Thursday 26 April 2018

Do the Gunners really need Benzema? Five talking points ahead of Arsenal v Liverpool

Olivier Giroud is Arsenal's main striker amid speculation linking Karim Benzema to the club.
Olivier Giroud is Arsenal's main striker amid speculation linking Karim Benzema to the club.

Five issues at stake at the Emirates this evening, including can Christian Benteke bully Arsenal's centre-halves

Can Olivier Giroud convince Arsene Wenger he doesn't need Karim Benzema?

It's the transfer rumour that simply will not go away. Arsenal fans might be forgiven for spending most of tonight's match scanning the north London skies for that private jet which had supposedly been chartered to fly Benzema from Madrid, given Arsene Wenger's chronic need for a striker.

As it stands, Wenger is reliant almost entirely on Olivier Giroud as an out-and-out striker - with Alexis Sanchez best deployed off a front man - and while Giroud is effective enough at dealing with the Premier League's lesser lights, he rarely fires against one of the big guns (even if he does have three against Liverpool since his arrival in 2012).

Benzema would clearly represent a significant upgrade, and it's not overstating the case to suggest that Giroud might just be playing for his immediate first-team future against Brendan Rodgers' side this evening.

Can a home team make use of their advantage?

Home advantage appears to be something of a myth in the Premier League these days. Just one side - Crystal Palace - won at home in the top flight last weekend, and this was no anomaly.

There are several theories as to why this trend should be taking root: an abundance of quick, counter-attacking forwards who can hurt teams on the break; a lack of tactical savvy from sides who over-committ - probably in an effort to appease impatient fans - on home soil; or possibly visiting teams just finding the sanitised atmosphere of Premier League stadiums less intimidating than in the past.

Whatever the reason, the statistics suggest Liverpool should feel more bullish about their prospects tonight, compared to the pasting they received last season.

Can Benteke bully Arsenal's centre-halves?

It has not taken long for Christian Benteke to make his presence felt at Liverpool. It took him just two games to get off the mark, scoring the winner against Bournemouth in front of the Kop, but more significant has been his effect on Liverpool's style of play.

Brendan Rodgers might be a sucker for the game's more romantic traditions but he is not averse to some practicality when the occasion demands, and the arrival of one of English football's most muscularly effecive centre-forwards has resulted in Liverpool adopting a more direct style this season.

Liverpool's Christian Benteke struck his side's winner against Bournemouth

This makes perfect sense: Benteke needs quick service, and thrives in aerial duels with centre-backs he can bully. The prospect of taking on Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker - not always the most commanding of defenders - should be an enticing one for the Belgium international, provided he gets the service he requires.

Can Coquelin nullify Coutinho?

Midfield looks like the area which will decide tonight's game, and on that basis Arsenal's top priority must be finding a way of curbing the influence of Philiippe Coutinho.

The Brazilian is the source of so much of Liverpool's best football, and the responsibility of smothering the space in which he operates is likely to fall to Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman's place at Arsenal was also subject to some speculation over the summer, but Arsene Wenger eventually decided that he could live without Morgan Schneiderlin - currently excelling for Manchester United - following Coquelin's impressive performances following his return from a loan spell with Charlton last season.

Defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin has impressed since returning to Arsenal from a loan spell at Charlton

Coutinho will pose a more stern test of his abilities.

Is Dejan Lovren's form temporary or permanent?

Of all the disappointing signings made by Liverpool last summer - and there were several - few were exposed as regularly or as disastrously as Dejan Lovren.

The man who had looked so commanding at the heart of Southampton's back-line the previous season was often made to appear amateurish after he donned Liverpool red, and there were serious questions over whether he had a long-term future at the club. Brendan Rodgers appeared to have a choice between persisting with him or Mamadou Sakho: he opted to place his faith in Lovren, and has not been disappointed.

Dejan Lovren was a big money summer signing for Liverpool

Lovren looks a new player this season, commanding in the air and on the ground alongside Martin Skrtel, having helped Liverpool to successive clean sheets in their two Premier League games this season.

Arsenal away will pose a different challenge, and both Lovren and Skrtel can be exposed by quicksilver movement and darting runs from deep - both Arsenal specialities.

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