Liverpool FCa s first big challenge of the season presents itself, in the form of a trip to the Emirates. Brendan Rodgersa side are without new captain Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, while Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan remain sidelined. Arsene Wenger is without the services of Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.
Here are three points we think Liverpool need to keep in mind, to get a result at the Emirates.
1. Dona t Drop Lallana for Firmino
A lot of Liverpool fans are keen to see their shiny new Brazilian attacker rolled out against top 4 rivals Arsenal FC. But this is probably the worst time to give Roberto Firmino his League debut.
So far, Liverpool have played a 4-2-3-1 so far this season, with the band of three comprising Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Jordon Ibe. Adding Firmino to the line-up would involve one of these three players dropping out. Now we all know Philippe is nailed on to the first team list, and Ibe is really the only midfielder who gives the side any sort of width. That leaves Lallana as the automatic choice for demotion to the bench. But one look at the opposition and one can see why thata s a bad idea.
Arsenala s 4-2-3-1 consists of a double pivot of Francis Coquelin and either of Santi Cazorla or Aaron Ramsey. Both of the latter players are key cogs in Arsenala s attack, and will spend more time in Liverpoola s half than their own. Which means Liverpoola s attacking players will have to track back to mark them, and Adam Lallana is the one likely to contribute the most in this regard.
Ita s telling that two games into the season, Adam Lallana is LFCa s joint top tackler (3.5 tackles per game, same as Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner). And ita s not as if he is a purely defensive presence, since hea s also the joint top dribbler alongside Jordon Ibe (2.5 dribbles per game).
Firmino could be a great option to bring off the bench in the second half to add a little adding impetus to the attack. But a starting role would be ill advised.
2. Exploit Bentekea s Aerial Presence
Christian Benteke has allayed a lot of doubts about his fit in this Liverpool side with his first two performances. Hea s already got his first goal for the club against Bournemouth, and has been a massive presence as the lone frontman.
While hea s showcased that there is much more than just a big target man, Liverpool do need to learn to exploit his towering presence better. Hea s currently leading the Premier League in the number of aerials won (18 in two games), but the Reds have done little to cross the ball into him, having launched a total of 7 crosses in 180 minutes.
Jordon Ibe could be the key here. Liverpool will get more chances to counter-attack against Arsenal than they have against more cautious sides like Stoke City and Bournemouth. Jordon Ibea s pace out wide will be critical. Just as important will be James Milner who, perhaps thanks to all the seasons spent as a right-winger, has a decent eye for a cross.
You cana t expect Benteke to convert every aerial ball into a goal though; hea s also going to be knocking some of these balls down for his teammates. So ita s crucial that every time a ball is lofted towards him, one of the attacking midfielders will need to be around to make runs off of him.
3. Liverpoola s Double Pivot Has To Closely Mark Space
When the opposition has a player like Mesut Ozil at their disposal, simple man-marking wona t suffice. Hea s a player whose game greatly relies on his ability to create space for other players. He must be salivating about going up against a make-shift central midfield pairing of Emre Can and James Milner.
If Can and Milner allow themselves to be regularly pulled out of position by the Germana s runs, they will leave acres of space for Ramsey, Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez. Ita s important that atleast one of the two midfielders be available to shield the back four at all times. It wona t be easy for two players who love to charge forward with the ball, but the result of the game may depend on their ability to curb their attacking instincts.
Parting Note: The Departing Lucas Leiva
If he werena t inexplicably headed for an exit from the club, this would have been the perfect game to play Lucas Leiva. Therea s no one else in Brendan Rodgersa squad better equipped to counter the threat of Mesut Ozil. Hea s Liverpoola s only defensive midfielder, and a player who excels at reading the game.
His exit is going to leave a big hole in this team, both in terms of ability and experience. If Rodgers sells him without signing an adequate replacement, it will be a damning indictment of the young managera s vision.