Liverpool picked up their first win of the new campaign today against Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates. Despite the scoreline, the Reds weren't threatening until the sending off of Emmanuel Frimpong and the introduction of Luis Suarez midway through the second half. There were several strong performances by the Reds, including Suarez and left back Jose Enrique, but there were some poor ones as well.
Here are five things to consider before next week's fixtures—a Carling Cup match against Exeter and a league match against Bolton.
Carroll wasn't influential in his 70 minutes, as all he could muster was a saved header and a few passes. He wasn't nearly the physical presence seen in the Sunderland match, and in the limited appearances he's made for Liverpool, he hasn't succeed as the lone front man. Against Sunderland he paired well with Suarez, and when the Uruguayan was substituted for him against Arsenal, the offense looked more fluid.
With more time, will Carroll develop into a player who can be the lone frontman, or is Suarez or some other second striker needed?
Kelly took the place of John Flanagan at right back against Arsenal, and the difference was immense. Flanagan played a major role in giving Seb Larsson an open strike to allow Sunderland to escape Anfield with a point. While Andrey Arshavin's lack of form certainly played a part, Kelly did a fine job reigning him in and with his defensive duties generally.
Glen Johnson is currently out with a hamstring strain, but when he returns he'll likely remain the first choice at right back. While Johnson is a better option offensively, Liverpool have done fine on the flanks without him, as the lack of creativity has come from the center of the pitch. Kelly can certainly make a case for being a better pure defender than Johnson, so should it be the case that Kelly is relegated to the bench once Johnson returns or has he earned himself more consistent playing time?
Assuming that manager Kenny Dalglish plays Carroll, Suarez and Downing up front regularly, Kuyt would most likely remain on the bench, as he normally plays on the right wing. Despite not being a "natural" fit for him, I think it would be beneficial for the team to have Kuyt in the midfield over Henderson. Kuyt provides an unparalleled work rate, is a better defender than Henderson and can at least come close to matching Henderson in buildup play. Kuyt may not be able to deliver the perfect cross as well as Henderson, but he could make up for it in other ways.
Once Steven Gerrard comes back next month, though, this debate very well could be a moot point.
Of all the midfielders that have played so far this season, Lucas, Charlie Adam and Raul Meireles are the only ones that aren't primarily wingers (Jordan Henderson is a debatable an exception here, but I don't think so). Of those three, none, at least so far, can claim to be a particularly strong creative force.
Lucas is a holding midfielder and therefore doesn't get involved in too many attacks, Charlie Adam favors spraying the ball around or taking wild shots instead of finding a defense shredding through ball and Meireles, when he is noticeable on the pitch, isn't spending much time on the ball looking to provide a final ball.
While Liverpool obviously want to use their wingers and the creativity of Luis Suarez to score goals, the center-mids are woefully inadequate at providing meaningful offense. A possible solution is Alberto Aquilani, but there are constant rumors that he is leaving, and it doesn't appear that he'll get much playing time even if he stays. Steven Gerrard is another option, but he is more known for his forward runs and long shots than his incisive passes.
With time, can Adam or someone else develop into the needed playmaker, or will wing play need to remain the primary offensive focus?
Most of the transfer rumors after the several midfield signings have been about center backs. While more depth at the position would certainly benefit Liverpool, as Carragher is getting on in age and Kelly and Kyrgiakos are the only cover, I think there are other concerns that should get equal attention.
First, as the last slide hinted at, a true creative midfielder could be a major boost for the goal-scoring ability of the side. While Liverpool signed a ton of midfielders and already had several on the roster, they may not have the right player to create from the center of the pitch. Perhaps I'm getting overly concerned after only a few matches, but a midfielder with the qualities of a trequartista would certainly be to Liverpool's great benefit.
Another consideration is the lack of cover at striker. It looks like David Ngog is heading out, so the only real options are Carroll, Suarez and Kuyt. I don't see Kuyt playing center forward unless there's an absolute emergency, so Carroll and Suarez are the only options. A big target man like Carroll brings out the best in the wingers, so perhaps the signing of another similar player would be useful in case Carroll gets injured or continues his goal drought.
Are these legitimate concerns? Or is center back still the primary issue?