Arsenal are hanging on to the edge of a slippery slope. The bones of wasted seasons lie below. Title hopes of the past are rotting away the bottom, waiting for this team to join them in eternal decay. We have no one but ourselves to blame (and maybe a questionable offside call). A heroic first-match victory was followed up by what you might be tempted to call “typical Arsenal”. An international break awaits, and after this weekend’s action, the league’s best players will all represent their homelands. If Arsenal can manage to grab three points before the break, they might be able to pull themselves up from the edge, look down at the dead title hopes, and laugh as they continue to climb up the mountain towards glory. The only thing standing in the way…is Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
Liverpool are similar to Arsenal in that they have been experimenting with wing-backs since last season and defensively vulnerable on set pieces. Both teams have already allowed two goals from set pieces and we are only two weeks into the season. Both managers are undoubtedly aware of each other’s inability to defend corners and free kick’s, so I expect full out attack on both sides. The goal for each team should be to go full steam ahead at each other’s goal and hope for a foul or corner. Well…this better be Arsenal’s strategy anyway. But let’s break down the match.
Sadio. Mane. Need I say more? This man is an absolute threat at all times. He already has two goals to his name this season, and is well on his way to top his total goal tally of 13 for the 2016-17 season. Psssst guys…that’s the same amount of goals that Coutinho scored…and in fewer appearances.
Also, new boy, Mo Salah has hit the ground running at Anfield having scored on the opening match of the season. Top off the attack with Roberto Firmino (one goal and one assist already) and the Liverpool spearhead looks extremely dangerous…even without Coutinho.
No offense to Liverpool but their forwards are pretty much their only strength, and I’ll throw this in and say Milner is a decent wing-back. Liverpool will be relying on their speed to get them down the pitch and into dangerous set piece positions to test the shaky Arsenal backline, specifically the right side of the Arsenal defense. I’ll get to that in a minute.
As I said before, the set piece defending isn’t great…actually, the defense as a whole isn’t great. The defensive implosion that took place against Watford was monumental. Luckily enough for the Reds, Crystal Palace didn’t have the deadly finishing, or the luck that Watford had so they managed to grab three points from the Eagles. But let’s look at the goals scored by Watford. Goal number one…a corner.
This is dreadful defending. Watford had Liverpool beaten twice. You can see two yellows shirts way above any of the red shirts in sight. The first attempt to head the ball was missed, but because the defense didn’t bother trying, the second header was the one to deliver the blow. On top of that…Mignolet got a hand to the ball and failed to keep it out. This is ugly.
Now, let’s look at the second goal.
Just because it wasn’t a set piece doesn’t mean it wasn’t terrible defending from Liverpool. Once again, the first attempt on goal failed…only to be deflected twice by the stumbling Liverpool defense, leaving a wide open goal and the opportunity for an easy finish. Mignolet did even worse on this then the first goal.
Now the third and final goal.
You would be pretty hard pressed to find anyone on Liverpool even moving. Mignolet yet again, gets a hand on it and still fails to keep it out.
The main take away from watching these three goals…put pressure on and this Liverpool team will collapse. Just have a shot! Even if Mignolet gets a hand on the ball, there’s a good chance it might go in.
THE RETURN OF ALEXIS SANCHEZ. I shouldn’t even need to write anything else. We have missed this man and his will to win at any cost. Every Arsenal fan has endured a summer full of rumored bids and swap deals, and it was not fun. Alexis is Arsenal’s best player hands down. I would like to see Alexis play toward the left side of the pitch with Kolasinac flanking the Liverpool defense with overlapping runs. The strength between those two players would leave the Liverpool defense flattened on the pitch.
The return of Alexis also means we will get to see how the partnership with Lacazette will look. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a goal from both of them on Sunday. There is a potential boatload of goals between the two men, and Liverpool seem like a perfect first victim.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain…hear me out. Ox is a fantastic footballer and is capable of doing many things on the pitch. But his ability to play anywhere is now hurting the team.
As I said in the Two Yellows podcast this week, the team is being sacrificed in order to serve Ox’s interest. Against Stoke, Bellerin was pushed out to the left in order to make room for Ox on the right hand side. That is something that should never happen…I’d rather see Bellerin playing as a striker before I see him out left again. Kolasinac proved that she should be the starting LWB almost immediately. But the desire to have Ox sign a new contract has forced Wenger into making questionable decisions.
Ox playing on the right is particularly risky against this Liverpool team, thanks to the partnership of Sadio Mane and James Milner. Milner’s attacking experience combined with Mane’s ruthless finishing has seen the left side of their attack become the focal point. Which is exactly why Ox needs to be on the bench for the start of this match…or at least on the left.
Bellerin and Welbeck should hold down the right side of the pitch against Liverpool. The Two provide plenty of stability to combat the Mane/Milner partnership. They also possess enough pace to catch the Liverpool duo out of position so they can hit on the counter.
I expect this match to be a box-to-box battle. Both teams will be bombing down the flanks and waiting for the other to make the first mistake. I see this match ending in a 2-2 draw…frustrating everyone involved.