Liverpool Pre-match: the Case for the Defence


                                                     Chumps v Champs?

OK, calm down, as our Scouser visitors tonight would say.

I’m not about to mount an argument in favour of the individuals whose defensive errors have blighted our season (and in some cases, seasons past).

Instead, and following on from RA’s bold proposal yesterday, I want to make a case for the best defence – in terms of both personnel and organization – that we can put out for tonight’s Premier League game against the champions.

Liverpool have fully deserved their success this season. They hired a good and passionate manager in 2015 and they have helped him to gradually build the team he wants without overreacting to setbacks along the way.

It would be nice to think there’s a model there for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, but Liverpool’s owners have been far more willing to put their hand in their pocket to back Klopp’s project than our owners are likely to be for Arteta’s.

On this season’s form tonight’s game is a dead rubber. The best attack in the league against a side that specialises in kamikaze defending. On paper we’ll be lucky to lose by fewer than four goals.

The only factor weighing in our favour is that Liverpool have won their title, they’re “home and hosed” and no doubt ready for their summer holidays. So they may not be as committed tonight as they would otherwise be.

(There is, of course, an alternative interpretation: now that they’ve secured the championship all those nerves have vanished and they can play with full, unfettered freedom and joy, in which case… oh dear).

So. How do we set up our defence to have even the slightest chance?

The “Horseshoe” (back three/five) which worked well for a few games was badly undone against Tottenham thanks to the individual defensive errors which have become a hallmark of Arsenal in recent years.

The lack of attacking creativity it sacrifices was also painfully apparent. My view is that we can live with creating fewer chances if the defence is secure. But when the defence is as leaky as a sponge the trade-off ceases to be worth it.

Nevertheless, I expect Arteta to persevere with the Horseshoe tonight, albeit with some changes.

Here’s the line-up I’m predicting:


Bellerin – Holding – Luiz – Soares – Tierney

Xhaka – Ceballos

Saka – Lacazette – Aubameyang

It’s a game of football. Anything can happen. Fingers crossed for a surprise win for the good guys.



45 Responses to Liverpool Pre-match: the Case for the Defence

  1. oz gunner says:

    Cheers Rocky. You’re right…it’s a game and anything can happen. Unfortunately I’ve got PTSD from past Liverpool games so often I go into them thinking we’ll be 5 down by half time. Imagine supporting a team that were so stingy down back but scored for fun…what a dream that would be.

    I agree with the horseshoe. It’s needed given their attacking players. I’d just swap Cedric with holding given their preferred foot.

    I can see luiz giving away a penalty such is his confidence right now.

    @ RA

    Indeed. I haven’t forgotten. After all, it was you and TA that helped edit my honours thesis many moons ago 🙂

  2. Pete the Thirst says:

    Nice one Rocky.

    I shall be watching this one from behind the sofa!

  3. RockyLives says:

    Congratulations – can I suggest you change your user name to Dr Oz Gunner? 😀

    Thanks – I’ll see you there…

  4. RA says:

    A pre-match Post that combined practicality, given our limited defensive roster, hopes of an unexpected result, (Klop has been trying to give peripheral back up players sufficient games to qualify for a Premier League Medal) and a little humour too to make the medicine go down. 😉

    You mentioned the impact on our hopes if the defence performs as well as a leaky sponge, and there is no doubt about that.

    For me, I am hoping that the corollary could be that the defence uses the sponge I sent them, and they soak up all the Pool attacks, but if Klop’s usual strategy is employed and he orders his team to go for high pressing – either sponge will leak like a drunk with urinary incontinence.

    I’m setting my cap for a draw. Why not? As you say, Pool have won the championship in spectacular style, and could be blasé with one eye on their hols, or they could crush us – just because they can — I think it’s job done and their hols are calling — hence the call for a draw. 😜

  5. RA says:

    Morning, Dr Oz, (UK time),

    No one can really help another person, like yourself, going for a doctorate, and TA and I did very little, you were always in control — that’s the secret — put your head down, work hard, and soak it up, and success will be yours – and that is what happened.

    I am really delighted for a good guy, who is also a Gooner. 😁

    Two of my close family also achieved their doctorates this summer, and, like you must be, are thrilled that all their efforts proved successful. 👍

  6. SARz Kelly says:

    Nicely cooked article!.. Through the corridors of the passage, I couldn’t help laughing.. It’s a shame that Arsenal defense has been this way and no significant change has been done to patch it up.. In truth, I am not really moved by tonight’s game, not even the one after nor the one (after) after!.. Should there be some way on winning our remaining fixtures and still sit out of Europe, I’ll be super pleased. In this way, Arteta as well as the whole of Arsenal will have a clear vision/goal of winning the league to make up for the lost years (especially when Leicester lifted the trophy).. I strongly believe that any player who’d favor a move to Arsenal will do so wholeheartedly and not scale the transfer on European merits!..
    Forever a Gunner!

