Tough Start to the 2016/17 Campaign for Reds
Liverpool take on Arsenal at the Emirates in their opening game of the 2016/17 Premier League season. Cieren O’Dea for Red or Dead takes a look at how both teams might approach this challenge.
The Gooners will start the season with a very similar lineup to last season’s, the only major addition being Granit Xhaka after the Swiss midfielder joined from Borussia Mönchengladbach for £30 million. They will however be without a host of first team regulars through injury and others may not yet be match fit. Per Mertersacker, Gabriel Paulista, Danny Welbeck and Carl Jenkinson are certainly going to miss the game, with Jack Wilshere also likely to be rested to aid the recovery from yet another injury. Question marks still remain over Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Özil’s fitness and all or some of the trio could well be benched or left out entirely while they work to get back up to speed after long European Championship 2016 campaigns.
With Arsenal facing an injury crisis with their centre-backs, Arsene Wenger may well have to field a makeshift defence against the Reds. New signing Rob Holding could be given a surprise debut in what could be a baptism of fire against a Liverpool outfit full of attacking potency. Callum Chambers looks set to lineup alongside him, although desperation could force Wenger’s hand and Koscielny may be rushed back to partner Holding. Dangerous fullbacks Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin will do their best to track Liverpool’s attacking players whilst causing some havoc of their own up the other end of the pitch. Who will partner Xhaka in midfield is up for debate; it is unknown if Wenger will give the job to Santi Cazorla to play as a deep-lying playmaker or opt to play Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny to shield a frail defence instead. In attack Theo Walcott will lead the line supported by Aaron Ramsey, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Iwobi with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin being well in contention for a starting role.
Liverpool will be without new additions Joel Matip and Loris Karius, while Mamadou Sakho, Lucas Leiva, Joe Gomez and Daniel Sturridge will also miss the trip to the Emirates. There are several other players who are in doubt after picking up niggling injuries including James Milner, Marko Grujic and Sheyi Ojo. Whilst not ideal, Liverpool’s squad is in much better condition than Arsenal’s going into the start of the season, even without key players such as Sturridge, Sakho, Matip and Karius.
Karius’ broken hand paves the way for Simon Mignolet to reclaim his place in goal, Alberto Moreno should also get the nod from Jurgen Klopp over Milner after the latter picked up a minor injury against Barcelona. Ragnar Klaven and Dejan Lovren look set to continue their promising partnership alongside Nathaniel Clyne in what looks to be a fairly solid defence. Emre Can will anchor a three man midfield supported by Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum who should find himself bombing forward into the Arsenal box regularly. The front three will consist of new man Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho supporting Roberto Firmino up top, completing a potent attacking lineup. Divock Origi and Adam Lallana could also feature, but this will likely come from the bench.
This game promises to be one of the best and most exciting of the round, with both sides boasting impressive attacking ranks. Arsenal will look to use the pace of their four attacking players to target Klaven and particularly Moreno which could cause problems for the Reds. Xhaka and Cazorla could easily play passes to put those men under pressure meaning Liverpool’s midfield will have to work in conjunction with the defence to keep them at bay. The key battle to watch for Arsenal will be Sanchez vs Moreno, quite a scary thought.
Meanwhile Liverpool will look to put early pressure on a makeshift defence with Firmino, Coutinho and Mane all vying to make an impression, Wijnaldum will also look to exploit Xhaka and Cazorla’s lack of pace and support Liverpool’s attacks on the break. Whilst Liverpool should start the season with a 4-3-3 formation, expect this to revert back to Klopp’s favoured 4-2-3-1 in the coming weeks. The key battle to watch for Liverpool will be Mane and Firmino vs Monreal and Holding. The introduction of Origi at some point in the match should also be anticipated as the young Belgian has the pace, power and finishing to give this Arsenal defence major headaches.
Either way this game should be an absolute thriller to kick off Liverpool’s season. Both sides will be looking to attack, but I’m going to give the edge to Liverpool as our defence is much stronger on paper and Arsenal are still lacking a world class centre-back and striker. I’m expecting goals from Mane and Origi in a 3-1 win on the opening day for the Reds.
Cieren O’Dea for Red Or Dead – Liverpool FC Football Blog – on 13/08/2016.