23 August 2015

Liverpool at Arsenal 08.24.15

3pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-4 Arsenal (a) 04.04.15
2-2 (h) 12.21.14
1-2 Arsenal (a; FA Cup) 02.16.14
5-1 Liverpool (h) 02.08.14

Last matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Bournemouth; 1-0 Stoke (a)
Arsenal: 2-1 Palace (a); 0-2 West Ham (h); 1-0 Chelsea (n)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Coutinho 1
Arsenal: Giroud 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Gomez
Milner Coutinho
Ibe Benteke Lallana

It appears that Jordan Henderson will miss out, absent from training this week due to his foot injury. Henderson will be a major loss, but it's not as if Liverpool are without options.

Lucas *might* still exist, and could play as the deepest midfielder behind Can and Milner, but I suspect it'll be a straight swap, Can for Henderson, exactly what happened when Henderson had to go off against Bournemouth. Milner and Coutinho ahead of the deeper midfielder, Lallana and Ibe flanking Benteke.

Ideally, Henderson's fit and both Can and Firmino still come into the lineup, with both Lallana and Ibe making way, the 4-3-3 we're expecting to see when Liverpool are in full flow. Maybe Lallana's dropped for Firmino regardless: a more threatening attacker, a better presser when Arsenal's in possession. Maybe Liverpool, lacking in attack in the first two matches, revert to the diamond with Ings or Firmino partnering Benteke, and Coutinho, Can, Milner, and Lucas in midfield. But, again, I doubt it. Conservatism will remain Liverpool's modus operandi, at least for a little while longer.

Meanwhile, Arsenal are similarly predictable. It'll be 4-2-3-1. It'll almost certainly be Cech; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Coquelin, Cazorla; Ramsey, Özil, Sanchez; Giroud. They're a settled side, quick, balanced, versatile, and on their day, irresistible in attack, as they were the last time they faced Liverpool. And that XI is almost the exact team which beat Liverpool 4-1 last April, with Cech for Ospina the only difference.

Liverpool that day were Mignolet; Can, Toure, Sakho; Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Moreno; Coutinho, Markovic; Sterling. At most, Liverpool will start four of those 11 players, more likely three, in a completely different formation. What a difference a little less than five months makes.

Rodgers spoke this week about "controlling the space" at the Emirates. And, unsurprisingly, it's led to jokes and jibes because Rodgers is such an easy target, but he's got a point. Liverpool's pressing, Liverpool's ability to deny Alexis, Özil, and Cazorla time and space, will be crucial. It's a bit simplistic, but when Liverpool won 5-1 at Anfield they pressed Arsenal into mistakes and ruthlessly exploited them on set plays and counter-attackers. When Arsenal won 4-1 at the Emirates in the last meeting, they pressed Liverpool into mistakes, and ruthlessly exploited them in the 10 minutes before halftime. Both home sides did well to deny space in their own half in those victories. Both home sides started as they meant to continue and coasted in the second half. Both home sides finished their chances when presented, when the opposition couldn't.

And similar happened in Arsenal's lone loss this season, disjointed and denied space in attack, conceding from a set play and a counter starting from an Arsenal error.

Easier said than done, but Liverpool will need to do that tomorrow, will need to be nearly perfect to come away with all three points tomorrow, to continue its winning streak into the teeth of this early fixture run, and all at an opponent's ground where they've won just once – in 2011-12, of all seasons – in the last 15 years.

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