Liverpool travel to the Emirates Stadium this Friday night knowing their clash with Arsenal could have an instrumental impact on their season. The two sides are separated by just a single point in the Premier League table, so a win, draw or defeat could well be the difference between Champions League qualification and Europa League football come the end of the campaign.
Jurgen Klopp will feel confident of achieving the right result after thumping the Gunners for four at Anfied back in August but in order to do the same this weekend, the Reds boss must find the right answers to these three crucial questions…
While many have put Klopp’s recent selections down to simply the kind of rotation we usually see at this time of the season, there could perhaps be a much bigger underlying factor – doubts over whether the fab four can all be part of the same starting XI without leaving Liverpool too exposed defensively.
That particularly rings true ahead of Liverpool’s trip to a ground in which Arsenal have dropped just three points so far this season, and ahead of a match in which the Reds’ defensive ranks will inevitably be tested by the home side. Liverpool fans undoubtedly want to see Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane on the pitch at the same time, but this quite simply might not be the occasion for it.
That leads to an arguably harder question – who should be left out of the line-up that starts at the Emirates Stadium on Friday night?
While we often think of Arsenal as the big six’s soft touch, their home form this season should not be underestimated. They’ve won all but one of their nine games, netted more than twice per match and conceded only seven goals. That being said, the only team to beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium this season are Manchester United, which is rather telling of the game-plan Liverpool should adopt on Friday night.
While they can’t match the Red Devils’ pure physicality and power, they can mimic Jose Mourinho’s trusted tactic of hitting Arsenal on the break – something that also worked to great effect when Liverpool hosted the Gunners in the reverse fixture back in August.
All four goals came from direct passes out to pacey wingers on the break and the fact Liverpool are now playing Arsenal on the road only makes that strategy an even better-fitting one for Friday night.
Arsenal boast some phenomenal attacking quality, but perhaps the biggest threat to Liverpool conceding this weekend is set pieces. The statistics speak for themselves and while Arsenal have scored the joint-most set piece goals at home of any Premier League side this season, Liverpool have conceded the third-most on the road – only trumped in that regard by Leicester and Brighton.
Of course, criticism of the Reds’ defending at corners and free kicks is nothing new, but Liverpool can’t go into Friday’s game against a side with such a strong scoring record in those situations and simply hope for the best. Whether it’s getting Liverpool’s tallest players on the pitch or doing even more work than usual on the training ground, the Reds must tighten up.