In recent games, Unai Emery’s thinking has clearly been a bit muddled.
Faced with a defensive injury crisis and unsure how to fit Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette into the same team, we have seen a chopping and changing of formation and tactics.
We saw this against Brighton where we started with 3 deep lying central midfielders in an attempt to give the leaky defence some cover; and finished with 3 at the back.
With Shkodran Mustafi back in full training and available to start this evenings big game, Emery needs to return to 4 at the back.
Emery must avoid picking the tempting pace over Ainsley Maitland-Niles; and instead stick with the experience of Stephan Lichtsteiner. The message to Lichsteiner should be simple – do not bomb forward.
If the Swiss man stands up Sadio Mane, he wins the battle. If he allows Mane to run in behind him, the game is over. Stay positionally strong.
In defence We must see Mustafi return (if fully fit) alongside Sokratis.
Mustafi can provide the protection to Lichsteiner and the partnership with Sokratis was looking good prior to his injury.
Sead Kolasinac will play left back. Some might see this as a risk as he is so attacking – and facing Mo Salah – but he really is the only option.
Also by Lichsteiner not bombing forward; Kolasinac will be freed up to get forward knowing that there are still 3 back.
Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka must play in the middle of the park.
Liverpool tend not to play through the middle, but they do press high. The pair will give the defenders 2 options when playing out of the back and will enable Arsenal to transition from defence into attack quickly. With those two, Arsenal could dominate the midfield.
The majority of Liverpool’s attacking play comes from the wide positions. Sane and Salah, supported by the full backs.
Due to this Arsenal need to avoid 3412 – which gives very little cover on the flanks. If Emery goes for this, Arsenal will find the ball in behind the wing backs too often; and Kolasinac and Lichsteiner doubled up on too often by Andrew Robertson and whoever plays right back.
Alex Iwobi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang need to play on the flanks.
This will enable Arsenal to pin back Liverpool’s full backs, whilst also providing cover for Arsenal’s full backs.
I would be tempted to go Iwobi left and Aubameyang right, as Kolasinac will need that bit more cover.
In between the pair Aaron Ramsey should start.
Ramsey’s mobility and work rate will be key. He will be able to press higher – and more consistently – than Mesut Ozil (note: this was written prior to the announcement of Ozil’s “injury”). He will be able to put pressure on Fabinho or Georgino Winjaldum. Hopefully stopping them playing those long balls over our full backs.
Alex Lacazette must start up front.
The Frenchman is our best finisher and we need to take advantage of our chances when they come.
So my starting XI:
Lichsteiner Mustafi Sokratis Kolasinac
Aubameyang Ramsey Iwobi
Up The Arsenal