Arsenal's 0-0 draw with Liverpool, the second time the Gunners haven't scored all season, did a reasonable job of deflating regained optimism after the win against Crystal Palace. With four points from three games, Arsenal are already five points behind Manchester City, and must quickly regain form if the much talked about title challenge is to occur. As such, there are three points that can be taken from the Liverpool match with regards to regaining form.
1. Theo Walcott is not a centre forward
Arsene Wenger's first substitute was Theo Walcott for Olivier Giroud, who had missed a couple of decent chances. On the surface, this is a change that makes sense: Walcott is an excellent finisher, whereas Giroud is not. Walcott also has the pace and agility to perhaps win a penalty or create space, whereas Giroud is more static. Having said that, Walcott thrives in situations where he has space in behind; otherwise, it's far more difficult for him to make an impact. Giroud, on the other hand, doesn't need space behind. In fact, for breaking down a side, having Giroud as the focal point of the attack makes far more sense: he can play one-two passes with Mesut Özil, Alexis and Aaron Ramsey, and he's also a target for crosses. While he missed several chances, he at least was in a position to take those chances, whereas Walcott did not having a single shot in the 20 minutes he was on the pitch. Furthermore, once Walcott came on, Arsenal didn't have a target for crosses, nor did they have a player they could play one-twos with. Walcott to come on to play off of Giroud, because he offers a threat behind, and isn't the primary target, but against most sides in the Premier League, Walcott at centre forward will not work because he neither has the physical attributes or the technical attributes to lead the line.
2. Arsenal need attacking width
Arsenal again started Aaron Ramsey on the right-hand side yesterday, as Arsene Wenger tries to shoehorn his eleven best players into the side. Indeed, it was a similar lineup to the side that beat Liverpool in April, with three important changes: Petr Cech in for David Ospina, and Calum Chambers and Gabriel in for the sick Per Mertesacker and injured Laurent Koscielny.
This time around, Brendan Rodgers set his team out to press Arsenal and control space, rather than the ball. And while Arsenal started very well, they succumbed to Liverpool's pressure for most of the first half (in the second half, Liverpool sat off). When Liverpool pressed, Arsenal struggled to build attacks; when Liverpool sat off, Arsenal failed to break them down. In both cases, the lack of width and pace to stretch play hurt Arsenal. When Aaron Ramsey plays on the right wing, he tends to drift to the middle to get between the lines as he is, after all, a central midfielder. With Alexis on the other side getting too involved in the midfield and not stretching play (and there's an argument his role should be adjusted, to try and get behind more), Arsenal only get width from their full-backs, which in turn, leaves Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin a lot of covering to do. Without width, it becomes harder to break teams down, and it's also hard to play out of pressure when a side lacks an outlet with pace.
3. Arsenal need Aaron Ramsey back in the centre
After a smattering of remarks about Arsenal's lack of control following the 2-1 win against Crystal Palace, the absence of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny meant Arsenal's inability to control games was there for all to see. Mertesacker's distribution, in particular, was missed, as Calum Chambers' decision making and technical play was rushed and nervous, while Gabriel, while a commanding defender, is so far not very good on the ball. Arsenal's issues playing out from the back were compounded by Liverpool pressing Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin: Cazorla had a poor game, while Coquelin is not adept under pressure. Furthermore, the two midfielders didn't show well for the centre backs or full backs, meaning Chambers and Gabriel often had to go long despite wanting to play short, or pass to the full backs, who then had to pass back to the centre backs, who didn't particularly want the ball. At times, Coquelin was free to receive the ball and carry, but he isn't very good at that, and it meant Mesut Özil was cut off from play unless he dropped deep to receive the ball. Quite simply, Arsenal miss a ball carrier in central midfield.
As Michael Cox writes for ESPN FC, Coquelin offers the power and tackling that Arsenal are often accused of lacking. But beyond that, his technical issues means that Arsenal have to play two players for effectively one position, and the run-on effect is that Arsenal can't control matches unless they're playing at an unsustainable high tempo. There are periods of control, but then periods of panic, which has been a feature for eight months. There is perhaps no ideal solution, but Arsenal must get Ramsey back into the middle, because he offers forward movement, combination play with Özil and Giroud, and the physical play that Arsenal need in central midfield. Otherwise, Arsenal will play much as they did last season: enough good moments in matches to comfortably finish in the top four, but too many moments of panic that means points are dropped.