Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Liverpool

The Gunners take on hosts Liverpool in Saturday’s early kickoff in a game that will pitch two sides on a high; Arsenal on the back of that remarkable comeback against Tottenham and Liverpool bubbling from their Carling Cup triumph.

In recent years these two sides have produced some fascinating battles but Arsenal fans will be worried about their side’s tendency to throw away leads late in the game. Whether it was the epic 4-4 draw at Anfield in April 2009, the Champions League game best remembered for that Walcott run, or the draw at the Emirates last season; Arsenal surrendered the advantage soon after scoring what appeared to be a game-winning or decisive goal. It is quite possible that the Gunners will produce some memorable moments in the game but will not return with the three points they need for ensuring their grip on the fourth place.

Liverpool are unbeaten at home but, Unlike City who have an enviable perfect record at their ground, the Reds have only managed 4 wins from 12 games. Their strength has been the almost impenetrable defence that has given them the League’s second best defensive record. Dalglish has based the foundations of his side on a solid structural framework at the back which is very well-disciplined and impeccably organized.

It will be tough for Arsenal to break them down. The Gunners have scored 12 goals in their last two home League games but this fixture will be more like their visit to Milan than the North London Derby as far as the quality of the opposition’s defending is concerned. Liverpool though, might not be able to match the attacking prowess that Milan exhibited at the San Siro. In all it could make for a tight and dull-looking encounter that is a midfield battle. An early goal, especially for the Gunners, could change all that though as the game will open up.

The team selection by both managers will obviously have a big impact on the way the game pans out. It will depend largely on the choices they have. Liverpool will miss Agger and Gerrard if both are unfit. In the same vein Arsenal could miss Vermaelen, Rosicky and even Van Persie as they’re all carrying niggles. Wenger has also said he has no news on Song, which would have been strange but this is Arsenal we are talking about.

Without Agger the hosts will probably have to play Carragher in the centre of the defence. The old warhorse is still a good player, especially when the defence is sitting back, but Van Persie – if fit – will fancy his chances against the Englishman more than he’d do against the Dane. More than Agger though, Liverpool are likely to miss the drive and energy that Gerrard brings to the midfield. I won’t be surprised if the manager picks his talisman even if half fit.

It will be interesting to see the other choices that Dalglish makes. I doubt he will start both Suarez and Carroll but if he’s seen the way two striker combinations, Zlatan-Robinho or Adebayor-Saha, have troubled Arsenal recently, he could pick both. Such a selection will give the hosts a greater chance of scoring goals but will also give Arsenal more space in midfield. It will definitely make the game more enjoyable for the viewers.

On a more predictable note, Dalglish might go with Carroll to win the aerial battle against the Gunners and pick a quick runner like Bellamy on the flanks to get in behind.  This would be more likely if King Kenny expects his side to be pushed back. Again Gerrard’s fitness will play a part. Without him, it would be unwise to leave a wily player like Suarez out.

In short, Dalglish will have to find the right balance between his attacking options and the need to keep things tight at the back. Wenger’s job isn’t that different but his choices could be limited.

In the worst case scenario, Arsenal could be without RvP, Rosicky, Vermaelen, and Song. In that case I honestly don’t see them getting anything out of this one. But we can be fairly certain Arsene will risk his key players unless they are in an unplayable condition.

In the North London Derby the Gunners reverted to a tactical approach that was used in the early part of last season when Chamakh was in good form. The striker moved out of the box regularly to create space that was taken up by the wide player on the Right (Theo and Nasri in the early part of last season). The Left sided attacker (Arshavin) tended to drift in and between the lines. In that period we saw a number of goals for the Right winger while Arshavin was picking up the assists.

Walcott can, without a doubt, regain his scoring form if he gets to make a number of runs in the central area and the inside channels. Van Persie will provide more of a threat than Chamakh did in that system in that he will not only create space but also has the ability to thread a ball through or score from the edge of the box. Benayoun might not have the creativity or vision that the Russian had but he can probably offer more in terms of work rate and balance.

