By 1970’s Gooner
Rafa Benitez is a wily and rather conservative coach and this is how he approaches knock out competitions.
He plays a tight game with Torres leading the line flanked by two wide men who usually come into the middle to create a packed midfield.
They tend to defend deep in a conservative 4 2 3 1 formation with Alonso holding back and Mascherano rarely getting past the half way line.
In doing this they like to suck the opponents in and play counter attacking football utilizing Torres’s pace and goal scoring ability.
This is usually done through the middle as the initial staring 11 do not always contain natural wingers.
In the League game against Everton last week Benitez used Kuyt and Babel (along with Gerrard in the middle of the three) who are not natural wingers. More recently at Inter Milan in the Champions League he played the same players again.
It’s not a surprise therefore that Benitez is so successful in Europe where not conceding a goal counts for a lot. It forms the basis for completing the job at home if the first leg is away or scoring a crucial away goal if the second leg is away.
If Liverpool are likely to congest the middle of the pitch then Arsenal will only get joy if they can stretch the play so as to draw out Liverpool’s midfielders and open the spaces for the little maestro and co to weave their magic.
But one striking feature of this Arsenal version is the lack of natural wingers.
Wingers in the mould of Overmars, Pires, Ljumberg or Ray Parlour in their younger days. Wenger has been using a combination of two out of Hleb, Rosicky, Diaby and Eboue with Walcott making the odd appearance.
Apart from Walcott and sometimes Eboue the rest are not natural wingers with not enough pace to get passed their man and put in the crosses and cut backs.
What they tend to do is come infield and end up creating even more congestion placing the onus on the full backs to create the width. This is dangerous if possession is lost as too many men are committed forward.
So Wenger could consider switching formation to 4 4 1 1 or even the formation chosen for the Chelsea game which was 4 2 1 3.
In this way he can accommodate Robin Van Persie’s pace on the left, play Hleb behind Adebayor and choose one from Eboue, Diaby and Walcott for the right wing position.
In the light of how Liverpool approach these type of games and taking into account how space is so valuable to the way Arsenal play one of the above formations may be preferable.
But finding the personnel to fit the formation is tricky now that Sagna is not available. Clearly who Wenger chooses to replace him will determine who he can deploy at the right side of the attack.
If as last week at Bolton Senderos is brought in then Toure will revert to right back and Eboue will be released to play on the wing.
However I would not favour Senderos because the way to counter Torres is through a fast defender and Toure and Gallas are much more pacy.
This then restricts the available choices for right back. One is to play Eboue at right back and either Diaby, Hleb or Walcott on the wing. The other is to bring Hoyte in and push Eboue on the wing.
I would go for Eboue at right back as he can from that position push forward and provide added width anyway.
Hoyte has been out of action for a long time and therefore not match fit enough for my liking.
Walcott could start on the right side and with RVP on the left would really stretch Liverpool and would be an attractive forward line.
My formation would be as follows:
Eboue Toure Gallas Clichy
Walcott Adebayor RVP
Liverpool’s main threats come from Torres and also from Gerrard who is dangerous in his new more forward role of playing behind Torres. Toure being the faster of the two Arsenal centre backs would be the most likely to pick him up.
Flamini’s role would also be very important. He would have to track Gerrard when he ventures forward and his role would be to stifle him and crowd him out.
If these two Liverpool players are kept quiet and width added to Arsenal’s play then the basis would be created for getting a positive result to take to Anfield.