There are times when disrupting your best player is the right thing to do. Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers played Luis Suarez out of position at the Emirates, for the greater good, and it nearly won him the game.
Should it really have been a surprise that Suarez, the most exciting forward in the Premier League, was both so thrilling and so efficient on the left wing? Rodgers needs to find a way to start Daniel Sturridge up front, even if that means – on first glance – negating his best player. But football is a team game and sometimes, when done in the right manner, compromising a strength can be worthwhile.
So it was at the Emirates. Suarez might, conceivably, have done even more had he played up front but the team, for the first hour at least, as Liverpool took a 2-0 lead, worked best with him on the wing.
It was a broad role, requiring him to stay wide and hassle Bacary Sagna while, whenever possible, providing a threat in the penalty box too. He achieved this perfectly within just five minutes, putting Liverpool ahead.
Suarez, at heart, is a disrupter and a pest, a footballing teaser and taunter. In one of the first moves of the game he won a corner from Sagna and, soon after, started and ended the move from which Liverpool took the lead.
It began with Suarez darting away from Sagna to receive a pass and flick it round the corner. The pass did not work, but Sagna was wrong-footed by the movement and slipped. Glen Johnson took the ball, crossed and, via Thomas Vermaelen, Sturridge, Wojciech Szczesny, Aaron Ramsey and Stewart Downing, it returned to Suarez, who finished via a deflection.
The move started and ended with Suarez’s instinctive and incisive play, just as dangerous coming in from the wing as starting from the front.
Suarez is often accused of selfishness, as any player so far superior to his team-mates will be. But even when on the wing, he has the vision and the technical ability to deliver the ball better than some of the other specialist wide players at his club.
Five minutes after scoring the first, Suarez nearly made a second. Receiving the ball near the halfway line on the left wing, Suarez chested it down, let it bounce, chested it on and then volleyed diagonally across the pitch beyond Vermaelen and into the path of Sturridge. The finish was difficult and Liverpool’s new striker could not make it but as a moment of creation out of nothing at all, it was one of the best you will see this season.
But there is more to playing on the wing than just these moments of advanced technical quality. If that is all Rodgers wanted he might as well have played Suarez up front. The rest of the job, the ugly, dirty work, the work which Dirk Kuyt took to so well at Liverpool, Suarez did just as well.
Sagna is not quite the full-back he was but Suarez chased him back down the wing, pushing him off the ball, playing with just as much conviction and desire in his half as he usually does in the opponent’s. His labours on the halfway line earned valuable free-kicks and even a yellow card for Santi Cazorla, disrupting Arsenal’s rhythm.
The home side did eventually impose themselves on the game and Rodgers had to readjust in an attempt to take the lead. Bringing Jose Enrique on, Suarez was moved up front and in the fourth minute of added time he nearly showed what a rather useful striker he is too, forcing Szczesny to make a good diving save that prevented Suarez from winning the game 3-2.