  7. RockyLives says:

    Fair point SARz

    I’m torn between wanting us to get into the Europa League (extra dosh, extra games to blood young players or guys returning to fitness)… and missing out completely so that we start next season with a clean slate, low expectations and the chance to focus fully on the league.

    Both Leicester and Chelsea have benefited in recent years from not being in Europe, so maybe we could too.

  8. Aaron says:


    All of those things can occur.

    Even if pool put out a newer side, they will be rested and fresh, our guys are running on fumes.

    An optimist would say a draw, will not mention the other.

    Still think we will finish up 10th and not 7th.
    Either way, do not want Europa, the travel, and the injuries with our current squad and limited budget.

    Question: does anyone currently believe we could be manure with our squad in Europa?

  9. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky, and to all the other wonderful recent posts you and others have written.

    LB’s “horseshoe” is an excellent observation and reminds me of the late 19th century Zulu warfare tactic of “the horns of the buffalo”.

    It wasn’t the “horseshoe” formation with a back 3 that lost at Spurs but the individual errors of the 2 back 3 players either side of Luiz.

    Kola is not a left sided CD. he may not even be a left sided full back either and really looks to be a left wing back or winger really.

    Mustaffi had somewhat won me over recently, as a potential back up solution, but that game showed he will never eradicate some key errors. He goes to ground at the wrong times and doesn’t know how to shepherd a player and too frequently mis-judges when to dart in for an intercept.

    Kane is not the quickest but he did Mustaffi twice just through Mustaffi’s poor defending quality and not because of anything Kane did that was exceptional. His second free pass to Kane to get around him from their attacking left led directly to the corner where they scored.

    Given Mourinho’s tactic of launching long balls up to Kane and Son the back 3 should have been the perfect formation to counter that threat and 3 vs 2 should have easily dealt with any threat.

    Should we stick with the back 3 again? Debatable with Mustaffi and Kola. A fit again Chambers operating the right of the 3 with Holding to the left and Luiz in the middle would be much more solid.

    I worry Sane and Salah will make mincemeat of Mustaffi and Kola respectively and it may be sensible to switch to a back 4 with Luiz and Holding. The argument for the back 3 with the wing backs is that it could exploit the space behind ther FB’s who like to push on and upset their balance a bit.

    RA’s “give yoof a bleedin chance” was excellent, although in my head it sounded more ” give them there cotton picking young-uns a darn chance wontchya now”…… that Wichitarian?

    I agree about promoting through youngsters where we have players that are prime age and will never be top notch. I think we need to blend it somewhat with experience though and give a pass to David Luiz in this case.

    I recognise his flaws but he also brings much to the table in many ways while young defenders start to step up, and I think his extension still remains sensible. He is prone to some bad games but also often puts a run of excellent performances together.

    The Spurs game was lost by the 2 CD’s either side of him in that back 3. I would like to see how we look in a back 3 with Holding to his left and Saliba or Chambers to his right.

  10. RA says:

    Hi, Hi, GB, great to see you,

    Another sensible and intelligent summary of our situation, which always gives me food for thought.

    We need you and/or another of your posts, so give the yak the elbow, and the camel the hump, and get yourself on here more often.

    I am halfway to believing you are a naughty boy playing with another gang — but, nix that, you have AA at heart!! 😜

  11. GoonerB says:

    No other gangs RA, just a lot going on. Everything that was once simple just takes so much more time. You try sticking PPE gear on camels RA… not bloody easy 🙂

    Interesting line up. If pepe plays wide right it is a 4-3-3 likely with Saka at ACM. If Sake and Nelson take up the wide positions and pepe plays behind Laca it could look more a 4-4-2.

  12. RockyLives says:

    I reckon it looks like a back 5 with KT playing left central defence and Saka outside him. Soares on the right.

    We’ll see…

  13. Rasp says:

    Evening playmates …. anything happening? 🙄

  14. GoonerB says:

    Said this earlier Rocky but it got swallowed up but it looks like you were right but I was not convinced by the line up in the way it likely restricts any of Tierneys attacking threat. It does look like we carry less threat in attack with this line up and are inviting them onto us.

  15. RockyLives says:

    Not a good look for us at the moment.

