One of the most striking thing is just how incredibly similar the two teams’ results have been on offense this season. Both Arsenal and Liverpool are running neck and neck for the second best offensive team in the league behind Manchester City. A quick look at the numbers:
xG Per Game: 1.96 for Arsenal vs 1.98 for Liverpool
Shots Per Game: 17.94 for Arsenal vs 17.61 for Liverpool
Big Chances Per Game: 2.56 for Arsenal vs 2.61 for Liverpool
Goals Per Game: 1.61 for Arsenal vs 2.00 for Liverpool
What is striking is that they are doing it in different ways. Liverpool are a much more direct team and one that relies on fast transitions to produce offense. They lead the league in fast breaks per match, with 0.6, and the 5th least final third passes per shot at 7.3.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have mostly stayed true to the stereotype that they attempt to walk the ball into the net. They take 10.3 final third passes for every shot they produce, second most behind Manchester City. What they do seem to do is pass the ball patiently before they can find the one killer pass to open up a defense, which is illustrated by Arsenal attempting (and completing) the most through balls this season.
On defense, again, both teams are very similar in the results that they have allowed, but they get to their end product taking different paths. Both teams are allowing 1.09 xG against per game, and both are allowing 1.1 goals per game.
The way that Liverpool have gotten to this point is to attempt suppress their opponents’ total shots. They have allowed just 7.4 per game, which is second to Manchester City. Arsenal aren’t far behind them, though, tied for 4th with 9 per game.
What is striking is that the shot suppression is even more pronounced when looking at open play. Liverpool allow just 78% of their total shots allowed from open play, which is the lowest in the league (or maybe teams really try to attack their set play defense). From open play, Liverpool have allowed just 11.48 xG (0.64 xG per game), which is 2nd best in the league; on the other hand, they have allowed 5.82 xG from set plays, which is tied for 7th worst. In total, 33.6% of the xG they allow comes from set plays, which is the most in the league.
What is also quite striking is that the shots that Liverpool give up are from worse locations than the average team - with that comes a much higher xG allowed for each shot. Liverpool are tied for the highest xG per shot allowed, at 0.13, with Stoke City (the worst defense in the league, and not a team you want to be compared to defensively).
Part of this could be attributed to the pressing style that they employ. In general, pressing teams will allow fewer shots, but the trade off is that when their press is broken they have less players to stop the offensive team from creating good shooting chances. On the pressing front, the stats suggest that perhaps that Jurgen Klopp has turned down the pressing intensity this season.
One of the ways to measure how much teams press is to use a stat called Passes Per Defensive Action (PpDA). In PpDA this season, they rank 3rd in the league at 10.0. Somewhat surprisingly, Arsenal are right behind them at 10.6. I call this surprising as they aren’t typically grouped with the other pressing teams like Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham.
One of the things that might be skewing the number for Liverpool higher is that they have a few outlier matches that are significantly higher than the other matches.
Against Manchester City, they played a lot of the match with ten men and City passes them to death; they hammered Brighton, Bournemouth, and (sigh) Arsenal and thus did not need to sustain their press. If you don’t include those matches in the average they have allowed just 8.1 PpDA this season, which is right behind Manchester City.
Shot Charts and xG Tree Map
The attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino is deadly, with Salah really shining. Those three players have produced over half of Liverpool’s xG this season.
BOLD Prediction: Goals!
According to the simulation, there is just a 1% chance of a 0-0 draw (so obviously this will happen), and a 4-4 draw is a more likely outcome than the 0-0.
Arsenal are slight favorites in the match (mostly due to that match being at home), but only just. Interestingly, according to the team rankings that are a byproduct of the simulation model, Arsenal and Liverpool are near perfect opposites of each other at home and on the road. Arsenal are way better at home, they have a team ranking of 135 (100 is average, and every point above or below is a point above or below average) at home vs a ranking of 120 away from home. Liverpool are the opposite with a ranking of 131 away vs 118 at home. Overall both teams come in ranked tied for 3rd in team rankings at 126.
Up the Arsenal.