Arsenal’s visit to Liverpool this early in the season is a battle between two sides that are undergoing another rebuilding process. Arsene Wenger is still waiting for his new signings to bed in while trying to create a coping mechanism (tactical) to deal with the loss of two players who took the top spots in last season’s player of the year poll. Brendan Rodgers has a seemingly tougher task of revamping the playing style and identity of the club. The Reds have brought in fresh faces, moved some of the big money failures of last season on, and are trying to promote some promising youngsters. Both sides will take time to reach their best so this is more an interim exam but it will provide some indication of how the projects are coming along.
The recent games between the clubs have thrown up some fascinating battles with late drama. Seven goals have been scored in the 90th minute or later in the last seven ties. Gooners will be positive coming into the fixture as Arsenal have only lost once in the last ten encounters with Liverpool. The Scousers will feel they’re due a win and will be buoyed by the dominant display against City last week.
This fixture is likely to be a interesting tactical tussle. For Liverpool, it won’t be very different from the game against City as Mancini’s side plays with a style very similar to Arsenal, although they did set up with a more defensive 3-5-2 and made it relatively easier for their hosts to dominate the ball and midfield. For Arsenal this game couldn’t be more different to the tie against Stoke last week.
Liverpool will play out from the back and keep the ball on the ground. Their strengths will lie in the speed of their passing and the movement of their attacking players. This will be backed up by intense pressing. The basic idea will be to establish a high tempo and pin Arsenal back in their own half. Not too dissimilar from what the Gunners try to do in every game but there are subtle differences.
The hosts are still relatively new to this style so they will have certain vulnerabilities at the back that Arsenal could exploit through cohesive pressing of their own high up the pitch. In contrast, the Arsenal back five are used to playing under pressure and should be marginally more secure when bringing the ball out.
At the other end, Liverpool have achieved greater fluidity and understanding in the attacking areas. The Gunners are yet to score and have only created one real gilt-edged opportunity in two games. The Reds could pose serious questions with their dynamic movement if the Gunners can’t disrupt their build-up from the back. Wenger might also sense that his sides best attacking opportunities might arise through forced errors at the back as City and West Brom have demonstrated. But Arsenal haven’t demonstrated the ability to consistently and collectively press the opponents high up the pitch for a long while now.
Both teams should find space in the opposing half if they can get past the first line of defence or the initial high press. Pace on the flanks can come into play if either side can pass the ball quickly. Both clubs will also have to do much better in the final third as far as accuracy of the final ball or clinical finishing are concerned. Only Arsenal (19 percent) have a worse shooting accuracy than Liverpool (24 percent) in the Premier League this season.
A number of newcomers to the League will be eager to make their mark. The guile and vision of Cazorla, the power and drive of Podolski, or the presence and movement of Giroud could be decisive for Arsenal. For Liverpool, the youthful exuberance, pace, and trickery of Raheem Sterling and Sahin’s metronomic incision from deep can be vital. Of course, these players will only be building on the foundations created by the established players on both sides.
Wenger is still looking for the right balance so it’s difficult to predict the starting line-up. But I’ll be surprised if he makes too many changes. Oxlade-Chamberlain or Walcott could come in for Gervinho on the right and Koscielny might take over from Mertesacker at the back if fully fit.
We might see,
Mannone – Jenkinson, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Diaby, Cazorla, Arteta – AOC, Giroud, Podolski
Vermaelen will have to cover Borini’s movement if Gibbs ventures higher up the pitch. On the other flank Jenkinson has been more conservative with his positioning but he’ll have to be vigilant and precise if he comes up against the speed and skills of Sterling. Koscielny had a tough time against Suarez last season and he’ll need better support from a midfielder or Vermaelen. Arsenal could concede a penalty if the Liverpool attackers are allowed to drive into the box with the ball.
The Scousers did make hard work of the midweek Europa League fixture and could feel the effects of that late in the game. But the Gunners cannot count on that, more so as Rodgers is likely to field at least 4 or 5 fresh players, and will have to sustain a high physical level throughout the game.
This fixture has the potential to be one of the most entertaining games this season if both clubs go for a win with a positive attitude. The adapting process could mean there will be a number of individual mistakes in the game in defence and attack. The side that makes fewer and capitalizes on the opponent’s errors in a decisive manner is likely to win the game.Follow @goonerdesi