Next up for Liverpool is a game big game on Saturday morning against Arsenal, one of our big rivals for that elusive Champion’s League spot. Of course Liverpool go into the game on the back of a huge psychological lift having lifted the Carling Cup against Cardiff after a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out. It’s hard to determine or even measure what sort of lift that will give the Liverpool squad for the rest of the season. But hopefully it will give them a taste of silverware and success, enough to go and lift the FA Cup and get a Champion’s League place. Liverpool’s form in the league in the past few games has been patchy to say the least and the Cups have actually been a welcome distraction. Our last 5 reads LDWLDL – that only win coming against Wolves in a 3-0 away win back on the 31st January. In fact it’s our only win in the league since 30th December against Newcastle.
Liverpool now sit in sixth place in the table on 39 points with a game in hand over their rivals. We still remain 7 points behind Arsenal in fourth spot, but beat them on Saturday and win our game in hand against Everton then it will cut that gap down to one point. Easier said than done.
On the opposite end of the scale Arsenal’s form has picked up and they go into the game on the back of morale-boosting derby win against their old foes Tottenham. Having conceded 2 goals early on it looked like the knives were out for Arsene Wenger again but they made a dramatic recovery eventually winning the game 5-2. Arsenal’s form guide reads WWWDLL – those 2 losses coming against United and Swansea back in the middle of January. The wins also include a 7-1 hammering of Blackburn. It’s worth noting, Arsenal have scored a lot of goals lately (53 in total). In fact only City (67) and United (63) have scored more goals than them this season. On the negative side they have conceded 37, more than Fulham, West Brom, Swansea and Villa. However their goal difference is looking quite healthy (+16) compared to our own (+6).
So what will Arsenal’s style and formation be against Liverpool? Well in their last 3 league games Arsenal played a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 against Spurs, Blackburn and Sunderland, so there is no need to assume that formation will change for our game. However the personnel may. You can see from the graphic, the Arsenal player’s average position against Spurs. Rosickly (7) should play just in behind Van Persie (10), with Walcott (14) tucked in on the right and either Benayoun (30) or Oxlade-Chamerlain holding the same position on the left. This forms a nice attacking four, with Arteta (8) sitting just behind Rosicky directing attacks and trying to recycle the ball and keep their game flowing. The two full backs (3 & 28) will provide width and Song (17) will sit just in front of the centre backs for protection. (Notice Song’s (17) average position – too advanced for a defensive midfielder – which we’ll discuss later)
We know Arsenal like to play their much renowned passing style, and despite their obvious problems this year they actually have a better passing accuracy (84.62%) than their previous 2 years (09/10 – 81.36%) & (10/11 – 83.85%) . But their problems this year more stem from how they react to losing possession. Sometimes they seem not to know whether to press high up the pitch or sit back and hold a deep or medium block. Often caught between the two, which leads to a lot of hesitation and a lot of mistakes. The stats say they have made 12 errors which have led to a shot this season, more than any other team, and they have also made more errors (10) that have led to a goal than any other team this season. Interestingly enough they haven’t made an error that has led to a shot or a goal since the Bolton game, so they have now gone 3 games without committing an error, so maybe those defensive problems have been ironed out. It was certainly a problem in the early stages of the season, and remains to be seen whether they have finally put those problems to bed.
I don’t think you need to be any kind of tactical expert to know that Robin Van Persie is Arsenal’s biggest danger man. Top scorer in the league with 23 goals, 6 more goals than his nearest rival which is Wayne Rooney on 17, it’s fair to say he is having an incredible season. For what he has done for Arsenal he would be my player of the season so far. Other statistics, Van Persie shoots quite often, he has a shot on target every 42.53 minutes, out of the 41 players to have scored 5 goals or more this
season only Rooney, Balotelli and Dzeko have a shot on target more often. Not only that but he creates chances and assists at high rate for his team-mates, again out of the 41 players to have scored 5 goals or more this season Van Persie creates a goal or a chance every 11.38 passes he attempts, more efficient than any other player. In fact, only Silva (12), Adebayor (11) and Mata (9) have more assists this season than Van Persie (8). So with 23 goals and 8 assists that means Van Persie has been directly involved in an incredible 31 of 53 of Arsenal’s goals, or 58.49% of them. It’s safe to safe if we keep Van Persie quiet on Saturday it could go a long way to winning the game.
Other than Van Persie, who are Arsenal’s other danger men. As you can see from the graphic, Aaron Ramsey has created 43 chances from open play, so he will be sorely missed, however, not too far behind are Theo Walcott with 25 chances created, and Arteta with 28 created. Surprisingly, given the amount of criticism he gets, Walcott has managed 7 assists this season. Only 7 players in the Premier League have more assists than Walcott this season, so a player that is maybe a little under-estimated. Although he has had 62 unsuccessful touches of the football this season, only Ngog (64), Moses (66) and Adebayor (86) have more. A frustrating player and maybe something Liverpool need to be aware of and watch for those second balls coming off Walcott enabling them to regain possession. Considering Walcott has also only won 38.12% of his 50/50 ground duels all season it may be an area of weakness Liverpool may wish to exploit. It will certainly be interesting to see how he match’s up with the strong Enrique on that side of the pitch.
