Arsenal FC

vs

Liverpool FC

Emirates Stadium, London

November 02, 2013; 17:30 GMT

*****

This is, by far, the biggest game of the season so far. Not just for the two clubs participating, but to the whole Barclays Premier League. These two clubs have been right at the top of the Premier League table from the very start of the season. Entering Gameweek 10, they are still holding on to the top spots with Arsenal FC currently at the top of the League, and Liverpool FC sitting on third behind Chelsea (trailing only on goal-difference). However, it must be kept in mind that both have had a relatively easy run of games; each have only faced off against one of the ‘Top-6’ teams of the League.

Arsenal FC enter this match on the back of a mid-week defeat to local rivals Chelsea in the Capitol One Cup. Jose Mourinho’s side showed off their strength in depth: despite making 10 changes to the team that beat Manchester City the previous weekend (only Gary Cahill was retained), his line-up still featured immensely talented players like Juan Mata, David Luiz and Michael Essien. Arsene Wenger retained players like Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey, but still had to face an exit from the cup. On the Premier League however, their form has been incredible, and they are currently on an 8 game unbeaten run. This includes the incredible win against Crystal Palace, where they not only held on to their lead despite going down to 10-men in the 65th minute, they even managed to score a second in the final minutes. With creative masterminds like Mesut Ozil and Cazorla in their side, and Olivier Giroud being in fine form, Arsenal would be confident of getting past Liverpool’s sometimes shaky back three.

Liverpool FC will be entering the match full of confidence, after steam-rolling over West Brom in the prior weekend, scoring 4 goals past their opposition. The highlight of the game was a hat-trick by forward Luis Suarez, who has been in sublime form since returning from his 10-match ban; his pairing with the impressive Daniel Sturridge has been one of the reasons. Liverpool have scored an incredible 12 goals in the 4 matches since the Uruguayan’s return, coming from three contributors: Suarez with 6, Sturridge with 4, and the remaining 2 by Steven Gerrard (both penalties). While it’s good to see a forward pairing doing exactly what is expected of them by bringing in bags of goals, it is a worrying sign that no other has player has contributed to the goals tally in open play, barring a singular strike by Victor Moses on his Liverpool debut against Swansea City.

Arsenal FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation

Manager Arsene Wenger is without Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain yet to recover from injury, while Lukas Podolski has recently returned to training, but is unlikely to feature against Liverpool.

Arsenal are likely to stick to their 4-2-3-1 formation which has worked so well for them so far this season, with Giroud leading the attack with Ozil, Cazorla and Serge Gnarby supporting him. Mikel Arteta’s one match ban for picking up a second yellow-card against Crystal Palace has been served (he missed out the mid-week League Cup clash), so he will form the central midfield pairing along with Aaron Ramsey. Wenger’s favored back four of Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs will feature in front of goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

Crystal Palace v Arsenal - Passing Combinations

Crystal Palace v Arsenal – Passing Combinations (source: Four Four Two Stats Zone)

Arsene Wenger will be ruing not having Flamini at his disposal for this match. The Frenchman was a key figure at the start of the Gunners’ campaign, but a groin injury means he will not feature. While both Ramsey and Arteta are able to contribute defensively, neither is as naturally astute at the task as Flamini. The reason why this is an even bigger worry is the fact that with the full-backs having a tendency to rush forward, the last thing Arsenal need is to have a 2-on-2 at the back, with Sturridge-Suarez facing off against Koscielny-Mertesacker; the Liverpool pair are likely to come out on top in such a situation. In attack, Ozil will be fielded in a central attacking midfielder role, but expect him to regularly drift off towards either wing. He has a good give-and-go pairing with Ramsey, who will continue his forward runs which make him such an attacking threat (he has 5 goals and 4 assists in the 9 Premier League games) .

If Arsene Wenger gives Gnabry a start, Arsenal will have a higher chance of beating the Liverpool defence. On the right flank, Gnabry’s pace and direct style will combine well with Sagna’s ability to contribute to attacking moves, as seen in how often he combined with Arsenal’s midfielders in the Crystal Palace match (see the pass combination chart on the right), could prove too much to handle for Liverpool’s left wing back Aly Cissokho and left-back Mamadou Sakho (both of whom have not looked very defensively solid so far). On the left, their opposite numbers Glen Johnson and Kolo Toure are far more secure, hence Gibbs’ wide runs coupled with Cazorla drifting inside, occasionally swapping positions with Ozil, could provide the right amount of disruption to crack the Liverpool defence.

Fatigue may even be a factor for the London side, as key players like Ramsey and Cazorla might not be at their very best; after all, this will be their third match in a span of 8 days.

Arsenal FC Probable Starting Line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Gnabry, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud

Arsenal v Liverpool - Probable Formations

Liverpool FC – Team News, Line-up and Formation

Manager Brendan Rodgers is without Iago Aspas who has a long-term injury, and Jose Enrique’s injury situation is unclear; he has not featured in the past two games after undergoing a knee surgery. Philippe Coutinho is supposed to be back in the side, though it is unlikely that he will be given a starting berth right away.

