Arsenal go into the third game of the season having not scored a goal, not conceded a goal and not won a game, this despite signing three attacking players during the summer.
Of course the settling in period is an issue for the new forwards and they have come close, with Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla all going close with efforts on Sunday afternoon at the Britannia.
But now all the attention turns to Sunday at Anfield. Last season the Gunners could consider themselves somewhat lucky to come away with three points, two goals from ex-captain Robin van Persie rescued them after a first half bombardment from Liverpool. A much better midfield performance is required them not to get overrun again.
Arsenal lined up against a midfield that looks somewhat weaker than Rodgers’ new engine. ‘Adam-Spearing-Henderson’. Arsenal named Rosicky, Arteta and Song. Mikel is the only player who will start from the two midfields which met last season. This is a key area for the encounter on Sunday. Lucas Leiva will be a loss but Nuri Sahin, Steven Gerrard and Joe Allen step in. In Sahin and Allen Liverpool will be able to take more possession than they did in last years fixture, whilst Arsenal will look to play through Santi Cazorla, a weapon they have only recently acquired.
With no real defensive midfielder in either side (bar a late signing), both clubs will look to get Steven Gerrard and Santi Cazorla into good positions, whilst they will most likely use Joe Allen and Mikel Arteta as makeshift holding midfielders. Because of these midfields it is unlikely to end how the Gunners first two ties have ended, in stalemate.
A big positive for Arsenal this season has been a noticeable defensive improvement following the appointment of Steve Bould after Pat Rice stepped down as Arsene’s right hand man. In particular for me we have seen a marked improvement on Keiran Gibbs. The left-back has been defensively sound and if he can put his injury days behind him, he has a real chance to become a top English International. Per Mertesacker has done well in the absence of Laurent Koscielny, but I feel it is key that Laurent returns for the Liverpool game. Despite scoring an own goal in this fixture last season, Laurent has the reading of the game and pace that not many centre backs can boast. Against the speed of Sterling, Suarez, Borini and the likes, Per is more than likely to be caught out. Having Koscielny back is a key element in keeping Liverpool at bay.
So on to my main point for the game. How should the Arsenal midfield line-up? For me this game is going to be a lot about keeping the ball and about pace. Rodgers is in the process of implementing a style similar to Arsenals and the match could throw up some attractive football. Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla are obvious must-haves in the side, and the Spanish duo could be assisted in a midfield three by a few different players. The first is Abou Diaby. He has started the opening games, but after a poor showing at Stoke, I’d drop him. He is not used to playing so many games and after being called up to the French squad, I’m sure Wenger shares my concerns. Next up is Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman has looked drained of confidence since mid-way through last season, Arsenal cannot afford for him in a midfield with Arteta and Cazorla as there would be little of a defensive shield. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would provide a bit more energy in the middle, as well as a very creative option which could unlock Liverpool; he is my second choice for that third slot. Lastly and the player I’d choose is Francis Coquelin. A young energetic and versatile player, 21 year-old Coquelin has a big chance to step up this season. Coquelin can sit alongside Arteta and allow Cazorla a free role high up the pitch.
In the forward line I would drop Gervinho for Walcott. This all depends on what happens with Theo in the next 48 hours, but some direct pace on the right looks a better option to start the game with. I’d stick with Podolski on the left and Giroud down the middle, again, pending any further changes to the squad.
Let me know your thoughts on the game, what team you’d like to see and your predictions in the comments below.
Oli Price-Bates [@OliPriceBates]