  16. GoonerB says:

    No Rocky, but then I guess Arteta can’t have full confidence to put out the line up he would ideally like to. On a side note how good would it be to get David Silva for a couple of seasons while players like ESR and Saka further develop. He must still be the best creative “in the hole” player in the league. Come on Mikel use your connections.
    And yeeesss while I write this

  17. fatgingergooner says:

    Van Dijk looked like Beckenbauer for 30 minutes but it only takes 2 seconds of looking like Kolasinac to fuck it all up!

  18. fatgingergooner says:

    I don’t understand the point of VAR if Mane is allowed to try and kick out at Holding and nothing is done about it. Just because he doesn’t connect…? He should still be booked at least

  19. RockyLives says:

    He’s not an Arsenal player.

  20. Aaron says:

    Wow, 2 major mistakes from two of their best.
    Youth capitalized. Woo hoo.

    Glad hendo is out for them.

    Pressing makes things happen.

    Let’s see what happens in the second half.

  21. RA says:

    Well that is a delightful end a first half that looked easy meat for Pool — but the Gunners showed that even when we are underperforming they cannot take liberties. 😁

  22. oz gunner says:

    I really like Nelson. Every time he plays he makes something happen.

    I’m glad that Van dijk error wasn’t called a foul. Normally all it takes is an experienced big name to throw their hands up before the ref obliges (especially when it’s a youngster harassing).

    The mane goal…where was the talk? Poor by xhaka. I know you worry about scoring an own goal in those situations but come on it was cms away from you and you let it run to mane on a platter.

  23. RockyLives says:

    We’ve been poor all night at picking up those runners coming in for the cutbacks from wide.

    It’s almost come off for ‘Pool a couple more times in addition to their goal.

  24. fatgingergooner says:

    Pepe making Özil look like a workhorse

  25. fatgingergooner says:

    Xhaka wins a lot of our defensive headers at set pieces. Gets a lot of grief for the rest of his play but he’s good at something!

  26. oz gunner says:

    Agree Rock.

    We’ve been poor at it for a long long time. Lazy midfielders not wanting to run back or too slow. Or in denilson’s case…both.

  27. fatgingergooner says:

    We haven’t been mobile in midfield for a long time though, and we’ve played with very attacking wide forwards for quite a while now which has left us light when anyone attacks with full backs, however, I would suggest that the work rate of our wingers has improved ten fold under Arteta. It would be great to have someone who can cover ground in the middle but is also quick of thought (AMN???). None of Xhaka, Ceballos, Geundouzi and Torreira are exactly quick and powerful.

  28. fred1266 says:

  29. fatgingergooner says:

    Doesn’t mean too much but gotta be happy with that result and a good defensive performance second half.

  30. RA says:

    Well — who’d a thunk it?

    A mirror image of the Spuds game. We were the best team then — and gave away 2 soft goals to lose.

    Tonight the Pool were terrific at times and gave us two goals and lost.

    Football, eh?

  31. RockyLives says:

    Absolutely FGG

    If we can be pissed about about the Spuds game we have to enjoy this one.

    I seem to remember before the lockdown predicting that we would beat them at the Ems 😀

    (Although that was in the context of me assuming ‘Pool might still be unbeaten by that point).

  32. Aaron says:

    Happy for the win against pool.
    Out shot 24-2 does not bode well for Mikel and AFC.

    Would have a have a win against spuds when it means something not against a side that are on a champagne holiday.

  33. RA says:

    Where’s LB? I bet his pain after the Spuds game has eased.

    A nice post-match beckons LB?? 😁

  34. fatgingergooner says:

    We are too keen to be negative about the club these days. A great result. Let’s enjoy it.

    I really enjoy listening to Arteta. He’s so honest and so articulate. I really hope he’s successful and I think he will be.

  35. GoonerB says:

    I am very pleased for those 3 points but I don’t like that we have been reduced to looking like a desperate lower table team hanging on against a superior opposition when just 6 seasons ago Alexis Sanchez was choosing us over Liverpool because we were the club that was more attractive and “on the up”, and was about to embark on an exciting new era.

    We were just trying to clear the ball away desperately with no real semblance of bringing it under control and playing our way upfield. I am sure that this is not entirely reflective of a massive gulf in individual quality but had a lot to do with the 3 points being incredibly important to us, creating a fear of conceding, while Liverpool had nothing to fear one way or the other.

    Under these circumstances one can forgive the players adopting this mentality, but I would hope to see us enter the new season with a more confident and dominant style of possession and attacking football rather than this type of subservient inferiority type.

    If we are to get into 6th in the league then leicester and Chelsea need to become good friends to us in these last 3 games and we will need a guaranteed 2 wins and likely with a minimum +5 goal difference across those 2 games. That is a lot of stars that need to align, but not beyond the realms of possibility.

  36. LB says:

    It’s a bit late for me RA but thanks for the thought.

