Gini Wijnaldum has to feel that his place is under threat by Liverpool’s soon-to-return duo. The Dutchman isn’t affecting games at the moment.
Liverpool couldn’t play their first-choice midfield against Arsenal. Captain Jordan Henderson is still out with injury, while Thiago missed the game through a ‘minor’ issue.
And so Fabinho, Naby Keita and Wijnaldum lined up in the middle.
Make no mistake – Liverpool controlled the game, particularly in the middle, and won comfortably. It was a very good performance all-around and the Reds thoroughly deserved their three points.
But there’s no hiding the fact that very little came through midfield. Wijnaldum and Keita, the more advanced midfielders, made one key-pass each (per Whoscored). Five players matched or beat that combined total of two, however – the full-backs and front-three were making things happen.
A game like this
Liverpool will play more games like they did against Arsenal. And again, we can go to Keita and Wijnaldum to see what kind of game that is.
The two of them didn’t make a single interception in the game. They only attempted one tackle combined on top of that and didn’t even complete it.
That’s not because of any lack of effort, though. It’s simply because Arsenal did nothing through midfield. Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka – the Gunners’ midfield pair – completed a combined 53 passes. That’s fewer than Wijnaldum managed on his own.
So this was a game where the midfield only really had to control space and look forwards. But we didn’t really get that. Liverpool’s duo had three shots between them, one hitting the target. There were two completed dribbles and those two key passes.
That’s not the kind of productivity Liverpool needed. In a game where the Reds attacked for nearly 90 minutes, defending wasn’t even an option most of the time. Instead, they wanted a platform from midfield that they didn’t really get.
When Henderson and Thiago do return, they’ll surely play in the first XI. Thiago, in particular, offers the productivity and creativity that Liverpool need in games like this.
And that should worry Wijnaldum. Keita has never been a first-team regular for Liverpool and is still working towards that but Wijnaldum certainly has. Along with Fabinho and Henderson, the Dutchman has been part of the best midfield at the club.
But if Liverpool want to stick with Henderson and move in Thiago, his place is under threat.
That’s not to say that Wijnaldum doesn’t offer plenty – we do believe he should get a new contract. His pressing and disciplined work absolutely have a place. But in games like this, Wijnaldum may not have an automatic place anymore once Thiago and Henderson are back.