Alex Keble looks ahead to the weekend's big battle at Anfield, as two sides suffering patchy form prepare to make war...
Meandering gracefully through central midfield, dragging opposition players out of position and creating space for his team-mates, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain displayed an attacking dynamism against Newcastle that has been sorely missing for Arsenal. It was the second time the England youngster has played in this position in as many matches, and the second time it has led to a four-goal haul for the Gunners.
Despite the creative talent available to Wenger, he consistently fields Aaron Ramsey in a deep-lying midfield role, leading to slow build-up play that allows the opposition to reorganise and stifle. Ramsey does not possess the speed of Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose incisive and direct attacking in deeper areas consistently pulled Newcastle's midfielders out of position.
Oxlade-Chamberlain provided more directness and flair than Ramsey; note the take-ons (green stars) and action in the final third. It was Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez who benefited most from this, finding acres of space between Newcastle's defensive lines.
This speed and decisiveness could prove extremely challenging for a Liverpool side whose overall positional confusion and disjointed passing is worsening as the season progresses. Against Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers experimented with a 3-4-3 formation that led to some chaotic defending on numerous occasions. Joe Allen was the only Liverpool player to manage more than two tackles or interceptions in the match, and he still suffered with a poor game.
Considering how high up the pitch Liverpool played, there is a worrying absence of defensive action in higher areas. Instead, we see a sporadic pattern that includes many fouls (black triangles) and failed tackles (orange crosses). In the second image, note how stretched Liverpool were positionally. Man United exploited the space to full effect, and Arsenal – particularly with Oxlade-Chamberlain in a central position – could do just the same.
Rodgers needs his side to regain some defensive composure and close up the enormous gaps created by their pressing and poor positioning. Throw in the striker crisis developing at Anfield, and it seems highly unlikely that Liverpool will emerge with anything from this game.