I am of the opinion that this system is much better than the one with two direct wingers as the midfield gets better support and can create more combinations against deep-lying defences. That said, it must be acknowledged that Arsenal’s current squad – based on fitness concerns – is not ideal for using this as it would mean leaving two out of Theo, Gervinho, and AOC out while putting greater burden on the limited midfield resources.

That reminds me, Wenger has said Diaby is back. Hopefully, he will be introduced in a controlled manner and will be able to avoid any serious setbacks. The lanky Frenchman could play a vital part in the final 15-20 minutes of this game but anything more will be a direct challenge to Lady Luck.

Apart from the system of play, Arsenal will also have to master the spaces as well as they did against Spurs. That means individuals will have to press with a high degree of intensity and cohesion while ensuring the back four isn’t left exposed with large gaps between them and the midfield.

Ideally I’d prefer the same starting line-up that we saw against Spurs.

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Benayoun.

If Song is unfit Arsenal will have to rein in the full-backs to provide better support to the central defenders. In that case it might be worth giving Gervinho a run on the flanks with Benayoun in the middle. With such a line-up Arsenal will struggle to dominate possession and we might see the defensive frailties exposed unless the players are prepared to stay deeper.

Liverpool have the ability to press in a synchronized manner and they can pin the Gunners back if the technical battle is lost.

As you can see, this game can have different patterns of play depending on the choices of each manager and the events of the game, especially early on. Safe money is probably on a tight encounter and a low-scoring draw with late drama. I’m hoping for a more open game with an early goal for the visitors.

Before ending I want to link to this interesting stat-based preview of the game done by a Liverpool supporter in a fair tone. Also, if like me, you too have a tendency to hide under a rock for large periods to avoid a lot of the mind-numbing noises on the internet, just make sure you’ve read this typically detailed and informative piece by the Swiss Rambler on Arsenal’s recently announced interim financials.

28 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Liverpool

  1. Wombledin says:

    Very good preview, thanks. Arsenal are home heroes but away flops this season, can’t defend but usually create loads of chances. Liverpool are kind of the opposite, rock-solid defensively but can’t score for sh*t even at home. In the past RVP has been disappointing but this season has been red-hot while Carroll was once red-hot but this season is a disappointing donkey. Two very different teams. A draw is mostly likely.

    • santori says:

      Dunno about a draw but probably very very tight.

      (Park to score a brace) :D

    • OSI says:

      Bit of a misnomer….Liverpool create a lot of chances actually, its been conversion that’s killing us – through bad luck (most shots off the frame I think) and just no composure.

      A few stats highlight that: I think our conversion rate is 7%, the average is twice that (even higher for top clubs); I remember seeing that Liverpool were the second in Europe (behind barca) in having the highest percentage of their possession in the attacking third, and Suarez has the most touches in the prem inside the attacking box….

      A bit of luck could see us being one of the better attacking sides without having changed much. We’ve hit the post 19 times – millimeters between a goal and a miss – if half those went in instead of out we are in 4th place!

      I really think there will be goals in this one….

    • Dhruv says:

      Liverpool dont have Gervinho. Theo may have difficulty getting past Enrique but Gervinho can do the job today, I think and hope.

  2. OSI says:

    Stick to analyzing arsenal, because you missed most of the marks on Liverpool….which is a shame, because there’s loads to talk about tactically from the Liverpool perspective (3-5-2 possibility, spearing vs hendo vs Shelvey in cm, bellamy from start or off the bench)….that said, there will probably be goals in it, agger and vermaelen out almost guarantees it, but it’ll be a game for tacticians – mug like the NLD would’ve been if redknapp actually had a brain for tactics!

    • 8 inch knob says:

      ……………………………………Szczęsny…………………………………….
      ……………………………………………………………………………………….
      ……………………………………………………………………………………….
      ……………………………………………………………………………………….
      ……………………………Koscielny….Vermaelen………………………..
      ……………………………………………………………………………………….
      ……………………………………….Song………………………………………
      ..Sagna………………………………………………………………….Gibbs..
      …………………………………Arteta…Benayoun………………………….
      ……………………………………..Rosický…………………………………….
      ………………………………………………………………………………………
      ……………………………………..Walcott…………………………………….
      ……………………………………Van Persie………………………………….

