In a fixture that could have an instrumental say on who does and who doesn’t qualify for the Champions League this season, Liverpool host Arsenal at Anfield on Sunday – the Premier League’s headline act this weekend and its ultimate encounter before the first international break of the campaign.
Arsenal and Liverpool have both endured slightly rocky starts to the season; the Gunners losing to Stoke after scraping a win over Leicester and the Reds almost failing to score against Crystal Palace after drawing with Watford on the opening weekend.
Most would argue it’s advantage Liverpool with the north Londoners travelling to Merseyside and seemingly out of sorts. But to ensure his side come away from Sunday’s encounter with all three points, Jurgen Klopp must find answers to these crucial, result-defining questions.
From 50 meetings in the Premier League, there have been just five scoreless draws between Arsenal and Liverpool – and just one since 1999. In short, this fixture is a virtual guarantor of goals, averaging out at 2.7 per game and the last three alone producing a whopping 17.
Essentially, it’s a straight-up shootout, something that would appear to work in Liverpool’s favour considering their home advantage and how relentless they’ve been offensively this season, netting 10 in four competitive outings thus far.
But that’s always a dangerous game with Arsenal; regardless of how poorly they’re playing, Arsene Wenger’s side is built to score goals and now boasts one of the most potent strikers in Europe last season in the form of Alexandre Lacazette.
Accordingly, a more measured approach that constricts Arsenal whilst hitting them with pace on the counter – something Stoke City did to great effect last weekend – might be more fitting, keeping the shootout within the realms of Premier League normality.
That will require sturdier, more defensive options at full-back and as much physical presence as possible in midfield, namely James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can.
Having conceded six and kept just one clean sheet so far this season, it’s no secret where Liverpool’s biggest problems lie – at the back and most particularly when defending set pieces.
The good news for the Reds is that Arsenal aren’t the tallest side and in recent years, their defensive and offensive efforts from corners have been routinely criticised. However, the Gunners did score the eighth-most goals from set pieces last season and they do boast a secret weapon in Olivier Giroud, who will likely feature from the bench.
No player scored more goals as a substitute last season and his imperious height naturally threatens Liverpool’s biggest weakness. Jurgen Klopp can’t simply leave it to fate; whether it requires putting more height in the team – Emre Can and Joe Gomez being the obvious candidates – or giving one defender a man-marking job at corners, Liverpool need a plan to nullify Giroud in those scenarios.
Arsenal were the latest major club to embrace the 3-4-3 trend last season, a switch in systems that essentially rebooted the Gunners following a dismal run of form and has continued to be Wenger’s preferred setup at the start of the current campaign.
Jurgen Klopp, however, stuck with his 4-3-3 principles and claimed two impressive results at Anfield against two sides using Arsenal’s formation last season, drawing with Chelsea at the end of January before beating Everton 3-1 at Anfield in April.
Opponents using different systems always creates curious dynamics and unique spaces for the teams involved to either exploit or be wary of.
Arsenal really haven’t looked convincing with three at the back so far this term, mainly because of the personnel involved, so it’s worth Klopp looking back on those two games from last season in an attempt to mimic how his side gained such success against 3-4-3.