I suspect it will be a short one today, despite the scale of the fixture – mainly because as I’m writing this the arrows on the clock are inching towards 10 p.m. on a Monday. It wouldn’t be such as issue had I not been forced to put in only 5 hours of sleep and then withstand a gruelling exam, of course. But I did both these things, so here we are.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) Arsenal takes on Liverpool at Anfield and it’s fair to say we are in with a good chance of winning the game. The main reason why this Liverpool side looks vulnerable right now is their growing injury list – the reliable premierinjuries.com tell us 13 (!) of Klopp’s men are currently injured. An unlucky number indeed.
This list includes Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge (ahem), Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren, Jordan Henderson and Mamadou Sakho – although it has to be said the latter two are facing late fitness tests and could both be available.
Team news update
What do we have to show for our injury problems? Well, we can forget about Jack, Danny and Santi for now, that’s for sure. The first to be back should be Welbz, whose return may happen on February 6th. Out of mind, for now.
Francis Coquelin may be pushing for a late January return, however no update on him was given pre-Liverpool, with Arsene saying both Francis and Santi should return on schedule. That means a late February return for our Policeman. I don’t like it, moreover, I think Coq may be back sooner, seeing as his injury wasn’t for half a season and he’s already started running, but let’s stick with the official version and see if there might be a surprise in store for us come end of January.
That means our immediate future (the next 2-3 weeks, say) can only bring us gifts in Alexis- and Thomas-esque shape. The former:
“We think he will be short for Wednesday, he has a chance to be available for Sunday [against Stoke]. He is always keen to play. If you listen to Alexis he can always play – even when he is injured. We try to be cautious. With a muscular injury you never exactly how big the risk but he is very close. If you look at him training he is very close.”
“He will be back in full training this week, it is fantastic because he has been out for very long and it is good to know that a player of that calibre is back in our squad.”
I sincerely hope Alexis returns in time for Stoke to maybe make a substitute appearance and thus whip into shape for Chelsea. Of course at this point I’d rather Arsene didn’t risk the Chilean and push him to make the squad vs Stoke. Better safe than sorry and all that. I’d rather Alexis has one more week of R&R. We are going to need him for our tough run-in.
However Thomas was captured a million times today – during a training session. I’m assuming this means the experienced Czech will be named in the squad vs Pool and it’s good to know. He brings a lot to our side, one of his (almost) unique qualities being his ability to burst through the lines in a Wilshere-esque manner. Or should I say Jack bursts through the lines in a Rosicky-esque manner?
Whatever way you look at it, having our Little Mozart back is a huge bonus and I hope his swan song will remind me of the quality of the player we were lucky to have at our disposal for 10 years.
Liverpool have been pretty whack, even after Klopp took over. There have been noticeable changes in the way they play, while clearly this squad isn’t the final version of what the manager would like to have, but for now the point stands – Liverpool have been pretty whack.
This whackiness (is this even a word?) is especially telling at home – their record under Klopp is W2-D2-L1 with both wins being narrow 1-0. Pool have scored 6 and conceded 5 in those fixtures. Their overall record under Klopp is W5-D3-L4 with the goal difference being an astonishing 0 – 14 scored and 14 conceded. Lastly, Pool only managed 21 league goals this season – just over 1 per game. Klopp’s men are 14th in the goal-scoring table.
All of this hints at either the lack of chances created for the forward men or, indeed, the quality of these forward men. Interestingly enough, it looks to be the latter – seeing as Liverpool are 2nd in the league in chances created – 13.2 per game. Even we are 3rd in this regard (12.9 per game, though I suspect Cazorla’s absence might be taking its toll). Only City have a better chance creation frequency – 13.6 per game.
Fortunately, we have very few problems with which Klopp is burdened right now. Indeed, had it not been for our atrocious November, our away form could have been better than our home one – and that’s saying something, seeing as we racked up 23 points in 10 home games – almost 2.5 per game.
“Arsenal and Arsene have their own style; it’s possession football, so it’s clear that if we want to play the same way we will be without a chance because they’ve been doing it for longer.
Arsenal are not only a good possession team, that’s the problem, they have good counter-attacks too and that’s what you have to be aware of.” – Klopp
Does it sound to you like Klopp will instruct his men to cede possession and play on the counter? Because to me it sounds like he will. Of course it’s not the end of the world – we are very good on the ball and if we take our chances, Arsenal can be out of sight before Pool try and sucker punch us on the counter – think back to that 4-1 drubbing at the Emirates.
However, I’d say Arsene should consider the opposite approach. Do I have reason to believe he will? I hope I do:
“You compensate for the absence of quality players with different styles. Sometimes with more physical commitment, more solidarity, because you’re conscious that you have less individual potential to change the games.”
This is what Arsene said pre-Sunderland, when asked to give his take on Arsenal being top without Alexis Sanchez. To me “less individual potential” sounds like “sometimes we can’t play the football we like to play because we don’t have the key players for it”. Seeing as our preferred approach is possession-based football, the less comfortable way for us would be playing without the ball, like we did against City to great effect twice in 2015. Or like we did against Liverpool at Anfield last year and nearly succeeded. Or maybe I’m just theorising without concrete facts. Or maybe I just like the quote. You decide.
However, I’d advocate a more direct approach from us tomorrow night. It yielded results against tough opposition away from home pretty consistently, plus we know Liverpool will have trouble dealing with our attacks if we bypass their press.
How to do it without Santi Cazorla, our best distributor? Long balls. It may sound funny, simplistic even, but that’s exactly what teams that have recently beaten Liverpool exercised, West Ham being the prime example. The Hammers have only attempted 272 passes (completing only 182), but of these 43 were long balls (15 were successful) – 16%. I have no idea whether 16% is an anomaly, a high percentage, but Watford, for example played 20% of their passes long in the 3-0 win over Liverpool.
If we look at the overall context, Arsenal plays the least long balls per game in the league – under 50, which is less than 10% of their passes per game (average), while Watford plays 80 long balls per game – 20% of their total.
So I guess we can have some joy if we try the long ball strategy.
Just a couple of words on team selection, I’ve the article long enough as it is (so much for “it’ll be a short one”).
I guess we will be treated to returns of Mertesacker, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey and Ozil to the starting XI. Objectively speaking, something like this is our strongest squad at the moment:
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Flamini – Ramsey – Ozil – Walcott – Campbell – Giroud
It’d be heartwarming to see Rosicky on the bench (hope he makes), while both Iwobi and Jeff showed they can chip in with their respective contributions, so I’m pretty calm about our options on the bench.
I wouldn’t advocate dropping Per for Gabriel as I sometimes do before big games – Mert is excellent in the air and we’ll need his skills against Benteke, the most likely forward on the day. Also, while I’d like to see Chambers get a game in midfield with Ox for Theo maybe on the wing, I do realise both changes are potentially risky. So it is what it is, here’s for a quick return of Sanchez and Coq (and the signing of Elneny). Also, hope we’ll see Rosicky get some minutes.
It’ll be an interesting game, that’s for sure, Given Liverpool’s inconsistent form, even more so at home, I favour us to get the three points – we seem a better-drilled unit right now.
The main problem will be dealing with Klopp’s gegenpressing, though it looks like Arsene has it covered:
“[We need to] play our game at a good pace. We are used to pressing. It is not just Liverpool who do that, everybody in the modern game [does it].
Pressing has been created in England basically because there is a history of teams who have done that very well so it is part of the modern game to make quick decisions, be very short with your first touch and play your game.”
Now we just need to pull it off.
Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review