Let’s face it, back to back games against Liverpool and Manchester City is the last thing we need right now. The Gunners are coming off the back of an energy-sapping derby loss which has seemingly put a downer on all the progress which occurred the weeks before. Alas, we can’t stay in the past and must look at each game as a fresh opportunity to showcase our talents.
In our mid-week clash, we’ll be welcoming the Champions of England to the Emirates. Some will say this is a meaningless clash but at Arsenal football club, every match should be played to win. We may be four points behind 7th-placed Sheffield United, but there are still nine points to play for till the end of the season, a Europa League place is still achievable.
This season, Liverpool have wiped out everyone before them. The Reds currently sit 21 points clear at the top of the table, having only lost two games all season. They’ve been in imperious form, winning 30 out of 35 games. In that time, they’ve scored 76 goals and conceded the least in the league with 27. They’re currently on the hunt for a PL points record, which stands at 100pts, meaning they need seven from a possible nine to match it.
On first glance, this Liverpool team look unbeatable, but we know in football that on any given day, any result is possible. Their defeats to Watford and Manchester City showed they are far from invincible and can be exposed with the correct game plan.
Expose space in behind the Full-Backs
It’s a well-known fact that Liverpool’s main source of chance creation comes through crosses. They bait teams into pressing them and then switch play quickly across the pitch, to expose space and create 2v1 overloads with the full-back and winger. In most scenarios, Mane and Salah then make run inwards while Robertson & Alexander-Arnold stay wide and provide crosses.
Such is their insistence on spamming crosses, it’s no surprise that Trent Alexander-Arnold has averaged the most number of key passes in the team at 2.3 per game. He is also the team’s highest assister with 12 PL assists and 17 big chances created this season.
His counterpart, Robertson has averaged 1.5 key passes a game, created 10 big chances and provided 9 assists. However, this style of play inevitably leaves space in behind down the flanks. Arsenal needs to target these areas on the counter-attack, looking to create 3v2 overloads on the isolated centre-backs.
Match up in Midfield
Alongside their relentless wing play, Liverpool have an industrious midfield that is tasked with feeding these full-backs. They often play a 4-3-3 that looks to dominate space in the middle, with even Firmino dropping deep to plug holes and receive the ball too.
To counter that, Arsenal cannot afford to play a pivot of Granit Xhaka-Dani Ceballos as the duo will simply be overrun by Liverpool’s three. Arteta must deploy the tenacious Lucas Torreira alongside the duo to then match up with the Reds. Xhaka would be tasked with sitting in between the two CBs & cutting off passing lanes, while Ceballos and Torreira could continue pressing Liverpool’s midfielders.
What formation to play?
In recent weeks, Arteta has deployed a 3-4-3 as a temporary solution as he doesn’t trust his defenders in a normal pairing. For this game, he has two realistic options: either a 5-3-2 or a customary 4-3-3. The 5-3-2 would allow the Gunners to continue using a back three and wing-backs whilst now deploying a midfield three for Torreira to come into. The two upfront of Aubameyang and Pepe could act as wide forwards that would look to continuously expose the space in behind Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.
The 4-3-3 would be a much more attacking option but would share many of the same values. Its main purpose would be to match Liverpool in the middle, going man for man. The two out wide would once again look to expose the space in behind while the striker would drop deep and lure in the CBs. In either formation, Arsenal’s full-backs would need to be conservative in their ventures forward as they must be wary of Liverpool’s fast transitions from back to front.
To beat Jurgen Klopp’s men will, of course, be an almighty ask for the Gunners but if they focus on stopping the source of crosses, negate the threat of counter-attacks and then be quick in transitions they could have a chance. Just to add a little bit of hope, if we’re still in the game late on, we must keep pressing as Liverpool have conceded the majority of their goals (40%) in the final 30 minutes of games.