Mikel Arteta has drawn up a blueprint for frustrating and downing Liverpool, claims Martin Keown, with Arsenal having shown how the qualities of Roberto Firmino and Fabinho can be contained.
The Gunners have not always boasted the best of records when it comes to meetings with fellow members of the so-called ‘big six’.
They have, however, enjoyed an impressive recent run against reigning Premier League champions Liverpool.
Arteta has masterminded victories over the Reds in his last two tussles with Jurgen Klopp – taking three points off the Merseyside giants late in the 2019-20 campaign before then edging them out on penalties in the Community Shield.
Keown feels Arsenal have worked out how to stop a well-oiled machine from functioning properly, with attention diverted away from the more obvious threats of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
The former Gunners defender told the Daily Mail: “Part of Arsenal's recent success against Liverpool has been their ability to limit Roberto Firmino and Fabinho's input.
“Jurgen Klopp's side set out to dominate possession and they do this by creating a mezzanine floor-like system. If the defence is the ground floor, the midfield the first floor and the attack the second floor, then what Firmino and Fabinho do is build mezzanine floors in between.
“Fabinho operates between the back line and midfield, while Firmino operates between the midfield and attack. If you don't go close them down, then you're going to spend most of the game watching them with the ball.
“But Arsenal have found a way to upset Liverpool by mixing it up. In the Community Shield, they allowed David Luiz to leave the defence to take care of Firmino.
“In a typical back four, this might leave you feeling exposed. But by using a back three, Arsenal still had two central defenders behind Luiz ready to look after those tricky inside forwards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
“So the Brazilian wouldn't mind breaking the line and going 30 yards further forward to deal with Firmino.
“Arsenal likewise allowed Mohamed Elneny to leave the midfield to stop Fabinho. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored in the Community Shield after Mikel Arteta's side beat Klopp's high press and passed it out from the back.
“Arsenal weren't in a hurry to play it out – they drew Liverpool in and waited for the opportune moment to break, before Aubameyang finished the move.
“Ainsley Maitland-Niles was excellent at Wembley Stadium – he was solid defensively and very good at making decoy underlapping runs on Aubameyang – and we might see him at left wing-back again.
“Playing this Liverpool team is the ultimate test. They are a strong unit, and just look at what their secondary side did to Lincoln in the Carabao Cup in midweek. We could be in for a classic at Anfield.”
Arsenal will take in a testing trip to Anfield on Monday, with that outing set to be immediately followed by another when the two sides meet again in a Carabao Cup fourth-round clash on Thursday.