So, Steven Caulker—Liverpool's January transfer window surprise—made his first appearance as a centre forward in an attempt by Jürgen Klopp to find a late equaliser. Caulker's excellence in the air was supposed to double Liverpool's aerial threat alongside Christian Benteke. Klopp's side found an equaliser by way of a headed assist from Benteke, but there were quite a few questions about Liverpool's defending.
Kolo Touré and Mamadou Sakho didn't have their finest games in Liverpool's famous red shirts at all, but there were some personnel and tactical choices that didn't help either player during the game. Playing with Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner in midfield resulted in a lot of space for Arsenal's attacking players to exploit. Although Liverpool's high-energy approach was supported by midfield runners who seemingly popped up everywhere to support the attack in the opening half hour, Liverpool's backline was exposed without a midfielder who seemed dedicated to sweep up after his enterprising and eager colleagues.
Still, there were numerous instances when Touré and Sakho simply had to do better. Simon Mignolet made his mistakes too, but with Adam Bogdan inadequate and Danny Ward inexperienced, it is hoped that the Belgian stopper can produce some better displays soon. Mignolet is inconsistent and error-prone but can put together a string of games where he looks impressive. Ward will surely get a few chances over the next few weeks, but given the options available, it would be extremely risky to go without Mignolet for a game against Manchester United.
Steven Caulker, however, is a different proposition with just over 120 Premier League appearances as a central defender before he turned 24 late last month. With all due respect to Tiago Ilori, the Sporting youth product's failure to make the matchday squad against Arsenal almost certainly rules him out of contention. Sakho playing, getting injured, returning from injury, and getting injured again has left Liverpool with an excellent player who needs to regain his form as well as maintain his fitness. Touré is past his best but tries his best.
Marouane Fellaini was an effective aerial weapon for Manchester United last season and played a key role in securing Champions League football for Louis van Gaal. Chris Smalling could pose a danger on Sunday from dead-ball scenarios too. Caulker would help his defensive partner and goalkeeper in repelling any high balls that might be sent into Liverpool's area. The 24-year-old must be eagerly anticipating more action after a wonderful atmosphere and game at Anfield on Wednesday, and his new manager already appears to have a specific plan for how to use him.
There's enough time between Wednesday and Sunday for Liverpool to field the same pairing in central defence to work on mistakes and build some understanding over a short period of time. Perhaps rotation will play some role in resting the experienced Touré to possibly help Ilori out against Exeter. With Dejan Lovren doubtful and Martin Škrtel out until February, could Caulker provide the defence an injection of physicality and aerial competence to help Liverpool to victory on Sunday?