Exactly how Arsenal beat Liverpool in the League after losing in the FA Cup?



By Tony Attwood

The background chitter chatter is always there so if you will excuse me I will deal with this first before giving the answer to the issue raised in the headline, that is how did Arsenal lose 0-2 at home in the FA Cup on 7 January but then in just under one month, at the same ground beat Liverpool 3-1 in the league?

It is an interesting question because that 0-2 defeat to Liverpool was the last game before the brakes came off and Arsenal started hammering everyone in sight, beginning with the 5-0 pummeling of Palace and then a couple of weeks later the Liverpool win.

And it is also interesting because at the same time as Arsenal have been having their great run we also are told that reports in Spain on Sunday night claimed, “Arteta is ready to step down and take the Barcelona job in the summer after Xavi announced he is leaving the Catalan giants.”  

Although, this being the English media we then had, “Arsenal manager has no plans to leave despite shock Barcelona reports.”   So it goes.

And indeed we can understand why when we read in the Telegraph that “Arsenal’s defence have become three times better than anyone else’s.”

The argument is that since the turn of the year, no team in the Premier League has defended as intensively and effectively as Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. “They are pressing higher and faster than ever, suffocating their opponents and blocking all exit routes.” 

And yet, just a few weeks earlier, according to the Guardian “Arsenal might have played for another 90 minutes and failed to score in the FA Cup match against Liverpool.   But in fact the sides did meet again in the league and then Arsenal won 3-1.

So what I want to show here is exactly how Arsenal changed between the defeat to Liverpool and the victory over Liverpool which is part of the current run of victories.

In that FA Cup game Arsenal had 44% more chances than Liverpool.  Arsenal had 67% more shots on target than Liverpool.   Arsenal had 150% more corners than Liverpool.     Liverpool as they have been doing all season committed 37% more fouls than Arsenal,    Liverpool got four yellow cards – Arsenal one.

And Arsenal had 6% more possession than Liverpool.

So with all those figures being in Arsenal’s favour, something odd was clearly happening in that game.  Or indeed if it was not, surely all those figures which the Guardian and other papers reported, were meaningless.  How can it be that one side can dominate possession, chances, shots, and corners while the other club gets the yellow cards and wins?

It is a fundamental question that comes out of that game, and I have not seen a single newspaper try and answer it.  Maybe there was one and I missed it – if so please tell.

So now let us have a look at another game.  One month later on February 4 the same sides, the same place, and this is how the statistics changed.  And given that Arsenal lost the 7 January game and won the 4 February game you might find some of these figures (such as the number shots) interesting.


Club/date Shots on target Fouls Possession Attempts
Arsenal 7 Jan 7 10 43 13
Liverpool 7 Jan 1 10 57 9
Arsenal 4 Feb 5 11 53 8
Liverpool 4 Feb 3 15 47 9


So how did Arsenal win the 4 February game after losing the 7 January game?  One curious factor is that in the game they won Arsenal had reduced their shots on target while Liverpool increased theirs – but not enough to match Arsenal’s output.

But while Arsenal’s fouling remained much the same (10 fouls in the first game, 11 in the second), Liverpool’s fouling went up by 50%.    That was clearly a decision to hit Arsenal where it hurt, or as Corporal Jones might have said had he been in the dressing room, “They don’t like it up em”.

However, most dramatically, Arsenal took hold of possession, increasing their possession percentage by 10% and thus of course reducing Liverpool’s possession by 10%.  Arsenal also reduced their number of attempts, clearly waiting for a better opportunity rather than shooting on sight.  Arsenal in fact made 62% more attempts in the first game which they lost than in the second game which they won.

So we have a curious set of data.   Arsenal raised their possession but took fewer chances.  That looks strange but in effect what Arsenal did was to hold the ball more once they got it rather than push forward and have an attempt on goal.  Simple but incredibly effective.


3 Replies to “Exactly how Arsenal beat Liverpool in the League after losing in the FA Cup?”

  1. What do they say ?

    Can’t see the forest for the trees

    Seems exactly that Tony. You see the forest.

  2. Makes more sense to shoot when you have a clear opening than to have multiple shots blocked. Guess which method gets you more goals?

