Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Liverpool

This is arguably a tussle between the League’s two most unpredictable and inconsistent teams this season. Many scenarios are imaginable. It’ll depend on which Arsenal and which Liverpool shows up.

Many have talked about the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Arsenal’s performances. The Reds are not very different. The following table captures their record against teams in the top half and bottom half of the table (before Tuesday’s games were played).

Liverpool Jekyll and Hyde

Those numbers suggest the Gunners should have an edge in this fixture. But you could also say that the law of averages is going to catch up and Rodgers’ side are going to break their duck against the top half teams sooner rather than later after going 11 games without a win.

Given the way the teams have changed since the reverse fixture in September, it’s highly likely that the patterns of play in this game will be very different. Back then the Gunners were working hard on their defensive shape and it seemed that focusing on defending was the priority. The attack had suffered but they managed to score two good goals to win the game. Liverpool had had a tough start to the campaign and Brendan Rodgers’ ideas were still new to the players.

In this game, Arsenal could suffer from the tactical confusion that has been visible over the last few weeks. The team no longer focuses on defending as it did early in the season as the players search for greater attacking potency. But this had brought greater vulnerability at the back and the Gunners are often tentative at the start of games.

Liverpool like to press energetically in the early part of the game. If Arsenal are not on top of their game they could again find themselves a goal or two down. Defending deep without the right shape and focus against tricky attackers like Suarez and Sturridge will be risky. It’s imperative the defenders are not left one-v-one with the attackers and that their movement into pockets of space is tracked diligently.

Ideally, picking Vermaelen and Koscielny and playing a high line with proactive defending would be the approach to take. But I’m not sure Koscielny has the right form at the moment. The inclusion of Mertesacker will make a high line very difficult but the German’s relatively slower movement will be a handicap against strikers who can turn him or skip past him with quick feet and close control. It’s the kind of decision that can look very wise or rather dumb with the benefit of hindsight.

A clean sheet for the Gunners in this game will be a pleasant surprise. Szczesny will probably be busier than he’s been in most games.

Arsenal are likely to need more than one goal to win this game. Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet in a game against teams above them in the table but they do have 5 clean sheets in their last 9 games.

The visitors could be susceptible if the Gunners can get a chance to run at their back line, particularly the central defenders. Walcott’s pace could be Arsene’s biggest weapon and because of that the Frenchman will have to find a way to keep the winger higher up the pitch with fewer defensive responsibilities.

Set-pieces could be another area of vulnerability but Arsenal have been notoriously inconsistent with those.

Wenger also has a big call to make with his starting eleven. Does he go with four midfielders – one of them on the flank – or does he pick Walcott, Giroud, and Podolski as the attacking trio.

Theo and Giroud will give Arsenal more of a goal threat but it will be redundant if the Gunners can’t bring the ball forward effectively. Both these players have some technical deficiencies that can lead to persistent loss of possession, particularly in a tight game played at a high tempo. It’s another tough call.

I’d go with Cazorla on the right in the first half as Arsenal have been weaker in that period.  The extra midfielder could help the defence and the possession game. Giroud could come on for the last half an hour or so if the team is chasing the game or just to vary the approach.

That said, it’s worth noting that Liverpool are the League’s fourth best team when only second half performances are considered. It won’t be wise to expect a repeat of the West Ham massacre.

I’d like to see,

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Ramsey, Wilshere, Diaby – Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski.

I have a feeling we’ll see Mertesacker and Giroud in the starting line-up and, to be frank, I don’t have a compelling argument against their inclusion. This is the kind of situation where it’s hard to say what the right decision is until we can see the result of the choices made.

As with any game, individual errors or moments of brilliance can always make a difference. But to me the bigger concern is that Arsenal could collectively switch off or we get to see the dreaded handbrake again. ‘Sharpness’ should not be a problem as the squad has had one extra day to recover but with the Gunners you never know.

As mentioned earlier, many results are conceivable, but I don’t have a good feeling about this game given the defensive weaknesses visible in the recent games. Massive improvements will be needed if Arsenal have to stay in touch with the top four. A draw won’t be a good result for either team.

