MARTIN KEOWN: Stats show you can have success against Liverpool if you get at Trent Alexander-Arnold… with the ever-impressive Kieran Tierney and Smith Rowe on the left, Arsenal would be wise to target down that side
- This is a big week for Arsenal and Liverpool’s seasons with crucial games ahead
- The international break will have given Mikel Arteta time to consider his vision
- Arsenal would sit in fourth position based on a table starting at Christmas
- They can get at Liverpool on Saturday by targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold
- The Gunners are strong down that side especially with Kieran Tierney
This is a week in which Arsenal and Liverpool have to transform their seasons. They meet in the Premier League on Saturday, then head into crucial Europa League and Champions League clashes, against Slavia Prague and Real Madrid respectively.
Europe is where these clubs can turn their underwhelming campaigns into successful ones, and a morale-boosting win at the Emirates would not go amiss.
The international break will have given Mikel Arteta time to consider his vision for the future. Arsenal’s manager may not have to look any further than his side’s second-half display at West Ham and the formation he finished with.
This is a week where both Liverpool and Arsenal can transform their underwhelming seasons
Arsenal can get at Liverpool on Saturday by targeting an exposed Trent Alexander-Arnold
The final 15 minutes was total domination and all-action from Arsenal. Arteta changed the shape with a double substitution, replacing Granit Xhaka and the tiring Bukayo Saka with Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe.
With that, Arsenal went from having two midfield sitters in a 4-2-3-1 to having only Thomas Partey sitting in a 4-3-3. Partey had two creative players in Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard on either side of him and the full backs were flying.
It was reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set-up, in the way that Rodri is flanked by Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan. This was the system I expected from Arteta after he arrived from City midway through last season. Yet he has taken a more cautious approach, most recently standing by two midfield sitters with another advanced midfielder playing off the front.
Arsenal would sit fourth in a Premier League table since Christmas. The introduction of the youth players has been instrumental in their success, with Smith Rowe coming into the team on Boxing Day and Saka playing more in his preferred position on the right wing.
Gabriel Martinelli was finally given some minutes towards the closing stages at West Ham, adding another injection of youthful exuberance on the left wing. It’s puzzling that we don’t see more of the 19-year-old.
He’s simply too good to be an unused substitute. If given his chance, he could come into the team and play a major part in resurrecting Arsenal’s season, similar to the impact Smith Rowe has had.
Another shining light is Kieran Tierney, who is being rightly hailed for his commitment in flying down the left flank.
Calum Chambers was equally as energetic on the right at London Stadium and took his chance to impress.
Arsenal are strong on the left-side, especially with Kieran Tierney bombing down that flank
Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka could play vital parts if Arsenal are to unlock Liverpool
Despite the way it troubled West Ham, Arteta may not feel Saturday is the night to field a 4-3-3 from the off. It might be he reverts to the Xhaka and Partey partnership in midfield for Liverpool.
If you delve into the statistics, it’s interesting that only one of the nine Premier League teams to have beaten Liverpool this season attacked Jurgen Klopp’s left-hand side more than they did his right.
The other eight had a specific plan, targeting Liverpool’s right side which has lately consisted of three immensely talented players — Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Mohamed Salah.
I was baffled by Alexander-Arnold’s omission from the latest England squad. This right back is a class act — a real creative force. He is the Premier League’s top crosser from open play. His forays into the final third leaves spaces behind but it has been the failure of Liverpool to not provide cover.
It hasn’t helped having Fabinho taken out of midfield and placed in the back line. His protection has been missed. Alexander-Arnold, Thiago and Salah face another tough test on Saturday night.
Liverpool have missed the midfield protection of Fabinho for large parts of this season
Arsenal are strong down their left-hand side — as Tottenham discovered last month. Tierney, Smith Rowe and Xhaka rotate exceptionally well. Tierney flies down the flank, Xhaka drifts to wide left, and Smith Rowe moves into midfield. It drags opposition players out of position, engineers space and you could see this very movement as Arsenal equalised against Spurs at the Emirates.
Smith Rowe was also under orders to dart into the space behind the full back. He repeatedly made this same run, and it left Spurs right back Matt Doherty unsure who to pick up.
Arteta has clearly been working hard with his players on these purposeful movements, and he will want his left-hand side to test Liverpool. That will be a key tactical battle between two teams who want to make progress in the Premier League but have season-defining European clashes on the horizon.
The picture above is taken six seconds before Arsenal equalised against Tottenham last month and shows how the Gunners are effective down the left flank — an area of weakness for Liverpool.
Xhaka moves left in an attempt to draw Spurs players with him, Smith Rowe has already dropped inside from the left wing and Tierney has space to send in a cross which Odegaard converts.
This is moments before Gundogan scored for Manchester City against Liverpool in February and highlights how the defending champions are vulnerable when attacked down the left.
Sterling beats Alexander-Arnold all ends up before finding Foden on the edge of the six-yard box. Foden’s shot is saved but Gundogan scores from the rebound to begin City’s rout.
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