  37. oz gunner says:

    I agree goonerB. I don’t want to see it but it does seem like a ‘by any means necessary’ at the moment. Get the points. Then get some new players and improve their fitness so we can play the way Arteta wants.

    @ FGG

    agree. Arteta has our wings defending a lot more. Even auba, which is a miracle as players of his caliber tend to shirk defensive responsibilities. Laca puts in the yards too.

    I’m excited to see next seasons fit pressing style. I hope it looks like City. Make it a pleasure watching Arsenal again.

  38. RA says:

    Hi, FGG,

    I hear what you say about being too negative, and it is easy to fall into that attitude.

    However, if you were referring to the opinions on how we performed in the pool game, I am not sire what you meant.

    If you heard Mikel post match, would he be included as to negative? After all he gave credit for the players energy and their desire to keep out the Pool attacks, I would agree, but he also went on and demonstrated by moving his hands apart that the difference between the teams was huge (his word).

    That is not being negative, it is being analytical and gives ma target asm to how much work is needed to get us anywhere close to Pool.

    And, it is not just Pool, City are on a par with them, and Chelsea and Manure will be going into the transfer market and if we dod not act accordingly in the market, we will be buggered.

    He admitted he needed to improve the quality of the squad to have any chance to match them, in fact he said it was the only way.

    Not negative – it was just realistic – and I agree with him.

  39. RA says:

    Sorry for the errors in typing — too rushed.

  40. RA says:

    A quick match appraisal:

    There was a certain unease for some fans in the team selection, although it is obvious that perhaps the FA Cup semi-final had something to do with that.

    Anyway starting at the end – the result was very welcome, not necessarily the 3 points (much tho that was encouraging) but the graft we put into achieving the win a very satisfying.

    There is a bit of a naughty side of my persona, which as a footie fan is probably true of all of us to some degree, and that is the relief and delight that the Invincibles’ record was not broken, and the record for the highest number of points in Premier League history was staying at City.

    I don’t have any interest in City really, but I hate other clubs doing too well and having to many medals, trophies or bragging rights.

    To be candid, I am not sure how we managed to beat them. Well, I do really, we were given a couple of gifts that needed Laca and Nelson to have their wits about them and find the net — but, without them I doubt we would have scored.

    It simply cannot be denied, Pool did look streets ahead of us with speed, confidence and quality in every part of their team — and their points tally compared to ours simply confirms that. The stats show they had 80% possession, and that usually signals the demise of the team with 20%.

    So back to us — we put in a tremendously gutsy effort and terrific determination not to be made to look clueless, especially when Pool went up another gear or two in the second half, when to be candid we sometimes looked at 6s and 7s in defence with ball frequently deflected here, there and everywhere.

    How did we keep them at bay?

    Our forwards did not do much attacking throughout the game, apart from saying thank you for the priceless goal gifts from two really good players, Van Dyke and Allison, so let’s look instead at the troublesome defence.

    Emile Martinez was again brave and resolute in coming out and catching the ball, rather than punching it out back out to Pool’s marauding midfield. And the icing on the cake were the finger tip saves he made from Mané. [7]

    Luiz had one of his better games, and got his noggin to the ball more than usual, and he stayed ‘at home’ rather than going wandering aimlessly into space where he does not have the pace to recover when the ball is lost. [6]

    Holding has again showed that he is recovering match fitness and toughness, which Mané found. A good balance with Luiz. [6]

    Soares gamely tried to stick to anyone who attacked in his area, and was pretty OK, but is he the right quality for us. [5]

    Tierney is already a good player and will become a star when he gets more experience and his injury problems are laid to rest. [7]

    The Others:

    AMN [6} -Torreira [6] – Ceb [6] – Xhaka [7] (Unusually sensible) –

    Nelson [7] – Auba [6] – Pepe [5] – Laca [8] –

    Willock [6] – Saka [6] –

    And Kola – not on long enough to count – well he did not give away another stupid pass.

  41. oz gunner says:

    @ RA

    good inception post. Can’t disagree with any of that. I can also confirm that I don’t want teams to come anywhere near beating the Invincibles record. If it looks like we aren’t in with a shot of the title that becomes the next thing I want. Unfortunately every year we have to deal with the inevitable “can chelsea/pool/city” go undefeated and how do they match up with the Invincibles starting XI? Like clockwork, it happens after 10-12 undefeated games.

  42. RA says:

    It frustrates me too, Oz.

    If we were also mentioned as a team within striking range of the Premier title and/or another record, that would be OK, but to be perennial ‘also rans’ is beginning to shrivel my footballing soul.

  43. RockyLives says:

    New Post for Cup Semi Day

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