Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Combined XI


While not a fixture of the same stature of Liverpool vs. Manchester United, Liverpool vs. Arsenal has often produced some outstanding games for the ages. Arsenal winning the league title in Anfield in the dying minutes of the 1990 season will remain a low point for any Liverpool fan of that era, but latterly the two English giants have thrown up classics, such as the 2008 Champions League quarter final. Here Co-Editor Kevin Kelly takes a go at what an Arsenal Liverpool combined XI would look like in Liverpool’s 3-4-2-1 formation.

Simon Mignolet (Goalkeeper): In our last combined XI feature, when Liverpool hosted Manchester United, David De Gea won the goalkeeping spot, despite the Belgian having surprisingly impressive well-rounded stats.

For example, Mignolet has kept 12 clean sheets this season (in 28 games), comparatively, Southampton’s Fraser Forster has just one more with 13 (30 games), Manchester United’s David De Gea has 10 (30 games), and Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois has 8 in 25 games. Arsenal’s goalkeeping situation is slightly different, as David Ospina has only recently began starting consistently. He has though, kept five clean sheets in 10 games – statistically the best rate of all keeper in The Premier League.

Ospina by default misses out having not played for a long enough time. One point of note though is Mignolet’s surprisingly accurate distribution. Mignolet now has better pass distribution (68%), than David De Gea (67%), Thibaut Courtois (59%), Fraser Forster (62%), David Ospina (60%) and Hugo Lloris (66%).

Emre Can (Right centre-back): Although fundamentally a defensive midfield player Emre Can’s first season in England has seen him often play in a back three, with his main role to carry the ball out in a libero style. Can has not only been part of Liverpool’s sturdy defence, but pertinently has helped Simon Mignolet’s improved passing accuracy by providing the Belgian with an assured option.

Can wins 2.13 tackles, 2.13 interceptions and 4.26 clearances per 90 minutes in The Premier League. Where Can truly excels of course is on the ball; completing 83% of his passes, while 30.53 of his 50.53of his average passes per 90 will go forward. Can, even predominantly from a defensive standpoint, averages 0.62 key passes and 70.97% successful take ons per 90 minutes; another easy decision to make the combined XI.

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Laurent Koscielny (Centre-back): Had Martin Skrtel not been suspended he would have probably made the centre-back position in this combined XI, but with him unavailable Laurent Koscielny makes it in ahead of the likes of teammate Per Mertesacker, Liverpool’s likely replacement for tomorrow Kolo Toure and the erratic Dejan Lovren.

Often a cause of argument between Liverpool and Arsenal fans due to not ahead of Mamadou Sakho in the French team, Koscielny is a defender who polarises opinion. While Koscielny can play as well as anyone in world football, he can too flatter to deceive.

Koscielny’s stats do illustrate a well rounded defender, albeit with an unusually low tackle success rate. The Frenchman averages 0.90 tackles, 3.76 interceptions and 6.67 clearances per 90 minutes in The Premier League. On the ball Koscielny shines; completing 88% of his passes. Furthermore, 33.43 of his 40.84 average per 90 passes go forward.

Mamadou Sakho (Left centre-back): Again it seems needing point out that several Liverpool defenders making a combined XI given the perception that Liverpool are hapless defensively. For a number of months this opinion would be correct; times nevertheless do change. Now Liverpool harbour one of the finest defensive set-ups in the league, with Mamadou Sakho at the core of the revival.

Although Sakho’s season – and perhaps Liverpool career – looked over before it could really get going, when he walked out of Anfield on September 27th for the Merseyside Derby when he was left out of Brendan Rodgers squad altogether. Since then though, he has since shone. Sakho averages a deceptively low 1.38 tackles, 1.60 interceptions and 6.03 clearances (not so low) per 90 minutes.

On the ball he flies in the face of the lazy opinion he is poor on the ball. Of the average 56.8 passes he plays per Premier League game, he completes 89% of those (40.46 of those going forward).

Raheem Sterling (Right wing-back): The decision to play Raheem Sterling at wing-back was one not chosen easily. Indeed, the Jamaican-born winger has not particularly impressed while in the role. But for imagination sake let’s try pick the best players without too much tactical thought. Given the later choices for attacking-midfield it seemed Sterling would obviously have to play – but where? Well, wing-back obviously!

Liverpool’s troublesome forward has been a menace all season; at the core of keeping the Reds afloat during the early part of the season while everyone else in the side were flailing dismally. Sterling has six goals and seven Premier League assists so far, directly contributing to a goal every 189 minutes.

Sterling is a defenders nightmare, despite being moved around in a number of positions this season; he has created 62 chances this league season, making a staggering 55 key passes.

Jordan Henderson (Central-midfield): Given the option in the Arsenal midfield, notably Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla it is to Henderson’s credit he edges his way into the combined XI. As every Liverpool fan remembers, when the Mackem-native joined the Reds in 2012 he was a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ cliché symbolised.

