We take on Liverpool today and I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic going into this one.
I have watched Klopp’s side dismantle Bournemouth away, with a 4-0 spanking. This was Liverpool’s fourth successive away win by 3 or more goals (4-1 vs West Ham, 3-0 vs Stoke, 5-1 vs Brighton and now 4-0 vs Bournemouth), which is a record. I can only hope we halt this trend.
If there’s a bright spot in those demolitions Liverpool handed out, it’s their defence. The Reds have conceded just twice, but had an xGC of 4.5, while allowing 7 big chances from very few shots on target (just 6!). While the defence certainly seems to be performing better away from home than before, all of this still means they are prone to giving away good scoring opportunities at least twice every game. This is something we should be looking to exploit.
Team news update
Besides the poor Santi Cazorla, we will have to make do without Ramsey (out till January), Giroud, who picked up a thigh strain against West Ham in midweek and, most likely, Coquelin. It’s Ramsey’s and Coquelin’s absences that worry me the most, as those leave us extremely short-handed in midfield.
Taking into account how Arsene preferred to play three central midfielders in the last couple of games (and I think he deployed the same formation at City), things are not looking bright. However we knew back in the summer Cazorla will be out for long, while Ramsey is injury-prone, and still did nothing to bring in another central midfielder. It’s the bed we’ve made, now we have to lie in it.
Giroud’s absence is not really welcome too, the Frenchman’s propensity to score late but important goals is second to none in this squad, maybe in the entire league. He grabbed a couple on recent visits to Pool too (remember that turn and shot?), so I can’t be too happy about the situation.
It’s fair to say this is as hard as it gets to guess who and in what formation Wenger will pick for tonight. Will Kolasinac return? Will Bellerin’s poor form finally see him dropped? In what capacity, if at all, will we see Ainsley Maitland-Niles?
The defence is certainly the conundrum. The only guaranteed starters are Cech and Koscielny. I think Mustafi will complete the central pairing. The fullbacks remain a mystery. At a push I think we’ll see Monreal at left-back and Bellerin at right-back.
AMN is too young to be traumatised by playing him against Salah/Coutinho/Mane. Debuchy, who seems to be gathering steam, just talked about moving on in January. Wenger will hardly be pleased with that, so I can’t see the Frenchman taking any part today. That leaves us with the Monreal/Kolasinac and I think it’s much more the case of the Spaniard being brilliant rather than Kolasinac being exceptionally crap. Plus Monreal looks a more capable defender than Kolasinac and we are going to need all the expertise we can get against Salah.
The flat midfield trio will likely make another appearance, with the aim to protect our back four. I will not be surprised to see Coquelin for more defensive security, the question is, who will drop out. My pick would be Xhaka, however Wenger seems to be pretty intent on fielding the Swiss. Plus, it’s unclear to what extent Francis can be involved at all, given his injury. I do think we lack both defensive security and a right-footed player with the trio of Xhaka, Wilshere and Iwobi though.
Is it possible we’ll see AMN thrown in in his favoured position? I, for one, would welcome such a move. He is a good defender, he won’t be under the kosh of marshalling Mane/Salah/Coutinho as much, and AMN is also inventive with his dribbling.
The front three picks itself. It’s Lacazette, Ozil and Alexis. Had it been an away game I would have hesitated about the German’s inclusion, but I simply see no way Wenger drops our playmaker at home. Walcott will likely make the bench for the injured Olivier Giroud, but I expect neither him, nor Welbeck, to start from the off.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Koscielny – Mustafi – Monreal – Wilshere – Xhaka – Iwobi – Ozil – Alexis – Lacazette
Player in focus: Alexandre Lacazette
As has been well-documented, the Frenchman finds it hard to complete full games in the Arsenal shirt. I don’t quite buy into the overall frenzy though. If Wenger takes his most clinical goalscorer off, there is likely a fitness issue in play.
You have to admit Lacazette looks pretty winded every time he’s taken off. I think his ability to keep the same level of performance for 90 minutes is blown out of proportion by the fans. Giroud was never subbed off in the previous 5 seasons in the last 20, and he cost much less than Lacazette and is a less capable finisher.
However now that Olivier is out of the picture, at least temporarily, I expected Lacazette to stay on the pitch for longer. Welbeck and Walcott aren’t as good impact subs as Giroud, and I can’t see Wenger hauling off Lacazette for either.
In the upcoming game we will certainly need Lacazette for as long as he can last. Liverpool’s defence is still leaky, their high press leaves them exposed if broken through, and Lacazette is the ideal man to capitalize on that. I bet Lovren is scared out of his wits with the prospect of going up against the Frenchman.
Liverpool, on their current away form, look devastating. Salah and Coutinho, who will likely be involved from the off, are in peak form. The former is scoring every game, and it’s not an exaggeration. The latter’s performances come in clutches, but when the Brazilian finds his feet, he is more dangerous than Salah, and that’s saying something.
I will not be surprised at all to see Wenger approach this game cautiously in the way he sets up the team. We have a good home record and never hide at the Emirates, but I won’t blame our manager one bit if he prefers to do something similar to the way we played City.
It won’t be reproachable, it will be common sense. The beatings we suffered at Anfield in recent times are much too fresh in the memory and I can’t see Liverpool not punishing us again if we go all-out attack. A more reserved approach should be the way to go.
It will allow us to maintain defensive structure and discipline, force Liverpool to play the possession game, something they aren’t very comfortable at, and use our pace on the counter. Had Giroud been available I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him start, so that we could avoid going through the midfield and just lump it long. As it is, we will have to make do without Ollie.
Finally, we can even see the back five reappear. This will give room for BOTH Monreal and Kolasinac to make the starting XI. That’s a bit far-fetched though, I think. Stats have shown we haven’t become more solid defensively with a back five than we have been with a back four.
But, above all, we will need to turn up and implement whatever plan Wenger might have in mind. If the players don’t turn up, nothing else will matter. No formation or personnel will rectify that. God save us then, because I have no doubt Liverpool will tear us apart again in that scenario.
Hopefully we have what it takes to give them a game though.
So come on you Gunners.
Back here with the review