Jamie Carragher says Arsenal are the best team in the Premier League defensively and this is what gives them a chance of winning the title.
The Gunners beat Liverpool 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday to stay in the title race, cutting the gap to the leaders to just two points. It was an impressive display by Mikel Arteta’s team – but especially defensively, Carragher told Monday Night Football.
“They were better than Liverpool in all areas but the big thing that stood out for me was how strong they were defensively. I never felt at any point in that game that Liverpool looked threatening or that a goal was coming. Liverpool got a fortunate goal, we know that.
“I said after the game that the result was better for Manchester City than Arsenal but Arsenal do have a slim chance of winning the title.
“That chance comes from how good they are defensively.
“I think defensively, not just goals conceded, when you actually look at the underlying numbers, I think defensively they are the best team in the Premier League. We saw that with what Liverpool did yesterday with their xG (expected goals).”
Liverpool’s expected-goals total against Arsenal was just 0.37, their lowest figure of the Premier League season so far.
“You go back to Manchester City going to the Emirates as well, a game that Arsenal won 1-0.”
City’s expected-goals total in that game was just 0.48. That was also their lowest figure of the Premier League season.
“The two best attacking teams in the Premier League went to Arsenal and never looked like scoring throughout the game. That is what gives them a chance.”
That defensive record is not just about the defence.
It started from the front.
“A lot has been made of them not playing a striker, they played two 10s, but what that did defensively is that they defended in two different ways. It was aggressive in a 4-4-2 and then they flip to man-to-man marking very quickly.
“I think that comes whenever the ball goes back to the goalkeeper or to Liverpool’s left side or when Jorginho gives people a shout. Another time when they do the man-to-man marking is from a goal kick. It is like a set piece.”
It required the defenders to jump out from the back and squeeze the play to vacate the spaces left by Jorginho and Declan Rice pushing on. Occasionally, it meant leaving Liverpool forwards behind them but it was a risk deemed worth taking to win the ball back.
“This is the way people defend now, it is on the front foot. If you see there is a player in front of you, even if there is a player behind you, you go. When I was playing we would pull the guys back, you want them around you, but this is the modern way of defending.
“It is so brave, I admire it so much. I have said for years now that centre-back is the most difficult position on the pitch to play, what we ask them to do on the ball and how we ask them to defend.”
Once in possession, Arsenal also outmanoeuvred their opponents.
On the ball, they caused problems for Liverpool with their shape. That box in midfield with [Kai] Havertz and [Martin] Odegaard was very Brighton like. The two wide players, [Gabriel] Martinelli and [Bukayo] Saka, held the whole Liverpool back four.”
There was particular praise for Martinelli’s decision to move into a central position during one particular phase in the second half – a positional switch that was rewarded as he scored Arsenal’s second goal as a result, seizing on a defensive error by Liverpool.
“Listen, it is a hopeful ball from Gabriel but it is a hopeful ball he probably would not have been able to play at any other time in the game because Arsenal did not have the centre-forward running in behind.
“Yes, Liverpool should have dealt with it. But I was impressed with Martinelli because he used his own intuition. Sometimes, on the pitch as a player, you have to move off your own player and try to cause problems.”
That was the attack. But it was the defence that stood out.
Arsenal won possession of the ball in Liverpool’s defensive third on six occasions in the first half alone. No team has done that more times this season.
“It shows how good Arsenal were defensively, winning that ball back. I just think defensively Arsenal were on a completely different level to Liverpool. That is the hope as an Arsenal fan in terms of winning a league title.
“We have spoken about the goals and not having a real goalscorer, but can they win by being the best team defensively?”
Get Sky Sports on WhatsApp!
You can now start receiving messages and alerts for the latest breaking sports news, analysis, in-depth features and videos from our dedicated WhatsApp channel!
Find out more here.