But WE NEED TO ADAPT OUR GAME TO LIVERPOOL’S RELENTLESSNESS!
It is early days but as the saying goes, well begun is half won. A win (barely) and an unlucky loss is the stage set for a battle we cannot afford to lose, as we face one of our expected rivals away from home. For last season, Liverpool sat atop the mini top-six-team table while we sat at the bottom. They beat us home and away and over the season proved adept at raising their game against the top six teams. In our home match, which was the opening match of last season, we lost to them by 3-4 playing with a team missing many of our starters. In the return leg, which took place at the height of our crises of confidence that all but imploded our season, they beat us by 3-1.
Jurgen Klopp, the coach of Liverpool is an exponent of “heavy metal football” in which they use intense pressing all over the field to destabilize the opposition team. Last season they were the hardest working team in the EPL, having covered more ground than any other team. With a new left full back in the impressive Robertson, Milner who is one of the hardest workers in the EPL has moved back into the midfield of their usual 4:3:3 formation. Alongside him is another lung busting performer in Jordan Henderson, while Wijnaldum or Can, both battlers, complete the middle trio. Their forward players would likely be the electrifying Mane, the industrious and gifted Firmino and their new signing, an international team mate of Elneny, Mohamed Salah, dubbed the ‘king of Egypt’.
Liverpool is a tough team to play against. With sky-high spirit from having just qualified for the CL proper with a 6-3 aggregate win over Hoffenheim, we have to be at our best at Anfield. Interestingly, it is Liverpool’s relentlessness, their chief weapon of destruction, that is also their undoing. They have a voracious appetite for attacking football that leaves the defence vulnerable (sounds familiar?). This certainly is a match where there will be goals.
Expect this match to be won and lost in the midfield and that is why I hope we would set out in a 4:3:3 formation. We dare not present a soft centre to Liverpool. In nature, adaptation is the means of survival and football is very much about survival. Many would question the need for a change in formation when the existing is apparently coping well. But this is not change for the sake of change. It is responding intelligently to a different challenge.
By the way, let us evaluate our performance in all competitions since we switched to the 3:4:3. Played 12, won 10, lost 2. That is a brilliant record. But there is a catch. Two of the matches in our 10 wins (City FA semi final and Leicester EPL 17/18) were matches rescued from losing positions by the grace of our switch mid-game back to the 4:2:3:1, as well as the Leicester EPL 16/17 home match, where the same switch moved us from a draw position to victory. As far as is available to us, the 3:4:3 was losing 2 and drawing 1 out of those our 10 wins. If we then go by the state of things before the mid-match switches, the 3:4:3 overall performance would have been 7 wins, 1 draw, 4 losses which translates to 69 points in a season of 38 games. This stat should bring us back to earth as far as the 3:4:3 formation is concerned, now that it’s assumed robustness has been brought into proper perspective. It has proved not any better than our 4:2:3:1. What this analysis tells us is that allowances should be made for tactical adaptation and against Liverpool I believe we need to adapt.
Using a 4:3:3 for this encounter would be a smart piece of business. For the defensive phase of the game against this Liverpool team that presses so intensely and progresses their play through quick passing and movement, our emphasis for player selection should shift slightly away from the tacklers to the good readers of the game for interceptions and the closing of the passing lanes. Quick movements of the ball and the players by the opposition are difficult to target for the tackle. Also, our ability at beating their press with our own passing should be another important consideration in our selection choices. Elneny who is such a tidy pass and move player thus trumps Coquelin as our third midfielder.
For the same reasons as above, Mertesacker should be preferred to Mustafi as the partner to Koscienly who is back, bang on time in our 2-man central defence.
Liverpool and Arsenal are two sides dedicated to attacking football. That means an open contest. That also should mean that the attacking phase of the game ought to emphasize quick passing, greater verticality and plenty of movement. Lacazette over Giroud should be the tip of the arrow. Giroud would be missed, though, as Liverpool is especially poor in defending set pieces. With Alexis back on the field we are assured that Ozil will emerge from the tunnel. There would be fireworks come Sunday starting 16: 00 BST.
The line-up I wish to see:
SUBS : Ospina, Oxlade, Mustafi, Monreal, Coquelin, Welbeck, Giroud (football politics might cause Oxlade chosen ahead of Bellerin).
The time is NOW for Gooners to stand by their team as ever before. Meanwhile, what is your take on how we should set up ad out against Liverpool?