Shooting star should top Arsene Wenger's wishlist

During the summer transfer window of 2013, Luis Suarez dominated relations between Liverpool and Arsenal as the two clubs fought out a public spat over the player’s future. Two years on, the shadow of the striker still hangs over the Premier League rivals despite having long since moved to Barcelona.

Shooting star should top Arsene Wenger's wishlist

Then, Arsenal failed in their bid to trigger the Uruguayan’s release by offering £1 more than the Uruguayan’s perceived £40 million buyout clause, as Arsene Wenger sought to plug the gap at the head of his attack created by the departure of Robin van Persie 12 months before.

Incensed, Liverpool stood firm, coaxing one more spectacular season out of Suarez before receiving an offer they couldn’t refuse from Spain. Then it was Brendan Rodgers’s turn to confront the problem of replacing a striker who had become the dominant force in his side.

Two managers, the same problem. And judging by the number of chances squandered last night, it is one neither has successfully resolved.

Rodgers at least appears closer to finding a blend of forward talents that can provide his side with a much more effective cutting edge than they had last season when the effects of Suarez’s absence were stark.

The Liverpool manager knows it will take an unlikely mixture of impeccable judgement and extraordinary good fortune to create a front three as exciting and effective as the combination of Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.

With Sterling having also moved on and Sturridge’s fitness problems creating growing concern, Rodgers is virtually starting from fresh although it is clear Philippe Coutinho is continuing to grow in influence and tormented the makeshift Arsenal defence last night, particularly before half-time.

The manager’s decision to bring in Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli last summer proved misguided, with Lambert having already moved on to West Bromwich Albion and Balotelli expected to complete a loan move to AC Milan this week. This time, however, he appears to have created a more convincing blend.

Christian Benteke’s arrival on Merseyside sparked a debate about the Belgian’s ability to fit into Liverpool’s style of play, a debate last heard when Andy Carroll joined the club. Benteke’s early performances haven’t silenced the discussion but he has at least got off the mark in the win over Bournemouth and against Arsenal, showed he offers a much needed outlet for Rodgers’ side.

In the corresponding game last season, Liverpool were overwhelmed by Wenger’s side and not helped by their inability to hold the ball away from their own goal. Benteke offers a focal point and his physical presence was certainly too much for Arsenal centre-back Calum Chambers to deal with. Benteke should have done much better with a close range chance set up, inevitably, by Coutinho, but the pair blended in a way that offered promise.

Roberto Firmino completed the forward trio on his first start since his £29m (€39m) arrival from Hoffenheim. The Brazil forward will have better days, but he showed enough signs in a 62-minute appearance to suggest he can have an impact.

While Rodgers’s attack has yet to properly take shape, Wenger’s forward options have a familiar look to them. Too familiar for some Arsenal supporters keen to see the manager act more assertively in the transfer market.

The Frenchman has resisted the temptation to add to his squad beyond the signing of keeper Petr Cech and while an in-form Arsenal can offer a goal-threat from all areas, Wenger does not have a striker who conjures something out of nothing with the regularity of a Van Persie or a Suarez.

There’s no doubt Arsenal are overreliant on the excellent Alexis Sanchez. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott are currently battling it out to be the head of the Arsenal attack and they will be joined by Danny Welbeck when the England international returns to fitness.

It may be this is the season when one of those three players takes the next step up and emerges as a genuine top class forward. In the meantime, Wenger will continue to be urged to up his interest in someone like Edinson Cavani.

The Arsenal manager, though, is not known for throwing caution to the wind. And having seen how fragile last centre-back pairing of Gabriel Paulista and Chambers looked, there is every chance he will be more tempted to bring in more defensive cover.

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