I have to apologize in advance: while I’m normally on the side of the home team in these big games, my stats indicate a solid advantage for the away team and have Liverpool winning a close match with lots of goals.
First, Liverpool have scored the joint most away goals this season with 24 and Mo Salah has been their top goal scorer in these away games with 8. It’s no surprise then that they concentrate 40% of their attacking touches down that right side in away games though it might surprise you that they take 23% of their shots from the left. This suggests that they attack down the right but switch play to the left in the final phase.
Regardless of whether they switch play or not both of Arsenal’s fullbacks will be constantly occupied by the Liverpool attack and especially their counter attack. This is where Arsenal have to be especially careful, on the counter. Liverpool have scored 5 goals off counters in away games and only 2 counter attacking goals at home. They have a lot of speed in this team, and will look to burn Arsenal with Coutinho, Firmino, Mane, and Salah on every fast break.
Not giving them fast break opportunities is key for Arsenal. Alexis will almost certainly be the focus of fan ire if he continues his home trend of giving the ball away too easily. At home Alexis averages 10.6 bad short passes per game, 1 failed dribble, 1 offside, 3.6 bad touches per game, and 2.8 dispossessed. Klopp’s teams prefer to press high up the pitch but they may invite some pressure in a sort of “rope-a-dope”: letting Arsenal get the ball up to Alexis, then taking the ball off him, in order to take advantage of the spaces behind on a swift counter.
Much will depend here on Ainsley Maitland-Niles behind Alexis. Wenger seemed to drop Sead Kolasinac to the League Cup in order to ensure that he would have Maitland-Niles fresh for this match against Liverpool. Maitland-Niles is a far superior passer to Kolasinac, even though Sead has 4 assists. In the Premier League, AMN only averages 3 bad passes per game, Kolasinac 9. And they both average the same number of total passes per game. Kolasinac, with Alexis giving the ball away in front of him, and Xhaka giving the ball away in the midfield is exactly the kind of lineup that Liverpool are built to maul. Those are Arsenal’s top three most profligate passes and they average 30 wasted passes per game between them (9.1, 11.1, 9.9). Wenger resting Kola for this match makes perfect sense to me.
It could be an interesting battle down the left (their right) with Maitland-Niles a more conservative fullback, who is also one of Arsenal’s fastest players, going up against Mo Salah, the Liverpool superstar summer signing. How can Wenger peg Salah into their own half while also protecting his flanks from Salah’s deadly counters? And especially so with Alexis playing as the right-footed Robben on the left, constantly dipping inside to try to create.
Wenger absolutely must start a back three for several reasons. First, Monreal is his best home player this season. Second, Liverpool might come with a high press. If that’s the case, he needs his best three passers in the back to help break that press. They will simply need options.
Pay particular attention to Mustafi (if he starts) and Koscielny – we have seen a lot of games this season where neither player looks comfortable when pressed. That’s also down to the midfield and the forwards. If Arsenal are pressed high, they need to break that press with a long pass over the top. This is supposed to be Xhaka’s forte but he will not be afforded time to collect, take two or three touches to get the ball perfectly on his left foot, and then spray long passes around. Speed of play, movement, and one-touch passing are keys for Arsenal to break the Liverpool press.
Tottenham did this against Liverpool in week 9. Most notably, Lloris threw the ball out for Kane, who crossed for a streaking Son to score their second. Son nearly added a third off another direct chip which hit the crossbar. One-touch passing breaks the Liverpool press time and again. And if they do defend it, it moves the ball up the field, giving time and space to the Arsenal team.
Spurs scored a further two goals on the day off set plays which highlights a further two weaknesses on Liverpool: Dejan Lovren and set plays.
They have only allowed 6 goals off set plays this season, but 5 of them have come in away matches. They also have allowed some glaring “not set play” but lofted headed crosses for goals in away matches.
As for Lovren, he’s a disastrous defender. For the Tottenham first goal, it was a simple little chip over the top to Kane off a throw in. Lovren literally stopped and did a cartoon double-take to see if anyone was covering for him. Him. The center back. The guy closest to Kane.
Ragnar Klavan is probably just as bad as Lovren. Against Man City, Liverpool will point to the red card ruining the match – and you certainly don’t want to go down a man to Man City – but just as bad was Klavan’s switching off for the first City goal. A simple through ball to Aguero caught Ragnar dreaming of Ragnarok and set up the City first goal.
Arsenal should use Alexis and Lacazette to slip in behind the Liverpool defenders in this match and Ozil to set them up. Attack Lovren and Klavan straight through the middle of the pitch, the most desirable place to attack. Do it over and over and over.
Liverpool have conceded the 4th most away goals this season with 17. However, 9 of those away goals came in the losses to Man City and Tottenham and 5 of those 9 against City when they were a man down. Liverpool have also won their last 4 consecutive away matches and scored first in every game since the loss to Tottenham. They have still allowed 7 big chances in those matches and averaged 1 expected goal against which is down from the 3 big chances allowed per game they were averaging before making some changes at the back.
Klopp was talking some trash about how surprised he was that Ox wasn’t taught how to finish properly. Maybe that’s true. Maybe Wenger doesn’t teach his players how to finish, we certainly aren’t a very good finishing team this season, nor in the season which Leicester City won the League. It’s also true that Ox was almost never fit for Arsenal. Maybe that’s again the manager’s fault but I’m really struggling to see where Wenger would have had time to work with Ox on his finishing.
Also, finishing is something that players often work on on their own. Like after training, Bergkamp, Henry, and others would stay and just work on their finishing. Was Ox doing that at Arsenal? I never heard stories about what a dedicated trainer he was, how he would show up first and leave last, nothing like that. So, this feels a lot like Ox looking for someone else to blame for his stalled career.
Personally, I hope Liverpool give him the ball a lot, deep in his own half, and he does what he loved doing for Arsenal: try to dribble out of the backfield. Those could be some of Arsenal’s best chances for goals.
Predicted score: Arsenal 2-3 Liverpool