Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Liverpool visit Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Saturday, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist James Pearce.
Assuming Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers sticks to the formation he’s used over the last month, Arsenal will face an unusual challenge on Saturday - an opposition playing a three-man defence.
Rodgers has used a 3-5-2 since Luis Suarez’s return against Sunderland in late September, and it’s clear that when deciding upon his formation, he’s working from the strikers backwards. The major beneficiaries are Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, perhaps the closest thing to a genuine strike partnership in the Premier League.
While the switch to a 3-5-2 has boosted Liverpool’s attacking options, they haven’t kept a single clean sheet with this systemMichael Cox
Sturridge has scored eight goals in nine league games this season, while Suarez has managed six from four - so Saturday’s game will be a real test of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker’s defensive partnership.
When playing a 3-5-2, however, the obvious area of weakness is down the flanks, where Rodgers will use Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho as wing-backs. Both have great energy and the attacking qualities to thrive in those roles, but they can become overloaded down the flanks when opponents push their full-backs forward.
Rodgers’ key selection decision is in the position behind the two forwards. Last year he deployed Jordan Henderson at the top of the midfield triangle, with instructions to press Arsenal high up the pitch, which was crucial in Liverpool’s dominant opening. Through-ball specialist Philippe Coutinho or mazy dribbler Victor Moses would be a more attacking option.
Liverpool will use a combination of Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard deep in midfield. Gerrard has adapted well to a deeper-lying role under Rodgers, and his long-range passing remains extremely dangerous, especially with two targets in the penalty box.
At the back, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure have a responsibility to get out towards their respective flanks when the full-backs are overloaded, with Martin Skrtel remaining centrally and dealing with aerial balls.
While the switch to a 3-5-2 has boosted Liverpool’s attacking options, they haven’t kept a single clean sheet with this system, having started the season with three in a row when playing a back four.
JAMES PEARCE, LIVERPOOL ECHO
The atmosphere is very buoyant at Liverpool at the moment. I think they have exceeded expectations so far, obviously there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of Luis Suarez and people didn't really know how things were going to pan out. The Reds were expected to improve on seventh but whether they would be good enough to challenge for the top four, I think people probably weren't too convinced. But the start they've made has certainly indicated they are going to be in the race for a top-four spot.
However, there is also a dose of realism that the fixtures they have had have been quite generous apart from the win at home to Manchester United. They have played a lot of teams in the bottom half so far. A lot of people think Saturday will be their toughest test this season.
Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have just been absolutely phenomenal to watch so far. I
Rodgers tends to set his team up to attack and I don't think he will go there to try and contain the GunnersJames Pearce
think what's been the big difference is Brendan Rodgers' decision to play them as a front two rather than before when we've seen them operate with one playing in the hole or out wide.
Rodgers has changed the system to play with two forwards on the last defenders and it's worked perfectly. There is a real understanding between the two because they anticipate each other's movement and they both work their socks off for the team which has been a big thing. The question posed of Sturridge was whether he's got the attitude to match his talent and he's certainly shown that's the case. They've scored 10 goals between them in the last four games so they are both full of confidence and they seem to be spurring each other on.
Liverpool have defended pretty well this season but the one blot on their copybook has been the number of goals conceded from set-pieces. It has been a bugbear of Rodgers because he changed from zonal marking to man-to-man marking to try and ensure that players took responsibility, yet against United, Crystal Palace and Newcastle they conceded from set plays.
In general play they've looked really good and Martin Skrtel has had a real renaissance since the second half of last season. Most people thought he would move on but he has really knuckled down and is playing really well.
I imagine Rodgers will stick to the system to he's been using recently for the trip to Emirates Stadium on Saturday. It's a 3-4-1-2 formation with Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho playing as wing-backs. The only concern with playing three at the back would be leaving themselves open out wide which Arsenal could exploit.
Rodgers tends to set his team up to attack and I don't think he will go there to try and contain the Gunners. With the form that Suarez and Sturridge are in, the Reds will go there to try and get a win.
I think it will be a very open game and I'm expecting goals because they are two very attacking sides. It was 2-2 last season at the Emirates and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a similar outcome this time.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source