26 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Liverpool

  1. Redcore says:

    Ramsey, Diaby and Wilshere are so much better than any midfield combination available to Brendan Rogers. Our defence is perhaps better than their defence too. The only positions where they are much better than us are probably GK and striker (Suarez).

    If we play our game we should win this. But as you pointed out I too hope that the ‘handbrake’ stays off..

    • peter tosh says:

      diaby n ramsey are nt part of arsenal 1st 11.where is camberlein n rosicky

      • Redcore says:

        A fit Diaby would be very much part of the starting 11. As Arteta is unfit at the moment Ramsey is the guy who would be holding the midfield. If you watched the last couple of matches you would know that he played well too..

      • kazeem says:

        For now I don’t think both players should be regular for now, rather impact players.
        If Diaby is fit, he is equivalent to giberto/edu in both physical and technical aspect.
        Recently, AOC didn’t live up to expectation except few occasional flashes which is not good for the game.
        Rosiscky is a player you don’t load everytime judging from his injury crisis and age.

  2. Govind says:

    Great article. Agreed about Giroud, but I don’t think Mertesacker should start. Liverpool have too much pace up front. And he does read the game excellently, but when faced with the tornado that is Suarez he’s going to have an extremely tough time defending against his wild runs.

  3. […] This is arguably a tussle between the League’s two most unpredictable and inconsistent teams this season. Many scenarios are imaginable. It’ll depend on which Arsenal and which Liverpool shows up. Many have talked about the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Arsenal’s performances. The Reds are not very different. The following table captures their record against […] Source: Arsenal   […]

  4. Gerry Lennon says:

    Yes Desi, I think your right, it’s heads you win, tails you lose, in picking a team for this game? I’d be tempted to say ‘ Szcz in goal’ and leave it at that!
    One thought did cross my mind, but will not happen, would be to leave Poldi out and have an extra midfielder in the shape of Santos? More of a wing-back, but with Gibbs as the ‘speedy cover’ behind? It is only one of the thoughts that might work on paper, but in practice it could be a disaster? Much the same as try Kos in front of the other two, it might work, but it might just confuse the back four?
    Therefore, as we are the home side, AW will probably use our attacking strength, with minimum changes to keep the momentum and balance going, and hope the defence will be tight enough?
    Let’s hope it is enough, eh?

  5. Gunman Rob says:

    I would like to see Jenkison and Mertesacker both starting this one. Also I’d pick Giroud over Podolski in this game with walcott and cazorla lying just behind.
    Arsenal are a team standing on one leg at the moment and we will be destroyed by a flying Liverpool team today wanting to get revenge for the embarrasing cup exit to oldham, that is if we go out to offensive. We need to concentrate on keeping our goal clean and then attack in the last 15 minutes of the game to get that winning goal.

  6. Utkarsh says:

    Giroud will start for sure…. Ramsey will be on bench..

  7. peter tosh says:

    sagna is getting old

  8. Winner says:

    I will be surprised if Wenger starts Podolski for a third consecutive match especially after he played for 90 minutes against Brighton. Liverpool do indeed have both pace and trickery in their strike force-Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge. I would prefer Koz under those circumstances but frankly he has not impressed me lately and he really has not done much better that Per under those circumstances. Besides Koz tends to score own goals when under pressure and makes more fatal mistakes than Per. I remember him scoring a couple of own goals last season, and getting away with the kind of mistake that got him sent off against City on a few more occasions. He has not reproduced his form from last season and to do that he needs more games, but to give him more games is to risk . Tough call. I would go with Carzola on the left instead of Podolski. One day I would like Wenger to push Koz into a defensive mid position. If we dominate the mid this game will be comfortable. Liverpool has similar problems with balance only much worse.

  9. caligunna16 says:


    *santi and jack are interchangeable both having that creative responsibility.

    oxo, rosicky, and jenk/arsha (depending on score)

    Since we are at home I think we need to attack and be relentless with applying pressure. Now this should not mean that diaby or wilshere should not protect our back 4…a counter would be the worst way for our team to get scored on….most demoralizing.

