Although Steven Gerrard's deployment at the base of Liverpool's midfield trio has been a necessity because of recent injuries to both Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen, who returned for this fixture, it was initially a deliberate tactical move from the Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers. He first used Gerrard there in the 5-3 win at Stoke City last month, with Lucas used higher up. This role, it seems, is Gerrard's future.
Gerrard's performance in Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Arsenal demonstrated both the benefits and drawbacks of deploying him there. His distribution throughout was wonderful, although he received an incredible amount of time on the ball because Arsenal's most advanced midfielder, Mesut Özil, showed little interest in closing down the Liverpool captain. More hard-working attacking midfielders – Chelsea's Oscar or Ross Barkley of Everton, for example – would not have allowed Gerrard such freedom, and for long periods he was the game's most free player.
He created two of Liverpool's finest opportunities from open play, book-ending a succession of presentable goalscoring chances for Rodgers' side. His first major contribution came in the third minute, when he received possession in a deep, right-of-centre position, and immediately curled the ball in behind the Arsenal defence, round Laurent Koscielny, for Daniel Sturridge's intelligent run.
With no pressure on the ball, it was extremely difficult for Arsenal to stop, as Sturridge started his run from a position close to the Arsenal midfield, and was already up at full speed as he broke past the defence.
Much later, with 12 minutes remaining, Gerrard swept a wonderful diagonal pass out to Philippe Coutinho, who charged behind the Arsenal defence from the left, resulting in one of Liverpool's final opportunities. Again, the timing of the run was tremendous, as Coutinho was on his way before Gerrard had played the ball. In between the major chances he created, he was the game's most prolific passer – rare, for an away player at the Emirates – and continually impressed with his diagonal balls, which switched play between the flanks.
Without the ball, however, Gerrard was vulnerable. He appears uncomfortable defending against counterattacks, especially when opposition wide players come inside, as demonstrated by his booking for cynically fouling Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain towards the end of the first half, when he made no attempt to win the ball.
That caution handicapped Gerrard for the rest of the game, and he was fortunate not to be dismissed for a subsequent foul on Oxlade-Chamberlain in the left-back position, almost identical to his foul on the same player at Anfield last week, conceding a penalty in Liverpool's 5-1 victory. Much like Juventus's use of Andrea Pirlo in front of the defence, Gerrard's lack of defensive ability must be tolerated to accommodate his fine distribution.
It's not common for creative midfielders to drop into deeper positions in their thirties – Paul Scholes, for example, did something similar at Manchester United. Gerrard's recent performances suggest he can prolong his career in the holding role, but if he continues to dominate matches like this, opponents will close him down significantly more diligently.