Liverpool take on Arsenal in the third match of the season. The Reds have won both their previous games, albeit in a unconvincing manner. Regardless, they have six points which is what eventually counts. Arsenal lost their opening game to West Ham, but come into this game at the back of a win against Crystal Palace.
The Reds have not had any favorable results at the Emirates in recent memory and Arsene Wenger’s men must be confident of their chances in this game.
Here are the three key questions Liverpool face in this game.
Brazilian midfielder Lucas has recently been linked with a loan move to Besiktas. The defensive midfielder has found chances hard to come by and looks surplus to requirements at Liverpool. Which might be a bit shocking, given the Reds don’t really have a proper defensive midfielder at the moment. Joe Allen is out with injury and Emre Can is more box-to-box, than of the defensive ilk.
Even though Liverpool’s longest serving player is expected to leave, fact remains that he hasn’t. Therefore Brendan Rodgers has the opportunity to play him and he really should. Liverpool need to dominate the midfield and thus far, a double pivot hasn’t worked too well for them. Only once Emre Can was brought on in the second half in both the games did the Reds look in control of the game and of the midfield.
Emre Can is likely to fill in for Jordan Henderson in this game, but Lucas should also start in a three-man midfield. Having Lucas will also allow the young German to play a free role and act on his instincts to surge forward. Against the likes of Ozil, Sanchez, Cazorla and Ramsey, Liverpool need to make sure they don’t give much space to these attackers to thread passes and make life difficult for them by doing so. Lucas can be instrumental in helping them do the same.
Should Jordon Ibe start the game?
Ibe has been touted to do big things in the future and is the main reason why Liverpool fans are not so worried about the departure of Raheem Sterling. Brendan Rodgers has stayed true to his word of featuring the player prominently this season and Ibe has already started the opening two games. However, the 19-year-old has not made a note-worthy contribution in the two games and might be better off as a substitute in the second half. There is no doubt that Ibe is wonderfully talented and is going to play a big part for the Reds this season. But Arsenal is a sterner test for Liverpool after two 1-0 victories, and Brendan Rodgers must field his strongest side.
Adam Lallana has been worse that Ibe in the opening two games in terms of attacking threat but is an injury doubt anyway, and it is likely that Roberto Firmino will come in for the England international. However, dropping Jordon Ibe will enable Rodgers to field the extra man in the midfield, something they definitely need for this game.
Can Brendan Rodgers finally break the big game hoodoo?
The Liverpool manager saw his team collect only five points from a possible 24 against the top four last season. He has always been under the scanner in big games and this ‘big game choker’ tag is something he needs to shake off for Liverpool to have a shot at a Champions League berth. In his pre-match conference, Rodgers talked about having a plan exclusively for this game. He spoke about the need for Liverpool to dominate space as opposed to the ball for them to come back with a result.
He said, “If you assess games against Arsenal we have always had dominance of the ball, especially at home. If you assess the last 10 games Arsenal have lost at home, it was about dangerous possession for the teams who won. They only averaged four shots on target with 43% possession. That tells you you don’t need to dominate the ball but you can dominate the space. That is important in the away games. Tactically we’ll arrive in a good mind about how we can win it. There are certain games you look at the approach to get you the result and that is something we have been working on this week.”
It definitely seems as though the manager has done his homework. Liverpool must aim for at least a point at a place where they are winless since 2011, and look to redeem last season’s 4-1 mauling.