Focus: New tactical weapons on show as Arsenal battle Liverpool

Both the Gunners and Reds have shown tactical innovation this season, says Alex Keble...

In a contest that will be defined by furious pressing and quick tempo interchanges on a congested pitch, attacking variation will be key for both clubs. Last weekend Liverpool displayed a willingness to play long passes to Christian Benteke that could bypass central midfield, while Mesut Ozil’s movement provided Arsenal with the width they crave.

The midfield scrap between Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, James Milner and Jordan Henderson will be fascinating, but the tenacity of each player is likely to make slow build-up play difficult. Henderson and Milner see-sawing in sync was impressive on Monday night, and the latter’s positional intelligence helped free Philippe Coutinho to meander inwards and drive towards goal. 

It is unlikely that Cazorla and Coquelin will afford them similar space. As the match at Anfield progressed, Liverpool increasingly launched long balls towards Benteke, who brought Coutinho into the game with a more direct approach that could outmanoeuvre Arsenal’s high pressing. Benteke has won more aerial duels (9 per match) than any other Premier League player this season.

Arsenal’s attacks are less varied, although the deployment of Ozil in the victory at Selhurst Park suggests that Arsene Wenger is willing to stretch the pitch when required this season. Instead of utilising inverted wingers to play in a narrow formation (a criticism levelled at them after the opening-day defeat to West Ham), Ozil frequently drifted out wide. The opening goal came via an Ozil cross from the left.

Liverpool and Arsenal have looked tentative this season as they quietly find their rhythm. With both fielding narrow five-man midfields keen on high intensity pressing, this is a chance to learn whether the glimpses of variation witnessed last weekend are indeed new features of their tactical philosophies.

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