Arsenal are shaping up to be the latest victims of Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian excels against systems like theirs.
We can be fairly certain of how Arsenal will play against Liverpool on Wednesday. The Gunners have set up in a 3-4-3 formation for each of their last six games – although, to mixed success.
They play with a back three, then, with Hector Bellerin and Keiran Tierney as wing-backs. Then there’s a flat midfield two, with a more usual front-three of a striker and two wingers.
And if they stick to that on Wednesday, they could pay the price of Firmino running free.
The flat midfield
That midfield pairing is Arsenal’s trouble. The other teams who play three-at-the-back usually use three in the middle, too, like Wolves or Sheffield United. Arsenal don’t, however. It means there’s space in between the midfield and the defence – space that the right player can exploit.
Firmino is, quite undoubtedly, that player. In fact, he’s probably the best at it in the world right now. The Brazilian thrives on dropping off the defenders and creating a link for the midfield, as well as getting his head up and looking for his forward partners.
Teams tend to stop him by using a defensive midfielder. That eliminates Firmino’s space and forces him wide or to play as a more traditional striker.
When teams don’t do that, however, he’s usually Man of the Match. Take the last time Liverpool travelled to North London, for instance.
When Liverpool faced Tottenham Hotspur in January, Jose Mourinho went with a 4-4-2 formation. Well, sort of. It transitioned into a 5-3-2 when they lost the ball, with Serge Aurier dropping into right-back from right-midfield.
But the important part was the midfield. They played flat and allowed space for Firmino to run riot. We said after the game that he was irreplaceable on the back of that performance and you can see our thoughts here.
Firmino won that game with the only goal but there’s actually a better example of his ability to exploit that space.
When the Reds faced Wolves away at the back end of January, they played 3-4-3 with Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in midfield.
Firmino finished that game with two key passes and a goal. Once again, a game-changing performance.
The next month, Southampton showed up at Anfield and played 4-4-2 – again, a flat midfield. Firmino was utterly sensational in that game as Liverpool won 4-0.
He registered four key passes in the game – a high number on its own but the extraordinary thing is that he got a hat-trick of assists from those passes.
Again, we were full of praise for Firmino after the game and you can read all about that here.
What will Arsenal do?
Arsenal could change their system, of course, removing Firmino as the key threat. They have just lost 2-1 to Spurs, after all, their first defeat since switching to the 3-4-3.
They went with it in the first place after a defeat to Brighton and they may well switch again after their latest loss. They’re also suffering from quite a few injuries, which makes them difficult to predict.
Should they stick with their 3-4-3, however, we predict a Liverpool win. More than that, we predict a stellar performance from Firmino if Arsenal don’t change.