      • OSI says:

        Am hoping that us the team.Arsene puts out, we would match up very well with it….that said, its amazing the impact of injuries; wilshere and Ramsey for yossi and rosicky is a massive improvement….

      • santori says:

        Too narrow.

        No time to tinker formations this late in the season.

        4-3-3

        Benayoun or Gervinho out wide. Walcott on the other side (counter Bellamy)

      • OSI says:

        Santori, that’s what I would expect, and dread…asks more questions of Liverpool than any other I could think up

      • santori says:

        @OSI…we don’t have a plan B remember?:D

    • Dhruv says:

      You really are getting ahead of yourself Loserpool supporter, arent you. Harry might be a mug but your team is currently on 6th place in the PL, well behind the Spuds.

  3. phill23 says:

    Personally I think the game will be decided by us not them. We know the performance that Liverpool are likely to produce. What we don’t know is whether we will turn up making runs all over the place, technically in tune and pressing energetically. If we produce a certain level of performance we will score 2 or 3 which should be enough for the win. On the other hand, if we are anything below 90% we will probably not score at all and could easily be dispatched by a goal or two by Liverpool. Personally I have faith that we will win the midfield battle and that RVP will score a brace to win us the game.

    • OSI says:

      Precisely what level of performance do you think arsenal are going to produce that will see you beat, by two or three goals, a liverpool side that is one of the best defensively in england? You need to be realistic – the derby result was the exception, not the norm, and I would be amazed to see liverpool play as poorly as spurs did in the end. If that team above is the one that shows up, I fancy Liverpool to have a field day….no support for the fullbacks, which is where our two most dangerous attackers like to begin their work. Plus, it makes it easy to overwhelm central midfield, especially if its a trio of spearing, Henderson and Adam. If Charlie plays within himself and looks for his cm partners rather than the long pass, Liverpool will bypass arsenal’s midfield rapidly….

      • santori says:

        Seems more likely that King Kenny will dploy the midfield trio (Henderson, Spearing, Adams) for high work rate, sit back and try to abosrb pressure. Then play out with kuyt (and in particular) Bellamy forward in support of the tricky Suarez up top.

        ………………………..Adams………………Spearing……………………
        Kuyt……………………………….Henderson……………………………..
        ……………………………………………………………..Bellamy…………..
        ……………………..Suarez…………………………………………………….

        (not sure which positions the central mids are ususally deployed but something like this sort of formation.

        Sagna will have to be well supported defensively (Song)

        If either of Song or Vermaelen are out, I don’t fancy our chances. Liverpool can pick us a part on the break.

      • santori says:

        If Liverpool cede possession as I suspect they would, then we could possibly play the following modified “4-3-3″ to counter them packing five across the midfield :

        …………………..Vermaelen …….Koscielny……………………….
        Sagna………………………Song………………………………Gibbs
        …………………….Rosicky………………….Arteta………………….
        Walcott…………………………………………………………Gervinho
        ……………………………………..RVP…………………………………

        Crucial would be quick release to wingers behind the Liverpool midfield, running into the channel between the fullbacks and the Cbacks. In that sense, may be better to have Gervinho out right particularly if Glen Johnson is out.

      • OSI says:

        Aye, agree with that….those three would also be very good at getting the ball into suarez, bellamy between the lines – Henderson gets slated, but his short-game, one touch passing is sublime, probably the best in the team at proper pass and move football….when Adam controls himself and uses him/his movement its highly effective. Only disagreement is Carroll for Kuyt; him and Suarez have 9 goals combined in 8 starts, and the understandibg is improving every week….but there are lots of permutations, should be interesting to see how they’re set up.

      • Dhruv says:

        Stats do not mean anything man, okay! Arsenal are on a roll, dont be fooled by bad results in January. We beat Blackburn at home 7-1 where L’pool could only draw 1-1. So the point is lets see what happens on the day, nothing can be judged by stats.

  4. santori says:

    Very tight in midfield at the moment. Not much give.

    resources have to be very wisely managed as we have the match on Tuesday (may not be entirely a thorw away) not to mention Newcastle following.

