The big talking point ahead of Liverpool tomorrow is who should start up top against Liverpool.
The form of Leandro Trossard has given Mikel Arteta a selection headache, leading to many calling for him to start. So who should be in the front 5 at Anfield.
Last weekend, we beat Leeds United 4-1 with Bukayo Saka on the bench through illness. Trossard played wide right in his absence adding to his 7 assists since joining towards the end of January.
Trossard has already played at Anfield this season, playing in behind Danny Welbeck, his movement and ability to find space caused havoc. The result was a Trossard hat-trick.
The Belgium’s versatility means means he is a multi-position option for Arteta.
Already for Arsenal he has played left and right wing, contributing from both sides of the pitch. He also replaced Gabriel Jesus and Eddie Nketiah when both were injured.
Trossard can also play inside, behind a striker, as he did at Anfield for Brighton to devastating effect. The headache for Arteta is: If Trossard starts, who missed out?
After missing 3 months with injury, Gabriel Jesus made his first start since November against Leeds, and grabbed himself two-goals.
Arteta has bought him back in the team slowly, and continued to protect himJesus by taking him after 60 minutes against Leeds. That denied Jesus the chance to get a hattrick, but was the correct decision.
The game was done, there was no need for Jesus to be on the pitch, and taking him off showed we had one eye on this weekend and beyond. Short term pain (for Jesus) for long term gain (for Arsenal).
Jesus showed against Leeds that he has lost none of his sharpness and hip swivels since injured.
His movement and exploitation of space could prove deadly at Anfield. And his tendancy to drift left alongside Gabriel Martinelli will overload Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Trossard has similar traits in that when he plays down the middle, he does not stay there. But Jesus is a natural striker. Jesus starts.
Liverpool is our biggest game of the season. We need to win 8 from 9 which means we can afford to lose one game. Most of us have that defeat pencilled in for Manchester City. That means it is essential we beat Liverpool.
You do not go into your biggest game of the season and leave your best player on the bench.
Despite his good performance against Leeds, there can be no one making a case for Bukayo Saka to be left out.
Saka is arguably the best right winger in the world right now. He scores, he assists, he drives the team forward. He has to start. Bukayo starts.
If you asked Trossard his most natural position, he would probably say left wing. And you can picture Trossard playing there at Anfield.
He can go inside, he can go outside, he will give Trent nightmares. The Englishman will not be able to cope with him.
But Martinelli is our most in-form player right now, with 6 goals in his last 7 league games. And when we played Liverpool at home, he scored and assisted. Alexander-Arnold was taken off “injured” at half time.
Trossard or Martinelli looks to be the battle. And I expect if both do not start, one will come in for the other at some point during the game. They form a devastating axis.
For me, Martinelli edges it due to his raw pace.
I imagine early on during the game, we might have to absorb some pressure and look to hit Liverpool on the counter. Martinelli showed against Manchester United at Old Trafford (with the goal that was wrongly disallowed) that he is a huge threat on the counter.
Trossard, meanwhile, excels in tighter spaces. He will be more useful if Liverpool are ahead and decide to defend deep. He could unpick that lock. Martinelli starts.
Trossard’s hattrick earlier this season came whilst playing in an attacking two behind the striker. But he played on the left hand side of that two.
Whilst I can see him coming in for Odegaard, it is not a change you will be looking to make against Liverpool. Odegaard starts.
This could be an interesting contest.
As mentioned, Trossard’s hattrick earlier this season came whilst playing in an attacking two behind the striker. Trossard playing left of that two.
Can I see a line-up where we play Martinelli out wide with Trossard in behind him and Jesus up top? It is certainly an option.
That would really overload Trent at right back, with the 3 of them rotating through the attacking positions. Liverpool defenders would be pulled apart and not know who to pick up.
But what is the case for Xhaka to start?
Firstly, his left foot provides a nice balance to Martinelli and Jesus’s right.
If Martinelli pulls Trent out of position, he needs someone to run into the space left behind and drive in a quick, hard cross. With Oleksandr Zinchenko not boming forward, that task has been left to Xhaka this season.
I have lost count how often Martinelli get on the ball, drags a right back towards him, then Xhaka runs inside to receive an easy pass and then proceeds to drive the ball across the face of the goal from inside the box.
Manchester City scored a similar goal last weekend, when Jack Grealish pulled Trent out of position. Kevin de Bruyne filled that space with an inside to out run, played the ball first time left footed back to Grealish who made it 4-1. you can see Arsenal trying to replicate that goal.
Trossard can play that ball, and his left peg is certainly not just for standing on. But Xhaka plays it a bit more naturally.
We also have to take in Xhaka’s infleunce at defending corners.
At 6’0″, Xhaka is the 6th tallest outfield player in our squad. With Takehiro Tomiyasu, Jakub Kiwior and William Saliba unlikely to start, Xhaka is usually our 3rd tallest outfield player – Gabriel Magalhães, Rob Holding and Thomas Partey the only ones who stand above him.
Meanwhile, only Fabio Vieira is shorter than Trossard. Leandro is just 5’7″.
Only Tottenham, Brentford and Arsenal have scored more goals from set pieces than Liverpool this season, with nearly 25% of their goals coming from corners and free kicks.
Whilst Trent is horrendous defensively, his delivery into the box from corners and freekicks justifies him being on the pitch. That means that whilst we are talking about the front 5, we also need to take into account who can also contribute at corners.
If van Dijk, Gakpo, Konate, Nunez, Fabinho and Henderson all start, Liverpool will have 6 outfield players who are 6’0″ or more. We are likely to start 5 (Gabriel, Holding, Partey, Xhaka, White).
Those 5 will be important whether we mark zonally or man to man. But you take Xhaka away from Trossard and it leaves us with just 4 big men.
If Xhaka does not play, the 5th tallest will then be Martinelli at just 5’8″.
I can potentially see Trossard coming on for Xhaka if we are chasing the game. Sacrificing the extra defender at corners for more creativity up top. But certainly to start the game you have to go for Xhaka. Xhaka starts.
Trossard might feel aggrieved if he starts on the bench tomorrow. But that is part of playing for a top club. You can not start every game.
Jesus, Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard and Xhaka is our best front 5, and they all must start in our biggest game of the season.
Trossard will get game time off the bench, and having someone of his versatility is a huge asset to bring on.
You can see him coming on for Jesus if the Brazilian can not play the full 90. Likewise Trossard will replace Martinelli if the other-Gabi is struggling to take advantage of Trent being useless. And the Trossard for Xhaka sub could be one we see if we are 1-nil down after 65 minutes.
It is a headache for Arteta, but it is one of those headaches you need to have if you want to be Champions. And we win tomorrow, it might be time to dream….