Arsenal welcome Liverpool to the Emirates this weekend in a mouth-watering clash which could really solidify the notion that they’re here to stay in the Premier League title race.
The Gunners have already picked up 21 points from a possible 24 this season, which included a 3-1 win over rivals Tottenham last weekend. That was a statement result that added real weight to the belief that Arteta’s side could potentially challenge for the title this season.
Arsenal can cement that view by beating last season’s runners-up Liverpool this weekend. Jurgen Klopp’s team have often proven to be a tough opponent for the Gunners to overcome though, highlighted by the fact that the Merseysiders have come away victorious in each of their last three visits to the Emirates. However, there will be a belief in the Arsenal camp that things can be different this time.
Arteta would have watched Liverpool with interest this week as they took on Rangers in the Champions League and there was a major tactical switch Klopp made in that 2-0 win which could be something the Arsenal manager can look to expose this weekend.
In their most recent Premier League match, a 3-3 draw with Brighton, Liverpool struggled for control throughout, as they have for much of the campaign so far. They particularly looked poor defensively, which persuaded Klopp to switch from his favoured 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 against Rangers.
“We have a defensive problem, hopefully, had,” Klopp said after the game when discussing the formation switch. “Our timing was not right and if the timing is not right, you open gaps”.
The reference to ‘had’ suggests that the 4-4-2 could be here to stay, and most likely be the formation that Liverpool line up in this coming weekend.
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The 4-4-2 has many benefits, it has a solid defensive line, attacking width, and also can quickly allow teams to get into a compact defensive shape without the ball which makes them tough to play through. That latter point will be vital to helping players like Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Rather than having to fire out at opponents and running the risk of arriving late, the England right-back can defend deeper in a bank of four and closer to his right-sided centre-back. The formation also allows for two strikers, meaning centre-backs are having to deal with two central threats, rather than one.
Yet for all its benefits, there’s a reason why the 4-4-2 has dropped in popularity over the last decade or so, and that’s due to how it can be exposed. Arteta, for example, likes to line his team up in a 4-2-3-1, and such a formation has three central midfielders, instead of two, which against Liverpool would create a crucial numerical overload. The wide forwards can also guard against the width gained by the 4-4-2, and both Buyako Sako and Gabriel Martinelli have proven to be extremely hard workers without the ball.
It’s in the middle though where Arsenal can tip the scales in their favour most.
There are few midfield trios across Europe who are in better collective form than Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka right now, with the Norwegian shining as the side’s chief creator and former captain Xhaka enjoying a renaissance in a less restricted role. Ex-Atletico Madrid midfielder Partey, patrolling a the more defensive of the trio, offers balance and defensive protection.
They have the potential to overrun Liverpool’s midfield two – irrespective of who it is – should the Reds go with a 4-4-2. This could well prove to be the battle that ends up being decisive in Sunday’s clash.
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