    Indeed good news with Diaby but I agree he will prob only come on much later or if need be.

    Rosicky is almost vital. If he’s out, agree that Benayoun may play in the central role and that we may struggle for possession (although always good to have a player face his former club)

    An alternative would be to play Diaby (a risk) next to Song with Arteta pushed forward. Or young Ozyakup who has been looking very bright for the reserves (in lieu of Diaby)

  5. gbg says:

    Liverpool are a boring, old-fashioned team and only terrible mistakes from Arsenal will give them any chance of scoring. Sadly, we know Arsenal are more than capable of making a series of howlers.

    They will park the bus and crowd the midfield. That’s the only way for them to stop the Gunners with their bunch of substandard players in midfield. Having said that, I am going to put my money on Liverpool winning this one. It kills me that such a weak side will get the better of the Gunners but given the injuries and defensive weaknesses there can’t be any other result in this game. 2-1 to the hosts with Suarez and Bellamy on the scoreboard. RvP to get one for us.

  6. AP says:

    I don’t see how they can leave Suarez out, such wily players with the ability to go past multiple defenders and pop up anywhere are what Arsenal look susceptible to most as they can easily get the gunners out of shape, instead of the more popular aerial threat thing which can be countered by focused double teaming in the absence of a Suarez-like player.

  7. Yang says:

    Don’t try to beat Pool, just slow down game tempo and don’t get caught out break then Liverpool fold themselves. Liverpool cannot score against organized defense, only able to do against out of shape defense.

    Aim Carragher, he is on decline.

  8. Dhruv says:

    Irrespective of what L’pool fans say, this L’pool team is weak without the likes of Agger, Lucas Leiva, and Gerrard. If Theo is not influential in the first 45 minutes, he should be replaced with Yossi or Chamberlaine who I think could do better. Arsenal need to focus on the left flank where there could be chances created. Gervinho must start, and if Coq is fit again, he can replace Gibbs because we need some protection there. Besides no point playing Gervinho and Gibbs together because Gervinho can utilize the wide space. Defensively, if Vermaelan is absent, then Arsenal do have a problem handling Caroll because Kos does get into trouble with imposing tall forwards. Arsenal to win 2-1.

  9. nior says:

    wenger pls repid the same lineup you used againts spurs 2hlf gervinho & oxlade and after some mints park should assist

  10. Jeff says:

    I’m very concerned about Tomas Rosicky and Thomas vermaelen availability.. they both are vital,indeed.. don’t think we can win if both of them do not make it today..

  11. OSI says:

    im sure a lot of you are shocked, well i am not – game has been a microcosm of LFC’s season: batter the other team, miss penalties (6 missed so far), hit the woodwork (21 times so far) and the opposition get one chance and one goal….

    if you are being honest it should be about 4-5 goals to liverpool off of CLEAR CUT CHANCES alone, arsenal getting very lucky (as have most teams to come to anfield)….

    Penny for Dhruv, gbg, Phill23’s thoughts on a “very poor liverpool side”….:-/

    • phill23 says:

      Well OSI… Lets be honest here, I didn’t say we would win by 2 or 3 goals. I said we would score two or three. I intact predicted that RVP would score a brace. The actual game did turn out differently than I expected though. Arteta put out one of his worst performances all year. I would out that down to an inferiority complex due to Everton losing out to Liverpool in most derbies.
      Who ever quoted “very poor Liverpool side” it wasn’t me so don’t put all of us under a nice big blanket. Like I said, if we score 2 or 3 we are going to win the game and so it happened. Lets not forget that your only actual goal was an own goal and that the main reason you didn’t score was due to our phenomenal keeper.
      At the start of the season you faced a complete reserve team and played like crap to get the win. This one just evens it up. Also nobody is impressed with the pathetic Saurez who made at least 3 clear dives in this game.
      Lastly I will say congratulations to Liverpool who won the midfield battle partly because our midfield was having a bad passing game (Arteta, Rosicky, Beneyoun and Walcott). This also made Song push further forward to compensate which left us over exposed. Good luck for the rest of your season, TOP 3 HERE WE COME!!!

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