Match Preview: Liverpool v Arsenal; Arsenal Can Get a Result at Anfield
Back on November 3, Arsenal squared off against Liverpool at the Emirates in a match up that had everyone equal parts nervous and excited. By the end of the 90 the performance had everyone bouncing at the prospect of Arsenal’s improvement under Unai Emery. Facing off against Liverpool again then should have us excited at the prospect of showing how far we’ve come but on the heels of our last few weeks, the fear and loathing has returned.
Liverpool for their part seem to be on an unstoppable roll, looking to not only challenge for the league title but Arsenal’s Invincible run. Conversely Arsenal whimpered to a 1-1 draw to Brighton and well, the passivity of that performance and the patchwork nature of our defensive unit right now has man already fearing the worst.
It’s perhaps logical to feel this way. If you think about the season right now the good thing is that we’re on course for around 82 goals scored and possibly 76 points. Except that may be only good to get us finishing 5th. Additionally, it looks like we’re on course to concede 50 goals.
Before last season the last time that happened was 83/84. Unless something changes, and soon it will make for rough reading come the end of the season.
How to Beat Liverpool
At the Emirates Emery got it right tactically. Liverpool want to play through the width, getting the ball from their fullbacks up to Salah or Mane and using their speed to hurt the opposition.
Emery opted to go with a 4-2-4/2-4-4 in attack with 3 attackers looking to play across the back 4 and force the Liverpool fullbacks to remain honest and not venture to far forward. The front 4 were always fluid rotating with one another causing the Liverpool defensive unit problems in adjusting to the player in front of them.
As a rule, 3 of the 4 attackers played on that defensive line with one player dropping behind them to feed through balls to the runs behind the Liverpool line.
Our fullbacks in that match were Bellerin and Kolasinac and they pushed up to join Xhaka and Torreira in the midfield creating the 2-4-4. Torreira for the most part sitting a little deeper being wary of any attempt to try and play through the middle.
Overall this structure allowed Arsenal to get on the front foot and play fluidly against some of the best opposition in the league. We linked up play well with the FBs joining, and Kola having an especially strong day. It was a good game and at the time showed that maybe we had turned a corner in our development.
Of course, personnel had a lot to do with it and Emery used his selection wisely. The much-maligned Özil was used and in attack he was his magical best as he found space to exploit making sure to avoid the likes of Wijnaldum in the midfield. This resulted in him setting Aubameyang free on a couple a occasions.
Emery is going to be challenged of course with the injury situation he faces. With Mustafi facing a fitness test and Kos still not at peak performance the CB situation is still the most worrying area of our defensive unit, but the FB situation isn’t too far behind.
Bellerin is missed pure and simple. Against Liverpool last time he and Kola spent time alternating their runs at the Liverpool fullbacks. For this match since Bellerin is still out, Emery should opt for Maitland-Niles. The other option is Lichtsteiner who has looked impressive attacking but doesn’t have the speed to get back on the counter. You just can’t seem him being an adequate deterrent to Sadio Mane.
Emery has to bare some of the brunt for the recent run of form and his constant tinkering is unsettling a side that maybe needs more time to gel. Because of the result against Brighton he is now forced to go after a result at Liverpool. He can’t face having his side get anything less than a draw. Not with United showing signs of life and the rest of the top 4 miles away at the moment.
What to Expect from Liverpool
Against Newcastle in the midweek, Klopp went to a 4-2-3-1 in order to play against a low block defensive set up of their visitors. Since its likely we won’t see Arsenal set up to play deep, it’s expected that he reverts to his preferred 4-3-3 against Arsenal.
This would mean a midfield likely of Wijnaldum, Fabinho and one of either Keita or Milner. Though we have seen Shaqiri pop in more frequently. However, it should be noted that Klopp hasn’t started Shaqiri in back to back matches yet this season.
Klopp has opted for a more pragmatic approach to his play this year opting to not intensely press his opposition. It’s thought that this is being done to preserve his team for the longer haul of the Premier League season unlike last year where his intense style of play burned his players out as the year wore to a close.
In possession Liverpool seldom look to play through the middle, they prefer to overload one side of the pitch using two of the midfielders to move the ball between them to attract pressure. This opens up the passing line to the fullback who can then break forward and advance play down the line.
