Liverpool face Arsenal on Saturday for the 12:45 kick off game. The game is the biggest challenge for this Liverpool team since the Everton game with Arsenal being the current Premier League leaders with 14 games to go. This preview will be looking at the game from a Liverpool perspective with a view to stopping and beating Arsenal.
The Liverpool line up that I am predicting is shown on the above graphic. I expect Liverpool to attempt to control and solidify the midfield area by bringing on Joe Allen for the brilliant but tiring Phil Coutinho. By by doing this we effectively have an additional body in the middle of the park as well as Joe Allen’s precise possession based passing game to keep the game ticking over for the Reds.
The graphic above has arrows in two directions. The arrows going more towards the opposition goal is how Liverpool generally play with the ball and the arrows towards our own goal is the way we generally play without the ball. I will try to explain the Liverpool system now to the best of my ability.
With the ball it is well known that the centre backs split to create a gap for Steven Gerrard to fall back into and dictate play from. As the Centre backs split the Full backs push on into a more offensive position. This pushes back the oppositions wider players as they have to go back towards goal to assist the opposition full backs to avoid 2 on 1 situations.
The midfield three of Gerrard, Allen and Henderson (as I expect for this game) now only have the oppositions central midfield to deal with in Arsenals case Ozil, Arteta and Oxlade Chamberlain. This leaves a straight 3 on 3 battle if everyone else is doing their jobs. Liverpool have the ball though so they have the advantage at this point in the way they play. The midfield three will now attempt to draw out Arsenals defence to help their fellow midfielders. By drawing out the Mertesacker and Koscielny the midfield effectively creates space for the front three to create an opportunity and get in on goal.
What I described there is of course all theory and an ideal situation which never really truly occurs in football hence why teams rely on both quality players as well as a quality system to win matches and trophies. You can’t just have one or the other to be successful as Manchester United are currently finding out with Dinosaur Moyes in charge.
Defensively the Liverpool team is at it’s weakest although this is largely down to individual errors rather than the system as a whole. When defending the team looks to be in more of a 4-5-1 shape with Luis Suarez leading the press and Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge tucking in either side of the 3 man midfield. Jordan Henderson is a key player for this system as he has great energy for the press but he also helps to cover the gaps which can be exposed when the opposition break quickly as Sturridge is often very far forward in these situations.
When the midfield decide there’s a chance of winning the ball three players collectively swarm the area. If it’s on the right Raheem, Joe and Jordan press if it’s on the left Daniel, Joe and Jordan press and if its more central Luis, Joe and Jordan press. This is why when it comes to possession turnovers Liverpool are one of the fastest sides to regain possession of the ball as it all starts at the front rather than some of the lesser sides are waiting until the ball is in-between there midfield and defence before making a significant effort to win the ball back. Against Arsenal, a very slick side, it will take a huge effort to maintain a press for 90 minutes due to the efficiency they have with the ball. However when pressed efficiently and effectively, as Everton showed at the Emirates, Arsenal can falter even if they did manage to scrape a draw Everton were by far the better side.
Overall I feel if we can play the game the way we set out to anything is possible for this Liverpool side. However that has been the message for most of the season. If someone offered me a draw right now then I would no doubt take it but I do feel we can beat this Arsenal side which like us, is plagued by injuries to key players. Arsenal are the favourites going in which should be a big motivation to the boys so we will have to see what happens.
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