Arsenal v Liverpool Tactics - Luis Suarez' individual skill will be important

Luis Suarez: Take-Ons against West Brom

Rodgers’ recently favored 3-4-1-2 formation is likely to be retained, though the only player capable of doing to the number 10 role (behind Suarez and Sturridge) is Coutinho; with his fitness a concern, he will most likely be a second-half substitution. Victor Moses has been played in that role in previous outings, but he is much better suited for a wider position and has not been able to do justice in this more central positioning. It’s most likely that Rodgers will stick to the team that played against West Brom last week:. A back three of Toure, Martin Skrtel and Sakho will shield Mignolet’s goal, with Johnson and Cissokho playing as wing-backs. In central midfield, Lucas Leiva stood the deepest, while Gerrard and Jordan Henderson took turns going forward.

The key problem with this system is the lack of support from central support for the front two. While it seemed like a non-issue against West Brom, a major reason for this was Suarez and Sturridge’s individual abilities in beating oppositions (see image above on the right). Arsenal is a superior side and their players will not be beaten as easily. Even against West Brom, the absence of a creative player with an eye for a through-ball (read: Coutinho) meant that Sturridge had to regularly drop deeper to collect the ball, while Suarez stayed higher up the pitch. This can be clearly seen from their average positions on the pitch.

Arsenal v Liverpool Preview - Tactics - Sturridge and Suarez' respective roles

Suarez vs Sturridge – Action Areas against West Brom

Simply put, in Coutinho’s absence, Liverpool are simply over-reliant on Suarez and Sturridge. If the Arsenal defence are able to mark them well, with the two holding midfielders tracking back when needed, Liverpool could have a torrid time trying to score. Additionally, no one out of the midfield trio of Lucas-Henderson-Gerrard is very proficient at holding on to the ball and controlling the tempo, something Joe Allen was brought in to do. If Allen gets a good run of game, he could ideally be a direct replacement for

Henderson against strong opponents like Arsenal; while Liverpool would miss Hendo’s athletic approach and stamina, Allen would make up for it by boosting the side’s ability to hang on to the ball. Unfortunately, injury woes have meant that Allen has only featured twice this season, both substitute appearances, both after the 80th minute. Another wild card Rodgers can use is Luis Alberto. The Barcelona product has shown flashes of his talent in his substitute appearances, especially when he came on against Newcastle United. But he might be too inexperienced to be given a start for such a big ocassion. That being said, Rodgers definitely has the ability to adapt his side as required and surprise onlookers with his tactics (his switch to a three-defender system being the most recent example).

Arsenal have allowed their opponents to attempt a minimum of 10 shots (blocked shots included) in every Premier League game this season. Against West Brom, Suarez scored 3 goals from 8 shots on target. While this is clearly an oversimplification of statistics, Liverpool will know that all it takes is for Suarez to get a clear line of sight of the goal, and he could single-handedly settle the game.

Liverpool FC Probable Starting Line-up (3-5-2): Mignolet (GK); Toure, Skrtel, Sakho; Johnson, Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson, Cissokho; Suarez, Sturridge

Match Facts

  • Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet in any of their last 6 Premier League games.
  • Out of the 9 League games so far this season, Arsenal have only managed to keep clean sheets twice (Liverpool have done so 4 times).
  • In the League match against Crystal Palace in the prior weekend, Arsenal played with 10 men for 25 minutes but still attempted 665 passes – their highest in a league game this season.

Source: Four-Four-Two Stats Zone

Players to Watch Out For

Luis Suarez (Liverpool)

Arsenal v Liverpool line-ups, formations & tactics -Luis Suarez  the man to watch

Luis Suarez: The one who got away

Come Saturday, all eyes will be on him. The man who almost left Liverpool earlier this year. The man who almost joined Wenger’s Arsenal. Almost, but thankfully for Liverpool fans, not quite. He is still very much a part of Liverpool Football Club, and as incisive in attack as ever. He has been all but impossible to mark, and even tougher to prevent from scoring. It is nothing short of astonishing that he is the third highest goal scorer in the League (behind Sturridge and Aguero) despite having played in only 4 of the 9 games so far this season. He could serve up a brutal reminder to Arsene Wenger of just what he failed to capture.

Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)

While Wenger missed out on Suarez, he pulled of an incredible transfer by capturing Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. Out of the 22 players on the pitch on Saturday, he is the one who is most likely to provide a killer pass to his team-mates and change the game in his team’s favor. On top of having a keen eye for passes and being brilliant at off-the-ball runs, he is  also a great set-piece taker. In a match between two attack minded teams, a decision reached through a well-delivered corner or free-kick could be a fitting piece of irony.

Prediction

Arsenal 3 – 2 Liverpool

These are two sides that are not only very strong in attack, they are also fairly poor at keeping clean sheets. There is little likelihood that either will do a very good job of keeping the other at bay, any surprise tactical masterclass aside. But Liverpool are over-reliant on their front two, whereas Arsenal have goal coming from their striker (Giroud), their attacking midfielders (Ozil), and even their deeper lying midfielders (Ramsey). They look like they have enough firepower to outscore Liverpool.

Blast from the past