MSN moved the goalposts for attacking trios. Before Barcelona partnered Lionel Messi alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar, teams very rarely had three out and out goalscorers in their team. Systems always seemed to concentrate on getting the best out of one player, with others having to sacrifice themselves to make it happen.
Think back to Manchester United during 2007/08. Cristiano Ronaldo scored 31 times in 34 matches while Wayne Rooney managed to find the net on just 12 occasions. Karim Benzema tweaked his game to ensure Ronaldo could be Ronaldo at Real Madrid, too.
But then the 2015/16 season happened. The Barcelona trident all scored 30 or more goals with Suárez topping the charts with 59 in 53 matches. They might not have been the first team to field three potent threats in their attack but they were certainly the best at making it work.
Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino didn’t post the same numbers MSN managed but the Premier League is much more competitive than LaLiga. However, the trio have scored a combined 165 goals since the start of the 2017/18 campaign. They’re considered by many to be the best attacking threesome in world football today – even Pep Guardiola is scared of them.
“They scare me. They’re dangerous, I mean it,” he said. “I have a feeling that Salah will play [as a] striker. Salah will play as number nine and Firmino will move towards the wing. He comes here and Salah goes forward. Our wing-back can’t cover their wing-backs.”
The City boss was right to fear them. All three got on the scoresheet over two legs as Liverpool romped to a 5-1 aggregate victory. Teams have moved away from looking to replicate MSN to trying to copy what Jürgen Klopp has done to his attack at Anfield.
Arsenal invested heavily this summer to bring Nicolas Pépé to the club. It was a bold move. The Gunners already had two of the best forwards in the league at their disposal in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Unai Emery struggled at times to fit both into his team but the pair finished last season with a combined 50 goals, with Aubameyang plundering 31 in all competitions.
Though the Gabonese speedster was a poacher at Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal have deployed him on the left side of the attack. In theory, it should have blunted him. But it didn’t. The Gunners managed to make it work so that the two strikers weren’t getting in each other’s way. Adding a third body may complicate matters, though.
Pépé chipped in with 11 assists last season in Ligue 1 but he’s far from a support act. He scored 22 times in the French top-flight and though a lot of his play was exclusive to the right-hand side of the pitch, his sole aim was always to get into the penalty area.
If Emery’s attacking trio is to be as destructive as Liverpool’s, he’s going to have to convince one of his forwards to adopt the Firmino role. The Brazilian appears to sacrifice himself for Mané and Salah but, in reality, it’s his natural game so he’s not going out of his way to play the way he does.
It’s different to, say, Benzema, who actively had to change what he did to accommodate Ronaldo and, after the sale of the Portuguese legend, the Frenchman’s form was reminiscent of his Lyon days where he was the main man.
The most likely candidate for this role is Lacazette. The France international tweaked his game last season to make way for Aubameyang cutting in from the left. He might not like it, and it might not be his natural game, but it could be what’s best for the Gunners.
With Lacazette almost acting as a No.10 at times, dragging centre-backs into those areas, he will make space centrally for Pépé and Aubameyang. Their blistering pace can free them up to get into dangerous areas. Without the Arsenal No.9 taking one for the team, Emery could well have an attacking three who just don’t work well.
Saturday’s clash against Liverpool may have come too soon to test out the front three from the start. One thing is for sure, however, Lacazette’s role will be vital in whether it clicks or not. If Arsenal get it right, they could surpass Klopp’s trio as the best in the Premier League and, perhaps, the best in Europe.