This is a week in which Arsenal and Liverpool must transform their seasons. They will meet in the Premier League on Saturday, before taking on crucial clashes in the Europa League and the Champions League, against Slavia Prague and Real Madrid respectively.
Europe is where these clubs can turn their disappointing campaigns into successful ones, and a morale-boosting victory at the Emirates would not be out of place.
The international break will have given Mikel Arteta time to think about his vision for the future. The Arsenal manager may need to look no further than his side’s screen in West Ham’s second half and the formation he finished with.
This is a week in which both Liverpool and Arsenal can transform their disappointing seasons
Arsenal could join Liverpool on Saturday by targeting an exposed Trent Alexander-Arnold
The last 15 minutes were total domination and action from Arsenal. Arteta changed form with a double substitution, replacing Granit Xhaka and the exhausting Bukayo Saka with Emile Smith Rowe and Nicolas Pepe.
With that, Arsenal went from having two midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 to only Thomas Partey in a 4-3-3. Partey had two creative players in Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard on either side of him and the full backs were flying.
It was reminiscent of Pep Guardiola’s line-up in Manchester City, as Rodri is flanked by Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan. This was the system I expected from Arteta after he left City halfway through last season. Still, he has taken a more cautious approach, most recently standing alongside two midfielders with another advanced midfielder playing from the front.
Arsenal would be fourth in a Premier League table since Christmas. The introduction of the youth players was crucial to their success, with Smith Rowe joining the team on Boxing Day and Saka playing more in his favorite position on the right wing.
Gabriel Martinelli finally got some minutes towards the final stage in West Ham and added another injection of youthful exuberance to the left wing. It is puzzling that we no longer see the 19-year-old.
He’s just too good to be an unused substitute. If given his chance, he could get on the team and play a significant role in reviving Arsenal’s season, similar to the impact Smith Rowe has had.
Another shining light is Kieran Tierney, who is rightly praised for his dedication to flying down the left flank.
Calum Chambers was equally energetic on the right side at London Stadium and seized his chance to impress.
Arsenal are strong on the left, especially with Kieran Tierney bombing down that flank
Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka could play crucial roles if Arsenal are to unlock Liverpool
Despite the way it has been bothering West Ham, Arteta may not feel that Saturday is the night to play a 4-3-3 from the start. He may return to the midfield partnership between Xhaka and Partey for Liverpool.
If you dive into the statistics, it is interesting that only one of the nine Premier League teams to beat Liverpool this season attacked Jurgen Klopp’s left side more than his right.
The other eight had a specific plan aimed at Liverpool’s right side, which recently included three hugely talented players – Trent Alexander-Arnold, Thiago Alcantara and Mohamed Salah.
I was baffled by Alexander-Arnold’s omission from the last England squad. This right back is a class act – a real creative force. He is the premier league rider in open play. His forays into the final third leave spaces, but it has been Liverpool’s failure to provide no cover.
It did not contribute to the fact that Fabinho was removed from midfield and placed in the back. His protection has been missed. Alexander-Arnold, Thiago and Salah face another tough test on Saturday evening.
Liverpool have missed Fabinho’s midfield protection for much of this season
Arsenal are strong on the left – as Tottenham found out last month. Tierney, Smith Rowe and Xhaka rotate exceptionally well. Tierney flies over the flank, Xhaka floats to the left, and Smith Rowe moves into midfield. It drags opponents out of position, creates space and you could see this move as Arsenal equalized against Spurs in the Emirates.
Smith Rowe was also ordered to shoot into space behind the entire back. He made the same run repeatedly, and it left Spurs right back Matt Doherty unsure of who to pick.
Arteta has clearly worked hard with his players on these deliberate moves, and he will want his left side to test Liverpool. That will be a major tactical battle between two teams looking to advance in the Premier League, but with seasonally defining European clashes on the horizon.
The photo above was taken six seconds before Arsenal equalized against Tottenham last month and shows how effective the Gunners are down the left flank – a weak point for Liverpool.
Xhaka is sliding to the left in an attempt to draw in Spurs players, Smith Rowe has already fallen in from the left wing and Tierney has room to send in a cross that converts Odegaard.
This is just before Gundogan scored for Manchester City against Liverpool in February and shows how vulnerable the defending champions are when attacked from the left.
Sterling beats Alexander-Arnold and all ends up before finding Foden at the edge of the six-yard box. Foden’s shot is saved, but Gundogan scores from the rebound to start City’s defeat.