Yet today Henderson is Liverpool’s captain-in-waiting. Never one to rest on his laurels Henderson is constantly improving. Although not the finished article, last month’s strikes against Manchester City and Burnley displayed his eagerness to improve in front of goal. To date Henderson has scored five goals and made seven assists this Premier League season, while creating 46 chances and 39 key passes. Henderson’s consistency edges him ahead of the classy Aaron Ramsey.

Francis Coquelin (Defensive-midfield): Having come back from loan at Charlton in January Francis Coquelin has asserted himself as a mainstay in Arsenal’s midfield through a series of bruising performances, most notably against Manchester City.

“I’m not going to say to you I am (the new Vieira), obviously I want to be but I think it’s down to the performance I put in every week so I’m just trying to give me best every game so hopefully I can do that in the long term,” Coquelin told BT Sport.

“I’m not going to say to you I am (the new Vieira), obviously I want to be but I think it’s down to the performance I put in every week” – Francis Coquelin

“I always had confidence in myself and belief in myself I just need the chance. I got the chance because other people got injured and tried to grab it with both hands and do as well as I could,” he said confidently.

Since returning, Coquelin has started 12 Premier League games wherein he’s displayed the type of no holds barred performances not seen at Arsenal since the heady days of Patrick Viera.

Coquelin averages an impressive 3.58 tackles, 3.83 interceptions and 4.81 clearances per 90 minutes, while he’s also managed six blocks during the current campaign. These stats put Coquelin among the very best defensive midfielders in England today, such as Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic (4.91 tackles and 1.73 interceptions p90). Coquelin’s place was a throw up between him and Lucas Leiva, yet given Lucas’ recent injury absence the Frenchmen gets the nod.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Left wing-back): Left wing-back was another position not easily filled. Not necessarily because there was a paucity of quality options available (although it is true), but because of how a fundamentally peculiar position it is. Do you look for an attacking full-back or essentially an all rounded wide player? I’ll keep my Brendan Rodgers mask on and go for the adventurous latter.

Chamberlain is undoubtedly a fine footballer, although perhaps falling victim to not only injury, but his own innate versatility. Indeed, Chamberlain has played in central midfield for a time this season, while also in his natural wide right/left role, albeit sporadically.

Chamberlain has featured in 22 Premier League games this season, scoring only once and assisting once. Not encouraging, but he did manage to create 35 chances, while playing 34 key passes. Defensively Chamberlain is astute; having won 20 tackles and 24 interception this season. Chamberlain’s subtle quality and all-round ability make him a fine candidate for our left wing-back role in the combined XI.

Alexis Sanchez (Right attacking-midfield): Without doubt one of the best Premier League players this season, Sanchez easily slots into the combined XI. Nevertheless Sanchez’s form has dipped latterly, clearly not used to the busy winter schedule.

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  • Sanchez fleet-footed skill and clinical finishing has left many defenders with nightmares this season; having scored 13 Premier League goals, along with seven assists. The Chilean attacker directly contributes to a goal every 111 minutes. Furthermore, Sanchez averages 2.59 chances and 2.31 key passes per Premier League game.

    It would be with painful irony should Sanchez shine on Saturday and put Liverpool all but out of top 4 contention. If he performs like he has earlier in the season there will be little doubt.

    Philippe Coutinho (Left attacking midfield): Was there any doubt about Philippe Coutinho’s inclusion? Surely not. Despite being inconsistent to a point, Coutinho is Liverpool’s player of the season, having developed from boy to man in front of fans’ eyes. The Brazilian number 10 has scored four goals this Premier League – including the notable stunners against both Southampton and Manchester City. He’s assisted four times too – though a figure he’d likely want to drastically improve upon.

    Coutinho has created a surprisingly low number of chances (38) this season, while making 34 key passes. The diminutive midfielder is surprisingly astute defensively, adding to the idea he is better in a natural central-midfield role, rather than attacking midfield. He averages 1.61 tackles and 0.61 interceptions per game. Arsenal fans may not agree but Coutinho was a cert for a combined XI.

    Olivier Giroud (Striker):  And finally, the striker. Perhaps the most controversial of choices, certainly from a Liverpool perspective. Although Daniel Sturridge is by all accounts far more naturally talented, he is terribly injury prone and has been far from at his best since returning from injury. In comparison, Giroud is not the most fashionable of strikers, but is in fine form.

    The Frenchman has netted in 5 successive league matches and earned an outstanding rating of 8.70  on over his last three appearances as he targets a third goal in five appearances against Brendan Rodgers’ side.

    Giroud has 13 Premier League goals this season, edging towards his record of 16 in the 2013/14 campaign. Along with his 3 assists Giroud has directly contributed to a goal every 78 minutes of play this season. Giroud’s consistency this campaign gets consistency of late comfortably put him into the combined XI and finishes the team.