Scouting Report: Arsenal can use Chelsea’s blueprint to hurt Liverpool
Arsenal have won their opening two games of the Premier League campaign for the first time in 10 years but face a daunting trip to face European champions Liverpool at Anfield – a place that has not been a happy stomping ground for the Gunners.
Arsenal have lost on their last three consecutive trips to Anfield, scoring only two goals and conceding 12.
Our last trip to Anfield resulted in a 5-1 loss despite scoring first and some of the goals were conceded in a comical fashion.
If Emery can engineer a good performance in this game it would certainly go a long way to giving hope that we can turn around not only our poor recent scorelines against Liverpool but also our away form that was a major problem last season.
Arsenal‘s last victory at Anfield came in 2012 and coincidentally was also the third game of the league season.
Goals from new signings Santi Cazorla and Lukas Podolski won the game 2-0 for the Gunners and now the hope will be that we can see a similar impact from our current new signings in the likes of Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe.
The positive for Arsenal will be that Liverpool have looked fragile defensively in the opening weeks of this campaign and in Aubameyang, Lacazette, and Pepe we have players that have the ability to hurt them if we can highlight their weak right-hand side and new-look high defensive line.
Forcing separation in Liverpool’s midfield
Against Chelsea, Liverpool struggled to deal with Chelsea’s press for long periods but it wasn’t just the relentless nature of Chelsea’s press that hurt the European Champions, it was the spaces it took advantage of.
Chelsea’s midfield three of Mason Mount, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante looked to cut supply lines into Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and James Milner which forced Henderson and Milner to pull wide in search for spaces to receive the ball which left Fabinho exposed and without support the Brazilian was fragile in possession.
This led to Liverpool’s attempts to progress the ball into midfield being largely fruitless and gave Chelsea a multitude of turnovers which allowed them to counter Liverpool at will.
Dribbling against the press
One of Chelsea’s strategies was the carry the ball through Liverpool’s press and Kante personified this, the Frenchman completed eight dribbles out of the 12 he attempted – to put that into perspective, Liverpool only completed seven overall.
Dani Ceballos completed four take-ones against Burnley’s deep block last weekend and if the Spaniard continues that form into Saturday it could be a great weapon against Liverpool.
Against Burnley, Arsenal played a midfield three of Ceballos, Guendouzi, and Willock which had a lot of dynamism to make up for the lack of experience.
All three midfielders were willing to have the ball at feet and showed the ability to carry it up the pitch which could be invaluable attributes against Liverpool.
Taking advantage of a sloppy offside trap
Much has been made of Liverpool’s higher defensive line and even though it could bring advantages long-term it has looked fragile in recent games.
The introduction of VAR means that the rate of offsides that aren’t called correctly we be at a record low and because of that having a well oiled offside trap is far less risky.
However, after the first two Premier League games Liverpool rank 18th in the Premier League for offsides caught per game, averaging at just 0.5 – in contrast Arsenal rank first with four offsides caught per game.
If Arsenal can get Aubameyang making diagonal runs between Liverpool’s right-back and right centre-back then our front three could have the cutting edge to take advantage where Chelsea couldn’t.
Force the ball back to Adrian
In some games, a defensive unit is only as good as the confidence inspired in them by their goalkeeper and Liverpool’s stand-in has had some shaky moments.
Against Southampton, a very simple pass back from Van Dijk somehow turned into a horror moment for Liverpool as Adrian passed the ball straight to Danny Ings who easily scored with his first touch.
Aside from that, Adrian’s kicking has been inconsistent at best and composure on the ball is one of the huge differences between the Spaniard and Alisson.
Forcing Liverpool to play the ball back to Adrian by blocking passing lanes into midfield and hassling their back four when in possession could test the nerve of a goalkeeper low on confidence with the ball at his feet and if his kicking is as wayward as the games against Chelsea and Southampton it could present an interesting mentality shift for Arsenal to take advantage of.
Their danger man – Sadio Mane
Although Mohammed Salah has taken most of the headlines for Liverpool over the last two seasons, I’d say the more potent threat to our defence would be the Senegal International who has scored in all three of our recent defeats at Anfield.
Despite the African Cup of Nations taking away Mane’s pre-season, he’s still scored three goals in his two starts so far.
Mane constantly looks unphased of the big occasion and the prospect of him running at the likes of Maitland-Niles could give us a difficult night if we don’t stay resolute – something we haven’t done at Anfield for a long time.
Score prediction: 3-2 to Liverpool
As positive as I am that we have the players that can hurt Liverpool I do think that this team has a way to go before we can go up against a team that has reached the level Liverpool so often reach (at Anfield especially).
I think there’s a lot of variables that would have to go our way for us to get anything out of the game and Liverpool’s front three will be more likely to hurt us more than the other way around.
However, a promising start to the season has shown glimpses that we could be seeing an Arsenal team that has a lot more dynamism and I hope they prove me wrong on Saturday by securing a result against the odds.