Tactical Focus: Liverpool v Arsenal

Arsenal fans must have hated watching Liverpool play in the third qualifying round of the Champions League this past Wednesday.

Over the last decade fans of the North London club have become accustomed to seeing their side gracing the pitch as the Champions League anthem played. This year however, it is the Europa League for them and lets face it, that is going to hurt.

Arsenal fans must have also hated watching Liverpool play and dismantle a good Hoffenheim side. Whilst the Germans were able to bypass the Liverpool backline with relative ease it was the action at the other end that will have concerned Arsene Wenger and his players.

Liverpool were quite frankly brilliant in the attacking phase; the vision and technical brilliance of Roberto Firmino was perfectly in synch with the pace and movement of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, whilst Emre Can was at his bristling best in the centre of the midfield.

With that said there is a chance that Arsenal will at least be better rested going in to this match. Liverpool ran themselves in to the ground with the Anfield crowd roaring them on, the adrenaline from that kind of atmosphere is notable.

So to is the period needed to recover, especially at this early stage of the season. That will give Arsenal hope, especially if they are able to establish themselves in the attacking phase early in the match.

So wht are the tactical keys to the match?

Liverpool must continue to use Salah and Mane in transition

A lot has been made of the raw pace Liverpool have in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah and to write them off purely as speed kings is doing a significant disservice to the qualities of the two attacking players.

Both are extremely intelligent in their movement and the timing of their runs in behind the opposition defensive structure. Not only that, they also both link extremely well either with one another, Roberto Firmino as the central forward or with full-backs or midfielder running from deep. They are multi functional attacking players who happen to be blessed with incredible pace.

This season has seen a slight shift in attacking preference from Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp as he looks for his side to transfer from defensive to attacking phase at lightning speed. In this they greatly resemble the Borussia Dortmund side that reached the Champions league final under Klopp.

To aid these quick transitions we have seen the Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino dropping in to deeper positions in order to link and facilitate play, his deeper positioning prevents the central defenders from effectively marking him and Mane and Salah tend to act as the most advanced players, whether in wide areas or even coming in to pick the ball up centrally.

I fully expect to see more of the same in this coming match, with Klopp looking to capitalise on the increased confidence that is likely to be surging through his forward players. If Arsenal play a back three then there could be huge paces down the half spaces that the likes of Mane and Salah will be able to take advantage of in this match.

Arsenal must control the midfield

With the passionate Anfield crowd still on a high from the Liverpool performance in the Hoffenheim match it will be hugely important for Arsenal to control the tempo of the game in the early stages. If Liverpool get ahead early on then there is a real possibility that they will tear Arsenal apart.

The midfield axis will be key for Arsenal, although Arsene Wenger has yet to settle on a central midfield combination in the early stages of this season. In the first league match against Leicester City we saw Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin used while the defeat to Stoke saw Aaron Ramsey come in for Coquelin.

Liverpool, on the other hand, have a relatively settled core with Jordan Henderson continuing in the deeper controlling role and Giorgino Wijnaldum and Emre Can playing more advanced roles.

If Arsene Wenger continues with the variant of a 3-4-3 system then they will be at an immediate disadvantage in the centre of the field and there will be an expectation for the wide forwards to drop in to central areas, both to unsettle Jordan Henderson and to prevent Liverpool from having easy possession in these areas.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Hector Bellerin have had a promising start to the season in the wing-back positions but if Liverpool control possession and are able to access their attacking wide players, then chances to move in to attacking positions for the two wide players for Arsenal will be few and far between.

Expect to see the midfield players for Arsenal looking to access the spaces to the left and right of the zone taken up by Henderson in the final third. These are the areas in which Liverpool are most vulnerable and will be a key to the attacking phase for Arsenal.

Conclusion

It will be interesting to see how far the adrenaline of the Champions League victory and the Anfield crowd will carry this Liverpool side.

They won the match comfortably in the end without over exerting themselves but the toll from these big matches can at times be emotional as much as physical.

The early stages of the match are key, with a genuine need for Arsenal to assert themselves early. If they are timid and slow to push forward then Liverpool will settle in to the match very quickly and if the home side are allowed to use Roberto Firmino in the spaces between defence and midfield to set an attacking platform, then the end result could well be disastrous for Arsenal.

Even in these early stages of the Premier League season this fixture is incredibly important for both sides.