Can, the No.10 enforcer? Sort of...
The German midfielder has many attributes – a prodigious frame, good engine and eye to maintain possession to name three – but few lend themselves to playing off a central striker. You can understand Brendan Rodgers’ thinking: without captain Jordan Henderson, he needed someone to pressurise Arsenal’s deep-lying playmaker Santi Cazorla into errors, with the added bonus of his physique causing discomfort.
Yet the German doesn’t have the vision or creativity in attack to load the bullets for Christian Benteke. Play him further back, where he can destroy, keep tidy possession and provide a good base.
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Neither team can defend
Arsene Wenger and Rodgers’ respective defences are about as stable as the world financial markets. While this may be nothing new, the problems are easily eradicated. Heading and general positioning were good from both rearguards – Gabriel impressed for Arsenal and Joe Gomez is a great prospect for Liverpool – but it’s in the distribution that they struggle. In the first five minutes, Martin Skrtel dallied to allow Alexis Sanchez a chance, while Calum Chambers twice passed straight to a Liverpool attacker when under mild pressure in the first half. Cut out the individual errors, and the improvements are obvious. Liverpool could have been out of sight at the break but for two world-class saves from summer signing Petr Cech. Reverse that for Simon Mignolet in the second.
Crosses = tackles, Circles = clearances, Diamonds = interceptions, Tipis = aerial duels, Triangles = fouls
Benteke is a monster
There was a time in the first half that Christian Benteke turned into Jack Nicholson. Sure, he was prevented from taking an axe onto a football pitch, and nor were there many bathroom windows through which to break, but this was a “HERRRRRRRE’S CHRISTIAN!!!!!” moment. He constantly pulled onto Chambers, who looked rusty throughout – perhaps to be expected from a 20-year-old chucked in unexpectedly – and won header after header. You’d expect that, but the hulking Belgian was just as successful on the floor, beating both Chambers and centre-back partner Gabriel with nifty footwork. The former will be dreaming about the snowy Overlook Hotel all week, even if Benteke’s second-half threat wasn’t as all-consumng. Or mental.
Should Sanchez play centrally?
Bar a short spell during the first half, Arsenal were dominated for the first 50 minutes. Credit to Wenger, though, who didn’t swap personnel, but positions, at half-time to impressive effect.
Chilean scuttler Alexis Sanchez moved centrally, with Mesut Ozil coming out to the left wing, and the Gunners were all the better for it, creating 12 chances after the break to just three before it.
Sanchez created three of those, the joint-most in the game, and his general presence caused Skrtel and Dejan Lovren more problems than in the Gunners' largely inert first period.
Coquelin and Cazorla dovetail well
It may still be early days in their defensive midfield partnership, but Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla are showing promising signs for Arsenal. True, the former is still too rash in the tackle and goes to ground far too readily – at times he’s a red card waiting to happen – but the Frenchman and Spaniard are a great blend of grit and style. They made 15 and 14 ball recoveries respectively throughout the 90 minutes (more than any other player) and Cazorla completed 82 of 95 attempted passes, also the most in the game. If they stay fit, you wouldn’t expect anyone to dislodge them on this showing.