By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to North London to face an in-form Arsenal side as they look to keep up their winning form as every dropped points could prove vital come the end of the season, even as early as November.
The Reds picked up three points last weekend with a routine 4-1 win over Cardiff City with two late Shaqiri and Mane scoring late to help bridge the goal difference gap between ourselves and Man City.
Arsenal have been in tremendous form despite playing quite poorly in the majority of their games. Poor finishing from the opposition as well as a couple of goals in the second half have saved Arsenal’s and Unai Emery blushes.
A 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace saw their 11-match winning run end in what was another match in which they were lucky to get anything from the game.
As mentioned before, Liverpool won 4-1 against Cardiff City, the second time we have scored four goals in five days. The Reds looked to have almost regained the form that brought the Reds’ to the Champions League Final.
Bobby Firmino seems to be the only one of the front three not to be on his top form but has shown flashes of his brilliance. Mo Salah and Sadio Mane have both scored three goals in their last two games.
Adam Lallana failed to impress in the 50-odd minutes he played. Whenever he received the ball, he held onto it too long slowing down good attacking opportunities for Liverpool which proved to be quite frustrating.
Once Xherdan Shaqiri entered the fray, Liverpool looked much livelier in attack play considerably more fluid which eventually late to two goals in as many minutes.
Arsenal on the other hand have won 11 of their last 12 games since the two defeats against City and Chelsea in the first two games of the season. Last weekend they showed their defensive frailties with poor defending leading to two penalties conceded which Milivojevic dispatched with ease in a 2-2 draw.
Most of the games they have won have been done so thanks to second half goals, with a recent table placing Arsenal 17th with eight points if all games ended in the first half. With many of their goals coming in the second 45 minutes, Liverpool must make a blistering start to avoid a late Arsenal charge in the second half.
Unai Emery has something of a defensive injury crisis with no recognised left-back available for the game with Hector Bellerin also proving to be a doubt.
Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis will form a defence which can be easily exposed. A full-back pairing of Lichsteiner and Maitland Niles should leave Mane and Salah salivating at the prospect of facing the duo.
With Guendouzi suspended after being sent-off in the League Cup mid-week Granit Xhaka should return to midfield with Uruguayan player Lucas Torreira partnering him.
The league’s top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will form an attacking midfield trio alongside Mesut Ozil and a rejuvenated Alex Iwobi. Alexandre Lacazette who has four goals this season will lead the line-up.
The midfield two as well as the back four can be easily got at. Arsenals last league clean sheet came over a month ago against Watford and have since conceded against Fulham, Leicester and Crystal Palace.
With Unai Emery demanding Arsenal play from the back at all costs, we could very well see performances similar to that when Jurgen Klopp faced Pep Guardiola in the Champions League. Mustafi, Sokratis and Xhaka are often known for their defensive mistakes – if Liverpool’s attack continues to show their improved form Liverpool could be out of sight by half-time.
Liverpool should revert to a 4-3-3 formation after using 4-2-3-1 in their last three games. The reason being is Klopp would want to have an extra man in midfield to control the game better.
Having a third midfielder will also allow us to have an extra player to stifle Arsenal’s attack as well as utilise Bobby Firmino’s pressing game to full effect.
Joe Gomez will probably start at right back providing pace against Aubameyang. Jurgen Klopp has used the English man as a right back in games away from home against the top six. Dejan Lovren and his lack of pace might be exposed against Arsenals explosive attack.
Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum will form a midfield three alongside James Milner with the match coming too soon for captain Jordan Henderson. The front three who have scored seven in the last two matches completing the line-up.
Danger man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Much has been said about the Gabonese International since his arrival to the Premier League. Joining from Borussia Dortmund for a reported £60m, a club record.
Many people think he should be doing better for a player of his class and finishing abilities. This couldn’t be further from the truth though. Only Mohamed Salah (17) has scored more league goals then the striker (16) since his arrival in January.
The 29-year-old also has contributed a remarkable 21 goals and assists in only 22 games. Being deployed on the flank this season, Aubamayang is being utilised for his pace and finishing ability, quite similar to our Egyptian. A wide forward if you will.
Using his blistering pace often on par with Olympians paired up with his world class finishing. Pierre Emerick Aubamayang will be a handful for our right-hand side of defence.
One thing that could work in our favour is his lack of defensive contribution, which could see him demoted to the subs bench to provide the team with more stability. If in fact he does start and with an inexperienced Maitland Niles coming up against a red-hot Mo Salah.
Midfield battle – Like all games the midfield battle more or less will decide the outcome of the match, for this game however, it will be vitally important. With only two central midfielders available. Xhaka and Torreira will be coming up against Wijnaldum Fabinho and Milner.
Lucas Torreira is quite a handy player, reads the game well and picks the right pass nine times out of 10. His midfield partner however is quite the opposite. Granit Xhaka does not read the game well, he finds himself out of position on numerous occasions.
His dispersal of the ball, for someone who built his reputation on his range of passing is quite shocking, often going for the impossible rather than keeping it simple. Shaqiri’s international team-mate often dawdles on the ball, taking too much touches. With Roberto Firmino playing he should be able to steal the ball off the no.34 on multiple occasions.
Fabinho and Wijnaldum have really started to understand each other in a double-pivot role. With James Milner re-joining the line-up, it will be interesting to see how both perform, especially Fabinho given this will be his first real test of the season.
Ultimately I think our midfield will handsomely win the midfield battle and with little effort which will swing the game in Liverpool’s favour and make it a comfortable evening in North London.
Over-performing defence vs over-performing attack – Liverpool’s defence and Arsenal’s attack are the reason why they are so far up the table. Our defence have bailed us out a handful of times this season.
The Reds’ have won by one goal four times this season. According to the ‘expected goal’ statistic, a pretty useless statistic if you ask me, Liverpool should have conceded 7.5 goals compared to the four that we have actually shipped.
Arsenal are the 2nd highest scorers in the league with 24, 10 higher than their expected tally of 14.4. With Aubameyang and Lacazette leading the line, you are always guaranteed to score goals if you play to their strengths as Emery is doing.
Despite the fact they have excellent finishers at their disposal. Scoring 10 goals more than expected after just 10 games is ludicrous. The next highest is Leicester with three. With a tougher run of fixtures on the horizon, Arsenal will start showing their true form and start slipping down the table.
Having an over performing defence is much better than having an over performing attack. Conceding less than expected shows that the defence is performing well. While scoring more than expected can show the attack is performing well, or the opposition defence is performing poor.
Last five results
Premier League – 13/01/2016 Liverpool 3-3 Arsenal
Premier League – 14/08/2016 Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
Premier League – 04/03/2017 Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Premier League – 27/08/2017 Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal
Premier League – 22/12/2017 Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool
When Liverpool play Arsenal, there is always an abundance of goals. Each of the last five games have brought a total of 27 goals 17:10 in Liverpool’s favour. In each match both teams had quite poor defences and excellent attacking players.
This time however Liverpool go to the Emirates with the best League defence in Europe since Van Dijk arrived, only conceding 14 level with the masters of defence Atlético Madrid.
I think our defence will be too strong for Arsenals and the game will be a lot easier than some people think, play like we did in the latter stages of the Champions League and we could well be walking away from the Emirates with a healthy win.
Our midfield will over power theirs with ease while our attack will cut through their defence like a hot knife through butter. Salah will continue is goal scoring form and will be joined on the scoresheet by Firmino and Mane, as Liverpool send out a statement of intent to the rest of the league.
Arsenal 1 (Lacazette) – 4 Liverpool (Salahx2, Mane Firmino)