Jurgen Klopp may have to take a safe option and make a big change when Liverpool face Arsenal on Monday. The Reds have struggled in recent meetings.
Liverpool have now faced Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal twice and struggled both times. They lost the first meeting 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium and the second on penalties, after a 1-1 draw in the Community Shield.
But that really doesn’t tell the whole story. Because while Liverpool have struggled, they’ve only struggled against expectation. Everyone expected the champions to tear Arsenal apart and yet they managed two goals across two games.
In the first meeting, Arsenal only had three shots to Liverpool’s 24. In the second they had eight to Liverpool’s 15. In fact, Arsenal managed to hit the target just twice in the first game and scored both in the 2-1 win.
So while Liverpool have struggled to get results – or even play well – they were indisputably the better team each time.
Which brings us to why.
Arsenal play an unusual system – 3-4-3. Not too many teams play it and, for whatever reason, Liverpool struggle to click up against it. They don’t have the same level of control they usually have, nor do they create the same quality of chances.
It’s not obvious why, either. We expected Roberto Firmino to run riot in that first game, for instance, but he struggled. He only managed one key pass, didn’t attempt a single dribble and had no shots.
But they play with a flat midfield – Firmino thrives against them. Klopp tried the same thing again at Wembley but again, Liverpool just couldn’t build moves. Their opponents forced them to play long and it took Firmino out of the game. Fortunately, Jurgen Klopp did find something that worked against Arsenal.
Klopp matched an unusual formation with one of his own – unusual for Liverpool, anyway. The Reds almost exclusively play 4-3-3 but the boss switched to 4-2-3-1 with an hour gone.
And Liverpool looked so much better. They quickly equalised and got more control from the game. With Mohamed Salah playing as a striker, Firmino played as a proper no.10, rather than a false 9. He had the space behind the midfield all to himself as Salah pushed the defence back.
Klopp has to keep that in mind on Monday.
Change of plans
It might be worth going with the 4-2-3-1 from the start this time, then. Jordan Henderson can’t play anyway and Fabinho may well play in defence again. If so, why not bring in another forward?
Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum, even Naby Keita, can fill the two spots in midfield, allowing Klopp to use a front four. It worked at Wembley and the arrival of Diogo Jota makes it even more viable.
Especially as Takumi Minamino keeps scoring goals.
The 4-2-3-1 might be the ‘safe’ option, then. The 4-3-3 hasn’t worked the last two times but missing players and success in the Community Shield might add up to 4-2-3-1 being the way to go. It could certainly catch the Gunners off guard and finally put this irritating recent record to rest.