Thiago should be the ideal Liverpool player to face Arsenal today. The Spaniard can hit the Gunners where it hurts.
Arsenal are in a wonderful run of form right now – especially considering their start. They kicked off their season with three consecutive defeats without scoring, leaving them rock bottom at the first international break.
But as we come out of the third break, the Gunners are sitting just outside the top four. They’re just two points behind Liverpool, in fact.
Jurgen Klopp says their run of form ‘is not normal’ as he praised the work. And it’s easy to praise – they haven’t lost since August and have six wins in their last eight Premier League games.
But look a little under the hood and you can see why Arsenal could struggle against Liverpool at Anfield.
Klopp’s team will almost certainly hold onto possession at home, as they always do. Arsenal will give it up, as they have in certain games this season against good sides.
Data tells us that the Gunners usually struggle to control games when they are in a possession minority, however. They’ve had less possession in five of their 11 fixtures but suffered a lower xG than their opponents in all five.
Despite that, they’ve only lost twice in those games. But they were fortunate to draw with Brighton, while Arsenal overperformed their xG considerably against Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City.
Now, obviously, the wins are more important. This is a sign, though, that if you can keep the ball against Arsenal, you’ll limit their chances and can create your own.
And that’s why we think it’s time to unleash Thiago on Arsenal.
Thiago to face Arsenal?
We can be fairly confident that Thiago starts this one as Liverpool have very few fit midfielders right now. But we think he should start regardless of who’s available.
He is, after all, one of the best possession midfielders in the world. He’s certainly the best in the Premier League.
Unsurprisingly, his pass completion is around 90% this season – including a ridiculous 93% with his passes between 15 and 30 yards. Liverpool can entirely count on Thiago to keep the ball.
But it’s how he picks his moments to move it forward that really shines. Take progressive passes, for instance – a forward pass that moves the team forward 10 yards further than they have been in any of the previous six passes. It doesn’t count anything in the defensive 40 yards.
Thiago averages 13 of these passes per 90 minutes this season. That tops anyone in the Premier League and that’s quite incredible. If a player plays under nine minutes and plays one of these passes, they technically average 10 per game. Thiago still beats those players.
Yes, Thiago’s sample size is small (the equivalent of 2.2 90s) but it’s still an unbelievable average. It makes him exactly the kind of player Arsenal hate to face – someone who can control possession against them and then slice the defence open.
And Thiago’s passes usually lead to shots. He’s averaging 5.4 shot-creating-actions per 90 this season – only three players can top that.
As we say, Arsenal don’t particularly control the game well when they lack the ball. A player like Thiago can absolutely punish them for that – as his stats show.
The Spaniard will surely start this one. He could be the one who wins it for Liverpool.