Liverpool v Arsenal

Scouting Report - Liverpool

Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.

Arsene Wenger's side travel to Anfield to play Liverpool on Saturday lunchtime, to find out more we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist James Pearce. 

Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Liverpool in November was one of the most high-tempo, intense matches of the Premier League season, but this weekend’s game should be an entirely different contest.

For a start, Liverpool are now playing an entirely different system, having arrived at the Emirates with a 3-4-1-2 formation.

Brendan Rodgers is now playing something more like a 4-3-3, with Daniel Sturridge starting wide to allow Luis Suarez to play up front. Those two have started 11 Premier League games together this season, and Arsenal are the only side to prevent both from scoring.

"In midfield, Rodgers has recently deployed Steven Gerrard in the holding role, behind Brazilian playmaker Coutinho and Jordan Henderson"

Michael Cox

That record owes much to Laurent Koscielny, who played an amazingly proactive role against Suarez at the Emirates, consistently charging up the pitch to stick tight to the Uruguayan, giving him no space to turn.

With Suarez averaging more than a goal per game this season, and also Liverpool’s top assister, stopping him is crucial.

Sturridge will probably start on the left, with Raheem Sterling in great form on the right flank.

In midfield, Rodgers has recently deployed Steven Gerrard in the holding role, behind Brazilian playmaker Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, who has been in fine form. Gerrard isn’t a natural holding midfielder, however, and Rodgers might welcome the return of Joe Allen from injury, giving Liverpool more discipline and patience in the centre of the pitch.

That said, despite Rodgers’ famous love of passing football, Liverpool have become much more direct. They recently thrashed Everton 4-0 thanks to some accurate long balls and quick counter-attacks, and might not seek to dominate possession at Anfield, creating a slower game than expected.

At the back, Liverpool have been prone to unnecessary mistakes this season, underlined by Kolo Toure’s misplaced pass which cost the club two points at West Bromwich Albion last weekend.

Arguably the weak link is left back Aly Cissokho, who looks uncomfortable on the ball and can get caught out of position when attacking energetically.

I think had you asked any Liverpool fan if they would take being fourth at this stage of the season, they'd have bitten your hand off.

There have been a couple of times this season where fans have dared to dream of a little bit more but I think most supporters are realistic enough to realise that this season is all about ending the club's painful absence from the Champions League and getting back to that elite level.

Liverpool haven't had two players as prolific as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge since Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore in the mid-1990s. With that kind of firepower, Liverpool have been able to win games where they haven't been at their best - which they hadn't been able to do in recent seasons.

"They've favoured a 4-1-4-1 formation in recent weeks, with Suarez or Sturridge starting wide on the left and being given a license to cut in"

James Pearce

The two strikers have been a breath of fresh air. Brendan Rodgers has said recently that he doesn't see them as a partnership - he sees them as two very different individuals that are a challenge for him to fit into the same team.

They have linked up expertly over and over again over the course of the season - I think they have scored 37 goals between them in 35 games. When you consider that Suarez missed the first five games through suspension and Sturridge has had two absences with thigh and ankle injuries, it's quite an amazing return.

Jordan Henderson has massively improved too. He would be the first person to admit that he had a tough first year at Liverpool. It was a bit of a culture shock for him, coming from Sunderland to Liverpool and the expectation levels and pressure that came with that move. He took time to adapt to that and his development has been some transformation.

When Brendan Rodgers first came in, there was talk of Henderson leaving. Credit to him, he stayed and fought for his place and, behind Sturridge and Suarez, he's been Liverpool's most outstanding performer. He was always praised for his work ethic and athleticism but I think he's got the tactical nous now.

I think Rodgers learnt that he won't be playing three at the back this weekend from the game at the Emirates earlier in the season. Liverpool went to the Emirates in really good form. At that point, he felt that a 3-5-2 was probably the best system to get the most out of Sturridge and Suarez. On the day, Liverpool were outnumbered in the middle of the park and I think they will play in a different shape at the weekend.

They've favoured a 4-1-4-1 formation in recent weeks, with Suarez or Sturridge starting wide on the left and being given a license to cut in. I wonder if, because of Arsenal's threat going forward, Rodgers may put in Joe Allen ahead of Philippe Coutinho to offer a bit more solidity in midfield.

I think that was the frustrating thing at the Emirates - Liverpool weren't at their best but the way they were set up really allowed Arsenal to get at them. I'm sure that will be something Brendan Rodgers tries to address on Saturday.

Recently, Steven Gerrard has been in front of the back four, with Henderson and Coutinho in front of him. If Rodgers goes for the jugular and plays Coutinho, he'll have four out-and-out attacking players, with Suarez, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.

I don't think Rodgers will set Liverpool up to contain Arsenal though. Liverpool don't ever play like that - it's a real attacking brand of football that Rodgers has installed.

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