Liverpool’s 3-5-2 (or 3-4-1-2 if you prefer fancy formation labels) has been quite successful and it will be interesting to see if Rodgers deploys the same system against the Gunners. The strength of their approach lies in two factors – Suarez and Sturridge have been excellent in attack, and the three at the back give them additional defensive security which they’ve used intelligently after taking leads as they absorb pressure and use the space well through their attacking stars.
Wenger’s side will face a massive challenge in stopping the SAS partnership because they’re both extremely mobile and tricky. Mertesacker’s lack of pace will inevitably force the Gunners deeper. It could easily end up sucking the full-backs and defensive midfielders back and Arsenal could have a tough time breaking out of their own half, particularly in the early part of the game if the visitors show urgency with their pressing. Rodgers could use Henderson in place of Moses to help with this.
Liverpool will not be able to sustain high pressing for 90 minutes so their best bet would be to force early mistakes and get a goal or two. This is something they did last season as they took a two goal lead. I’m not convinced this season Arsenal will be able to get back into the game if they go down by a couple of goals. As with every big game, the first goal will have an immense impact on the way the game shapes up.
Arteta is going to have a busy outing. He is the point man for the Gunners if their passing and possession game has to click because he is the only one who can consistently receive the ball from the defenders even under pressure. The Spaniard’s off-the-ball positioning will also be very important when the visitors press high up the pitch or break forward at pace. Flamini will be missed. Hopefully, Ramsey’s energy will make up for his forward-going tendencies. The midfielders will also have to watch out for their cut-backs from the wide areas that often come back and across.
Suarez will move into the channels, particularly down the left, and Liverpool are very good at working one-twos in such areas. So, Sagna too is going to have to be careful with his runs. Bombing forward and standing right next to the attacking midfielders is not a clever approach and could prove costly in this game. He might be better off staying deeper and leaving the right flank for Ozil or Ramsey to overlap.
Liverpool’s back three can be flat at times and that means Arsenal could get overloads in central midfield if the wide players pick and choose their movement wisely. This could allow the team an opportunity to break away from the initial pressing and run at the visiting defence.
We’ll have to see if Liverpool are brave and hold a high line or if they drop back to the edge of their own area. When they drop back their three in defence quicky becomes a five with another layer in front that has a couple of midfielders (Gerrard and Lucas probably) and another of the attacking players chasing back. I expect them to compress the play up the pitch in the first 15-20 minutes, at least.
Wenger doesn’t have too many options to pick from as far as his starting eleven is concerned.
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Ozil, Arteta – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
In the Frenchman’s position, I’d be tempted to include Rosicky ahead of Wilshere on the right, but I doubt Wenger will go for that unless the youngster is bothered by his injuries.
It’s a shame none of Arsenal’s quick players are available because they would certainly have pushed Liverpool back or troubled their high pressing.
This is the first game this season where the Gunners had dropped point in the corresponding fixture last season. They’d won all the nine played thus far if we compare Crystal Palace with Reading (or any of the other relegated sides). In that sense, Arsenal are -5 when it comes to points from corresponding fixtures and they’ll have to make up the numbers from the games they didn’t win in 2012-13. Will this be the first of those?
Wenger again pointed out that Arsenal didn’t play particularly badly against Chelsea or Dortmund but lost because they gave soft goals away. I agree with that, but the sheer frequency of gifting goals and points has made it very hard to believe these errors will be cut out any time soon. And because of that, I think a draw will be Arsenal’s best hope from this game even though they have the quality to win it.Follow @goonerdesi