Why Arsenal should be wary of Liverpool's midfield

Arsenal face a crunch game against Liverpool on Saturday. Brendon Netto discusses why The Gunners' must be cautious of their opponents' imposing midfield.
 Brendon Netto
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Arsenal go into Saturday’s clash against Liverpool with 2 defeats in their last 3 games. While that’s hardly a crisis, given their impeccable form in the Premier League, it could well snowball into one if they lose against the Merseyside club considering the run of fixtures they encounter beyond that, which could turn their recent stutter into a real slump.

The Gunners lost their last two home games, first against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and then at the hands of Chelsea, a result that eliminated them from the Capital One Cup. They did however, squeeze in a 2-0 away win at Crystal Palace in the league between the two defeats.

The problem though, is that Arsene Wenger’s men have only just begun their venture into stormy waters and with Liverpool to face next, their league form is in danger of suffering a rare blemish as well.

They then go on to play Dortmund again, Manchester United, a high-flying Southampton side, Marseille, Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea - all in their next 10 games. A poor run now could undo all the good work they’ve put in so far and that’s why it’s so crucial that they beat Liverpool and go into the rest of those encounters with belief and confidence.

That’s easier said than done though. Liverpool are enjoying their best start to a season in years and are only two points behind Arsenal at the top of the table. They don’t have any European competitions to distract them and with the team settled under Brendan Rodgers now, they’ve been able to thrive in acceptance of the Irishman’s philosophy.

Meanwhile, their front pairing of Luis Suarez and Danny Sturridge has terrorized defenses in the league with 14 goals between them and are showing no signs of letting up. However, it’s their strength at the very core of the team that could hurt Arsenal the most.

Liverpool employ a 3-5-2 formation in which they operate with three central midfielders, Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva. Each of them have specific traits which complement those of the other two. Henderson is the young, energetic and most advanced of the trio, offering them plenty of drive forward through the middle while boasting an exceptional work-rate.

Leiva is the anchorman and midfield enforcer who retrieves the ball and shields the back four. Gerrard plays the role of playmaker as he orchestrates the team’s build-up play and sprays passes forward but he’s also a median between his fellow central midfielders. He gets back and mops up but also supports the attack on occasion, particularly with late runs into the box.

In stark contrast, Arsenal are severely short of that kind of organization and steel in the middle of the park. They’ll have to deploy three excellent passers of the ball in either Jack Wilshere or Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta and Mesut Ozil who will play just ahead of the other two. Whilst being quick, energetic and technically gifted, Ramsey or Wilshere, along with Arteta will find it hard to battle against hardened midfielders.

Ozil doesn’t do an awful lot of tracking back while Henderson on the other hand never stops running and will most certainly help out Gerrard and Leiva, in which case Arsenal are bound to be outnumbered in that area of the pitch.

In previous seasons you could argue that the quick-passing and possession domineering ways of Wenger’s troops would leave the Merseysiders chasing shadows but under Rodgers, they’ve developed a taste for possession as well and won’t give it up very easily.

The vital difference between the two sets of midfielders is that every one of Liverpool’s are good tacklers and ball-winners with Leiva being the expert in that department. That’s where Arsenal will miss the injured Mathieu Flamini.

Ramsey and Wilshere both display plenty of fight but are they experienced enough to curb their attacking instincts? Do they have the discipline, alertness to danger and positional-sense to resist a strong Liverpool midfield and assist their defense in keeping tabs on Suarez and Sturridge?

Now, Ramsey has been one of the best all-round performers in the Premier League this season and his tackling has been right up there. He's made 40 tackles in 9 appearances while averaging 4.4 per game, the 4th best in the league.

Unfortunately, he could be facing the very best in Lucas Leiva, the man leading the charts in that regard. The Brazilian remarkably notched up 38 tackles in just 7 appearances so far with an average of 5.4 per game, despite returning from a lengthy injury lay-off.

With the game being played at the Emirates Stadium, the initiative will be on Arsenal to attack and get the three points. However, Liverpool’s midfield are likely to break-up their play repeatedly and when they do, they will have two extremely clever and mobile forwards up front, offering them outlets on the break.

The wing-backs and supporting midfielder will get forward too but with the way Sturridge and Suarez are playing at the moment, you’d back them to be more than capable of inflicting damage on their own, especially with Arsenal’s defense lacking the necessary cover.

The Londoners have shown what they’re capable of this season but will need to call on every ounce of their abilities if they’re going to get past a formidable-looking Liverpool side. If they manage to win and come through the rest of this testing period without too many set-backs, they’ll have a much more lenient run of fixtures awaiting them at the end of the tunnel to help them sustain their title challenge. Again though, that’s easier said than done.

Will Arsenal be able to win the midfield battle? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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