Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side take on Liverpool on Wednesday, so to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and local journalist James Pearce for their views.
Considering Brendan Rodgers’ famous preference for short passing and ball retention, it’s no surprise to learn that Liverpool enjoy more possession than any other Premier League side this season - an average of 59.4 per cent.
Liverpool’s 19.3 shots per game is also a league high, and the presence of Luis Suarez - the league’s most prolific shooter and second-top scorer - is an obvious explanation. Suarez has also attempted the most dribbles in the league this season, underlining his all-round threat.
Despite Rodgers creating such a possession-orientated side, Liverpool have often appeared more threatening when playing direct, quick football this season.
The pace of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling means that hitting the opposition defence immediately is a consistently dangerous tacticMichael Cox
The pace of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling means that hitting the opposition defence immediately is a consistently dangerous tactic, while the energy of a midfield runner like Jordan Henderson or Jonjo Shelvey helps drive Liverpool forward. Steven Gerrard plays a deeper role these days but remains capable of outstanding long-range passes to switch the angle of attack.
The signing of Sturridge - and Borini’s return from injury - gives Rodgers a range of attacking options. Although a 4-3-3 is probably the most natural system considering the players available, Sturridge and Suarez’s partnership in central positions against Manchester United (after half-time) and in the 5-0 victory over Norwich looked very promising.
Sturridge sprints in behind, while Suarez takes up deeper positions, which stretches the opposition defence in different directions
At the back, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel have now adjusted to Rodgers’ preference for playing a high defensive line, having initially encountered difficulties at the start of the campaign. But the duo can still be troubled by pace in behind, and are more fearsome in the air.
Lucas Leiva protects the centre backs in his deep-lying holding role, but hasn’t yet regained the form he showed before his cruciate ligament injury last season. Joe Allen has struggled in recent weeks, but might be useful in this fixture, as Rodgers seeks to dominate possession against Arsenal’s talented midfield trio.
JAMES PEARCE, LIVERPOOL ECHO
It’s a big game for both teams. Brendan Rodgers was scathing in his criticism of Liverpool’s performance at Oldham in the FA Cup on Sunday and he’s demanding a big response against Arsenal.
There’s no question that Rodgers has taken a bit of a gamble by being so public in his criticism of the younger players. He’s convinced that he’s got a close enough relationship with them that he will get the response he wants. He’s put a lot of faith in youth this season and felt let down on Sunday. He thinks they will respond positively to the criticism. He’ll probably play a completely different back four to the one at Boundary Park, and Pepe Reina should return in goal.
There are question marks about Liverpool’s defence. They’ve been exploited a bit at the back this seasonJames Pearce
I think Luis Suarez has probably got Messi and Ronaldo above him. Beneath that, he’s probably as good as anyone in the world. He’s been outstanding this season. Before Liverpool signed Daniel Sturridge, he was leading the line on his own and carrying the side for a lot of the season. He’s got 21 goals already this season but his overall contribution has been very good. Since Sturridge has signed, he’s been moved into a deeper role, which suits him. Liverpool stuck by him at times last season, and he’s certainly repaying that this campaign.
Brendan Rodgers was quoted today as saying that when Steven Gerrard came on against Oldham, it was like he’d been dropped from heaven. His form this season has been exceptional. He’s had a tough couple of seasons with injury and has played every minute of every Premier League game this season - that speaks volumes.
There are question marks about Liverpool’s defence. They’ve been exploited a bit at the back this season - Rodgers likes his full backs to push on a great deal when his team have got the ball. He likes them to almost play as wingers, and when they do lose the ball, both full backs could be stranded up the pitch and leave an awful lot of space behind them. I'm sure Arsenal will look to capitalise in that area.
I don’t think there will be much separating the sides - I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.
Join the conversation on the big game at #AFCvLFC