a bit, but Liverpool (especially Moreno) wasted the few opportunities they still managed to put their hands on.
A 0-0 draw at Arsenal after doing so poorly in North London over the years can’t be something Liverpool complain about. Three clean sheets, 7 points after three matches. Far better than last season in the respective fixtures, including Stoke City away from home. Rodgers is still making mistakes, but considering the injuries and absences he had to deal with, he made the right choices early on, which almost won him the match. Luckily for him his later mistakes didn’t cost him.