  3. “So with all those figures being in Arsenal’s favour, something odd was clearly happening in that game. Or indeed if it was not, surely all those figures which the Guardian and other papers reported, were meaningless. How can it be that one side can dominate possession, chances, shots, and corners while the other club gets the yellow cards and wins?”

    But it wasn’t just that match.

    I did a similar comparison between our 2 West Ham defeats and our 6-0 victory, and in all but goals scored we dominated the 2 defeats just as much as the victory. In fact in the home defeat all our stats were superior except goals scored.

    And in fact I looked even deeper as I had felt that despite some poor results prior to our good we had been playing very well. so, back on the 18th of February I did a bigger statistical comparison between our run of 5 victories against Burnley, West ham, Liverpool, Notts forest and Crystal palace and the pervious 5 league matches against Fulham, West ham, Liverpool Brighton and Aston Villa., which included 3 defeats, 1 draw and 1 victory.

    I think the comparisons are remarkable, so if you can be asked I think they are worth a read:

    First the defence comparing the last 5 victories (first number) with the previous 5 poor results (second number):

    Shots Faced: 44 in the good run compared with 50 in the poor run.

    So, a slight improvement from 5 per game down to 4.5 per game.

    On Target: 10 in the good run compared with 14 in the poor run.

    So, another improvement from almost 3 on target down to just 2 on target per game.

    Goals Conceded: 2 in the good run compared with 6 in the poor run.

    So, this is the biggy. A massive improvement from conceding over a goal per game in the poor run, down to conceding under half a goal per game in the good run.

    From the 14 shots On Target in that poor run of 5 games, almost half of them, 6 to be precise, hit the back of our net.

    That is remarkable. But why was that? Bad luck? Poor goalkeeping? I’m not sure. Most likely a bit of each, but there is no doubt conceding so many goals from such a relatively low amount of shots on target was unusual. And costly.

    Whatever it was, there is no doubt something changed. Yes, we have reduced the amount of shots on target per game from almost 3 to 2, which is obviously good, but the massive change is in how many of those OT shots have hit the back of our net. We’ve gone from conceding 6 goals from 14 shots OT during the poor run, or almost 1 in 2 OT shots going in, to conceding just 2 goals from 10 On Target in our good run, or 1 in 5 OT shots hitting the back of our net. (Actually, because the Liverpool goal was an OG, in reality we’ve conceded just the 1 goal from the 10 OT shots.)

    So, quite a turn around in fortune. From conceding a goal with every other OT shot, to conceding just 1 from 10.

    Now looking at our offensive stats:

    Shots executed: 96 in the good run compared with 94 in the poor run.

    So, there is almost no difference between how many shots we manufactured in the good run to the poor run of results. In fact, given the nature of the opposition in the poor run of results, which included Liverpool and Villa away as well as Brighton at home, it is arguable amassing 94 shots is more impressive.

    Shots On Target: 35 in the good run compared to 27 in the poor run. Or, 7 per game compared to 5.4 per game.

    So, a significant improvement in our shot accuracy.

    Goals Scored: 21 in our good run compared with 4 in our poor run. Or, 4.2 goals per game compared to 0.8 goals per game.

    As you can see, this is the game changer, literally. We’ve gone from scoring with just 1 in 7 of our OT shots, to scoring with 1 in 1.66 or our OT shots. Or put another way, we’ve gone from scoring with around 14% of our OT efforts to scoring with over 70% of our OT efforts.

    I think you’ll agree, this is a remarkable turn around in our fortunes. But why?

    Well I’m sure I don’t know. Players hitting form? Luck? Again, I very much suspect a bit of each.

    What I do draw from these stats is that despite the criticism we were getting during that poor run we were actually PLAYING very well. We were dominating the ball in that poor run of results as much as in the 5 game winning streak. We were creating chances at the same rate over both sets of fixtures. Yes we had started hitting the target a bit better, but it was the amount of those OT efforts that went in that dramatically increased. The figures for that are quite incredible.

    Unforetuneately for us in those first 5 fixtures when the ball just wouldn’t go in and we were only scoring with 15% of our OT efforts, our opponents were scoring with a disproportionately high 50% of theirs. It was the perfect storm.
    I concluded with this:

    The fact is we were actually playing very well. If we continued dominating matches in this way it would have to come good in the end. And come good it has, and how.

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