Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Liverpool’s impressive revival this season was prompted by Brendan Rodgers’ switch to an unusual 3-4-3 formation, which Liverpool are likely to use on Saturday at Emirates Stadium.
This has often caused opponents positional problems - particularly with the movement of the two wide players. In the reverse fixture, a 2-2 draw at Anfield in December, Mathieu Flamini was overloaded by the drifting of both Adam Lallana and Coutinho into central positions from the flanks.
Arsenal must be prepared to guard against this with the full-backs communicating effectively with the central midfielders to ‘pass on’ these players when required. That’s especially important because Liverpool’s wing-backs play attack-minded roles, looking to overlap and exploit the space created by others’ movement.
Raheem Sterling, for example, has often been used on the right flank - although he’s also been fielded upfront, where his pace and lateral running is a huge threat. If Daniel Sturridge misses out through injury, Sterling will begin this game upfront alone and work the channels tirelessly.
That means the wing-back places will instead be filled by two of Alberto Moreno, Lazar Markovic, Alberto Manquillo and Jordon Ibe - all extremely quick, energetic dribblers who scamper up and down the touchlines all game. They can be guilty of pressing too high up the pitch, however, leaving their backline exposed. Moreno was twice caught out of position for Juan Mata’s goals in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester United last time out.
In the centre of midfield, Steven Gerrard’s absence won’t prove particularly costly because Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson have established themselves as Liverpool’s best partnership.
Allen sits deep to the left and provides the simple, short distribution into more attacking players, giving Henderson more license to push into attack. He does this with and without the ball - driving forward to link up with the forwards, but also to relentlessly press opponents.
At the back, the three-man defence has proved successful because of the balance provided by three different types of centre-back. To the right, Emre Can is an unusual footballer - a good all-round midfielder who has adapted excellently since being moved to defend, and is capable of bringing the ball out from the back expertly. On the opposite side, Mamadou Sakho is a more natural defender, but being left-footed helps him distribute the ball positively too.
In the centre, however, Martin Skrtel’s suspension gives Rodgers a headache, and Dejan Lovren is likely to start. Though impressive at Southampton last season, he’s struggled at Liverpool and lacks Skrtel’s aerial power - he’s more comfortable defending high up the pitch.
Arsenal must be aware of Liverpool’s tactical flexibility. A half-time switch to a midfield diamond worked wonders in a 1-0 victory at Swansea City recently, while regular substitutes Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert mean Rodgers can switch to a two-striker system too.
If Liverpool are trailing, don’t expect the 3-4-3 to last too long - Rodgers always tries to keep the opposition guessing.
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