Lastly I want to take a look at Mikel Arteta’s passing statistics as they have really come to the fore in the last few games. In fact in the last 3 games he has averaged a 93.5% passing accuracy. Which is a phenomenal amount, and for the season his passing accuracy is 90.69% only dropping below the 90 mark in 7 out of 21 games. His lowest passing accuracy was way back in September against Bolton when he completed 87% of his passes.
As you can see from the graphic against Sunderland he attempted 116 passes. When you consider that since the start of the 08/09 season the most passes Steven Gerrard has attempted in a single game was 96 then you can begin to put that stat into context. Anything over 100 passes attempted and you’re into Xavi and Iniesta territory. If 87% is his lowest standard then that tells you something about the player. Liverpool will definitely need a man assigned to Arteta to stop him dictating the flow of the game. Perhaps Jay Spearing may come back into the side to do that task?
I’d hope we don’t play a 4-4-2 formation similar to the one in the Carling Cup final. My fear is that we don’t have wingers that go beyond a man to create space or put the opposition defenders on the back foot. Too often our wingers in a 4-4-2 line-up go backwards and just keep recycling the ball around midfield without any real penetration. With something like 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 it gives our players licence to roam and switch position, making it harder for the opposition to pick us up. Against Brighton was a classic example of our players inter-changed and caused problems all over the attacking half of the pitch.
Liverpool’s back 5 usually pick themselves, however, with Daniel Agger likely to be out for a few weeks with a rib problem, Jamie Carragher should come into central defence to take his place. Carragher has served us well, and though far from writing him off, I’d be lying if I said I was not slightly worried about him coming into the side after a long absence, and facing the current form and brilliance of Van Persie.
Having said that, I would hope that this is a good game for Jay Spearing to come back into the defensive midfield position. With Rosicky, Benayoun and Van Persie all operating in that zone in front of the back four, we are going to need extra protection in there. Spearing’s positional play is still not up to scratch, so it will be important for him to maintain control of his urge to drift away from that area and not get dragged into following the ball. Having said that he has won 88.89% of his tackles this season, the highest of any regular starter for Liverpool this season. He has also won 62.50% of ground duels, the highest, bar Lucas, of all our midfield players this season. It will also be important that his midfield partner helps him out so as he is not caught out by Arsenal’s passing triangles.
The Carling Cup final should have thought us two things; one that Adam and Gerrard are not a cohesive partnership in the midfield zone, and two, Henderson is definitely not a right-sided player. Gerrard now looks like he may miss the game due to an injury he picked up on England duty, and if so we could be limited to playing either Henderson or Adam alongside Spearing. I’m guessing that Gerrard may have played up his injury a bit to be taken off early so I’ll include him in my preferred starting line-up. As I said above, Song is prone to leaving too much space in behind him, so if either Gerrard, Kuyt or Bellamy can get in behind him it will likely create a 2 v 2 situation with Arsenal’s centre backs and it might be an area we can get something out of.
Lastly, up front I think we should see Suarez lead the line on his own. My fear with Andy Carroll starting is that we tend to concentrate on playing too long and too high, crossing is one of the most inefficient ways of scoring a goal in the Premier League and when Carroll plays we do like to cross the ball into the box. It’s not Andy Carroll’s fault, but the team seems to change their style of play when he starts.
Whether that is down to tactics from Dalglish and Clarke or whether the players are doing it purposely I don’t know. With Arsenal concentrating on retaining possession I don’t think we can afford to give the ball away against them. Carroll gives the ball away every 2.64 touches this season, worse than any other Liverpool player, when you consider Lucas has the best stat in this area and only gives the ball away every 7.02 touches then you begin to realise how often play breaks down with Andy Carroll. Having said that I think with both Arsenal centre backs, Vermaelen and Koscielny, being big and strong, Andy Carroll may not get much change out of them. Both of them have an aerial duel win % of 61% and 66% respectively, with Carroll having won 60% of his this season. So a pretty even match up.
Yes he will occupy both of them. But to the cost of what? Giving up possession too often in a game which possession is going to be vital. Add to that, the fact we have a player like Suarez who has quick feet, turns easily (all the things the Arsenal centre backs aren’t) and is a general all round nuisance then I would play Suarez. Here’s to 3 points and a win on Saturday.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes a author privileges!) See Demo’s and videos about the Stats Centre & read about new additions to the stats centre.