It was a similar style of play that scored Liverpool’s goal at the Emirates. In the build up to that goal, they overloaded one side of the midfield with Milner and Wijnaldum and switched play to the left to Robertson with Mane dropping in. Mane made a late run from deep to get the ball behind the defensive line from a pass from Robertson after the switch and Mane made the cross that Leno parried on to Holding’s calf which fell to a charging Milner.
Regardless of how the goal was scored the build up showed exactly how we could be exploited, and we should expect something similar.
Out of possession Liverpool will likely opt for a mid-block and then engage the gengenpress on a poor touch or poorly weighted pass from our Center Backs.
We know that Emery will have his team prepared are at a minimum educated on what they need to do try and get a result at Anfield. But they are playing a smart, on form opponent and it is going to take every bit of effort and commitment from the team to get a result.
Arsenal can’t afford to come out flat. They need to expend every ounce of energy they have to go toe to toe with a team that bending games to their will – even when they don’t look good.
Still, we can still take hope that we’ve shown against Liverpool and against Tottenham that we are more than capable of going up against the top teams in the league and giving a good account of ourselves. Emery needs to set his charges up and let them play. And if he can do that and adjust when its warranted rather than just to change, then we can come away with a result.
Players to Watch
Arsenal: Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang. He’s scoring at a clip of a goal per game on average. He is the striker we’ve need for a while and even with Liverpool’s improved defending he can make the runs that open them up.
Liverpool: Mohamed Salah. He’s coming into form even if he is diving to win to goals.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Mkhitaryan (foot), Monreal (thigh), Bellerin (calf), Kolasinac (thigh), Mustafi (hamstring) Holding (ACL), Welbeck (ankle), Mavropanos (groin)
Liverpool: Gomes (ankle), Matip (collarbone), Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) Milner (hamstring – doubtful)
Form (last 5)
Goals Scored (average per game)
Arsenal: 2.33 (away)
Liverpool: 2.44 (home)
Goals Conceded (average per game)
Arsenal: 1.78 (away)
Liverpool: .22 (home)
What the Coach Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
It is a very big match for us, and for them. They are unbeaten this season, with a very big confidence and big performance from their players. I look at their progress over the last year and they are maybe in the best moment now. But for us it is a big challenge and a good test to know who we are, the difference between them and us in the table is clear and also I want to look at the pitch. We have one test against them at the Emirates, we drew but it was a good match. In Liverpool is going to be a different match to what we played here.
First, they are usually feeling very high in their stadium with their supporters. Also the atmosphere is one point more for the. But we have players who have the habit of playing in big matches, also in Liverpool, and we know it is difficult for us but for me it is a very big test, I have a big motivation and I am looking forward to our response against them. Also, after finishing the first half of the season, we are in a good position with the points, 38, not very good but it is [quite] good and with the difference to the other teams, they are doing this difference and we need to do our process in the second half of the season to improve and to take a big performance little by little to shorten the difference between them and us.
Referee: Michael Oliver (16M 43Y 4R)
Assistants: Stuart Burt, Simon Bennett
Fourth official: Jonathan Moss
UK: BT Sport 17.30 GMT
US: NBC 12.30 EST
Match Facts (Courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Arsenal are winless in their last five league games at Anfield (D2, L3), conceding at least two goals in each of those matches (17 in total).
- Liverpool are unbeaten in their last seven matches against the Gunners (W3, D4).
- Arsenal are winless in their last three away league games, and have claimed just one victory in their last five on the road (D3, L1).
- The Gunners are winless in 19 Premier League away fixtures versus sides from the established top six (D7, L12), with their last such victory a 2-0 triumph at Manchester City on 18 January 2015.
- They have won just one of their last 12 Premier League away games against sides starting the day top of the table, losing the last six in a row by an aggregate score of 17-2.
- Arsenal have conceded in each of their last nine away Premier League games, two short of their longest run without a shut-out in the division (set in 2010).
- They have scored nine Premier League goals from outside the penalty area this season, more than any other side – but opponents Liverpool are the only side yet to concede from long range.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been directly involved in 30 goals in his 32 Premier League appearances for Arsenal, scoring 23 and assisting seven.