It's no secret that Liverpool have a very difficult task ahead of them this weekend. Arsenal stand atop the EPL table again, and thoroughly trounced the Reds when the two sides faced off earlier this season. Though Arsenal's midfield has been depleted by injury, they are still a formidable side that will require careful planning to surpass.
Many expect Liverpool will set up to sit deep, try to absorb Arsenal's attack, and bite them on the counter. That's a strategy that's worked marvelously for Liverpool in recent times, as well as down the stretch last season. An especially notable example of that is their play against Everton just over a week ago. The idea is a good one, and it's easy to see how well it could work.
Trouble is... there's a very good chance that it won't.
For one thing, Arsene Wenger will be expecting it. People love to criticize the Frenchman, but what you cannot say is that he is tactically naive. He will see what Liverpool has done and prepare his team accordingly, and while he has a number of players on the injury list, he has one key part of his squad coming back that would let him deal well with Liverpool's counter: Mikel Arteta.
Arteta has typically been fielded as a holding midfielder by Wenger during his time in London, and is well-suited to play against the counter. While he lacks the power game that many English holding mids employ, he reads play exceedingly well and pairs that with excellent lateral movement to allow him to break up marauding runs without much muss or fuss. When paired with the tireless running of one such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as it appears he will be, that is a very effective defense against the counter attack.
The other issue Liverpool would face by relying on beating Arsenal on the break lies partially in the use of the aforementioned Oxlade-Chamberlain. With the young Englishman deployed in central midfield, Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 formation would essentially become a 4-1-3-2 going forward, with Lukas Podolski moving up and in to support the striker, and Ox moving up and wide a tick to join the attack. With those numbers and that quality pressing forward, Liverpool would be forced to pack the midfield in to try to keep a depleted back line from getting overwhelmed. That instantly makes springing a counter much more difficult, and even the magic of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge would have a hard time breaking down Arsenal's defense essentially on their own.
So then, what can Liverpool do to beat Arsenal's attack? Why, take it to them, of course.
Arsenal have not fared well this season when their opposition has pressed forward relentlessly. While it's not an insignificant risk to do so, especially when facing an attack as potent as Arsenal's, Liverpool do have it in them to push forward hard and often in an effort to pin Arsenal back and bag an early goal or two. Once they do that, it'd become much more practical to sit back, but maintaining their attack for as long as they can, keeping Arsenal off balance for as long as they can, will be key to winning the match.
It won't be easy, it will be stressful, but if Liverpool want to give themselves the best chance possible of beating Arsenal on Saturday, eschewing the counter until later in the match might just be the way. Taking down the current first-place side would be a statement that Liverpool needs. Should they succeed, it would be a huge boon in their quest to finish in the top four.