    Kos and Verm need to find that chemistry they put together last year around.

    Giroud/Walcott/Poldi play well off each other, and it would be tough to bench either as they are all starting to heat up.

    Diaby’s pass last game was spot on, protecting the back for is still extremely vital!! Too many times we have been countered on and left in the dust. This would have probably been a good game for Coquelin, but perhaps he comes off the bench if fit.

    • I am the Walroudolski says:

      Gotta say I agree.Walcott, Giroud and Podolski gives us the full armory up front that we are going to need in this game.Back that up with some solid cover in front of the back four-either Diaby or Ramsey who seems to be growing in to the roll. I must say that it is strange that quality defenders can have the said dips in form, when the easiest remedy for them is to just get stuck in. A bit different for a striker who depends more on confidence and getting on a roll of form.

    • davi says:

      I like the idea of a front 2, but this is the sort of system we would tend to play later in the game. It puts too much pressure on Diaby to do all the defending in midfield and would make for an extremely open and unpredictable match. Using your above system, I’d be more inclined to play Ramsey and Diaby in the centre (both as deep-lying midfielders) with Santi and Jack in the wide midfield positions and Podolski either starting up front or on the bench.

      • caligunna16 says:

        i see what you are saying about diaby having to absorb too much pressure. But Podolski does a good job of tracking back and Jack is never one to shy away from tackling or defensive duties so it should balance out. If this was at Anfield I would probably start more defensive earlier too.

  10. ABDULHAMEED says:

    we need alex song back

  11. Cisasco says:

    I lik ur your bak 4 but giroud must be included

  12. Isaac says:

    we need rosicky for this one coz speed is key in midfield for this game

  13. davi says:

    You couldn’t leave Giroud on the bench given his recent performances. They may have been in relatively easy games but to drop him now could damage the confidence he’s been building and if we want to see him really take off and announce himself, he’s got to start the match. He’s earned the opportunity.
    I agree with the midfield selection so it’s really a question of whether to start Cazorla or Podolski out wide. I’d certainly start the match with Cazorla because it’s usually wise to have an attacking midfielder in the front 3 as opposed to 3 forwards. Podolski has been good coming from the bench this season and was great in the last game against Liverpool, so he could have a big impact in the last half hour. Besides I don’t think we have many other options who could change a game from the bench. Giroud has done so in the past but I think he’s generally been better from the start of the match.

  14. Vishal says:

    Giroud to score 4 or more goals today!! Come on you HFB!!!

  15. Nick from Portugal says:

    Thanks Desi, good post as always. I think we play 4 in midfield: Diaby, Ramsey, Cazorla, Jack, and go for Giroud and Podolski, keep Theo for the last 30. We ned to saty tight, Koscielny should play logically but he has been poor, I would still play him though and give Mert a rest.

    If we start like we have beendoing we could be three down by half time!

  16. Nepali Gunner says:

    I think Giroud needs to start because I honestly think he has everything required in a CF, and actually has a bit of pace too. And I just don’t say this because he has scored in the last two games, I liked since the very beginning and was sure that he would improve as he played more. But form also is a factor, and right now he is on a high, so we should ride that.

    I think we will do well, but as you mention, the key is to be able track the runs of Suarez and co between the lines.


  17. santori says:

    Likely Giroud with Walcott wide right.

    Podolski should start too.

    Jack in the forward midfield role with Santi.

    Then I think either of Ramsey or Diaby to start. Diaby won’t last through the full 90 so they will have to take turns.

    The other thing is that Diaby could start with Ramsey with Santi pushed left with Podlolski coming on after the half (Diaby taken out)

    Think Vermalen is just coming back from a knock so he may persist with Per and Koscielny but get your point about the high line.

    That said, per has been a much better player then his recent performance in the FA cup would suggest.

    Hope we start the game firing. Ramsey to show continued improvement.

  18. Scott says:

    We need a left back now!!!!!!

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