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Liverpool preview: the Gunners should adapt to survive

 

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted something. I hope you’ll pardon this self-imposed exile from your truly, but, akin to last season’s loss to United, the crushing defeat to Bayern Munich proved one too many for me. I don’t have any idea whether things will go uphill, in fact, I do not have any reason to believe they will, however, after almost three weeks’ absence I’m ready to give Arsenal the benefit of the doubt.

Liverpool are not the best opponent to get back into the swing of things. When we consider the trip to Anfield is followed up by a home game against Bayern Munich, there’s potential for things to go horribly, horribly wrong once again. Let’s not jump the gun for now, though.

Rather, let’s jump to team news.

Team news update

Things are looking pretty good on the injury front. The only players who’ll miss the match are Santi Cazorla (poor bloke’s out till next season) and Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian suffered ankle ligament damage and is likely to miss at least three more games.

However, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey are both fit and available for selection, Ozil survived the scare of falling ill too, so Arsene will have a wide range of players to choose from.

Kos back in the nick of time

Liverpool will be without Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson, but Dejan Lovren might just make the squad for the game following a spell on the sidelines.

Squad and approach

I have no doubt we’ll see the usual back five consisting of Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Kos and Monreal. Gibbs hardly covered himself in glory vs Bayern Munich, while Ospina, on the contrary, had a blinder against the German side, but then proceeded to look dodgy against non-league Sutton. Fun times. However, bearing in mind just how badly Monreal was exposed by Mane in August, I do wonder whether Arsene will be inclined to take a chance on Gibbs once more.

The midfield is a conundrum and will totally depend on our approach. Adrian Clarke argued the case for a 4-3-3 with Ozil wide and I have to say I like this idea. It is clear Ozil is a nuisance when asked to do defensive work, leaving the two behind him overburdened and outnumbered. Hence I would start Coq and Xhaka with either Ox or Ramsey. Ramsey hasn’t played for a month, and is unlikely to be thrust back straight away, clearing the path for Ox.

Ozil out wide?

How likely is Arsene to heed this advice? The answer is: I don’t know. I think the Frenchman tried a 4-3-3 against Chelsea initially, until Bellerin’s injury forced him to fall back on 4-2-3-1, however AW rarely deviates from the latter in general and I’m not sure he will this time.

As a front three I’ve been harping about how great a Welbeck – Lucas – Alexis trio can be, but we are yet to see it start. Wenger favours Iwobi a lot (and might I say it will be a huge mistake to start the Nigerian against Klopp’s side in any capacity), but even an off-form Walcott is higher on the Frenchman’s list than Perez.

Nothing scares me more than Wenger showing his tactical inflexibility again today. Nothing fills me with more dread than seeing a 4-2-3-1 with all of Ozil, Walcott and Iwobi in their usual positions. As far as I’m concerned, we will get battered by Liverpool if we do this.

The reality is such that Klopp’s team will relentlessly press us from the off and if we stick to our usual approach it might be game over after 20 or 30 minutes. We must be smart, we must adapt to Pool. We must realise we are not in a position to play tippy-tappy football and not get punished right now. Time and again this season we have been exposed badly when pressed high up the pitch. And not just by City, or Chelsea, or Pool. Think about what happened vs Watford or Bournemouth. It doesn’t take an awful lot of skill to rattle us and throw us off balance, especially in our current delicate state.

Even ‘lesser’ clubs can rattle us with high pressing

So I strongly propose Wenger looks at what Leicester did and tries to emulate that. Sit tight, soak up the pressure, hit on the break. Play Lucas and Welbeck to do that. Give Ozil a minimum defensive role, put him somewhere where he won’t harm our defensive shape, be it the wide position or the bench.

Will Wenger do it? I pray to God he will. The reality of the situation is such that we need to get something out of this game, ideally a win. We still have to play United, City, Tottenham, Everton and even goddamn Stoke away after today and room for dropping points is shrinking fast. We’ll be playing with fire by losing today, putting us at a disadvantage in the never-ending battle for top four.

So I’ll be an optimist, and hope Arsene will do what’s required to win the game.

Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mustafi – Monreal – Coquelin – Xhaka – Oxlade – Ozil – Alexis – Welbeck

Time to give Welbeck another start

The verdict

As you can probably tell by now, my hopes of a good result hinge on AW’s tactical flexibility and that’s a shifty platform to build your hopes on. Liverpool will be angry after losing to Leicester, they will be looking to bounce back and they have the best record in the top 6 mini-league.

Increasingly, they look like a team less and less comfortable for us to play against and outright dangerous in an end-to-end contest. I wouldn’t advocate going toe-to-toe with them by trying to match their pressing and intensity.

If we go smartly about this, I believe we stand a chance of getting the result. Liverpool certainly aren’t infallible, otherwise they’d be top, and their weaknesses were laid bare once again by Leicester. But if Arsene persists with the same tactical approach and the same personnel, well, I don’t even want to think about it.

So come on you Gunners. Put in a performance.

Back here with a review.

Until then

Update: there are reports circulating Ozil in fact did not survive the illness scare and will miss the game. In that case I’d just start Lucas, but Wenger will probably play Iwobi there.

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