Although it doesn’t have a reputation for being a particularly enthralling fixture, Liverpool v Arsenal has consistently been the source of some absolute classic matches in recent years. The Owen FA Cup final, Thierry Henry toying with Carragher for 90 minutes, Arshavin sticking four past us to pretty much end our title hopes in the one year we’ve really challenged for it in my lifetime, Neil Mellor’s thirty yard stoppage time winner and the Champions league quarter final at Anfield amongst others. And with both teams looking more likely than not to concede goals we could be in for another one.
Liverpool’s form going in to the game is OK (fifth in the league form table based on the last six matches) while Arsenal are down in 10th, but that’s slightly misleading because that block of six included Fulham, QPR, Sunderland and Norwich and we have yet to beat a team in the top ten. The loss to Oldham also piles on a bit more pressure for Rodgers. At times we look very cohesive, pass the ball well and move fluidly, but at others we looked shocked that teams have the nerve to tackle us and disrupt our passing game. When we concede we don’t just concede one, but two or three. But it’s as good a time as any to play Arsenal. There’s a lot of negativity in and around the Club at the moment and the anti Wenger minority appears to be growing. Add to that the lack of a top class striker and a thinner squad in comparison to previous years and it’s the weakest I’ve seen Arsenal in years, though still very capable of scraping the fourth Champions League spot.
But I was confident going in to the last meeting between the two when Arsenal controlled the game and tactically outclassed us at Anfield. Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla bossed the Liverpool trio in the midfield battle and our full backs left far too much space down the channels, which is where both Arsenal goals came from. It will be interesting to see if and how Rodgers will react to the fairly dismal performance last time round, because more and more people are starting to question his pre game tactical planning.
He likes to keep his team the same for each match but at the same time hasn’t settled on an eleven he feels entirely comfortable with, so players get a short run before being replaced and not to be seen for a while (just ask Suso). The back four and ‘keeper are automatic choices when fit (Johnson and Enrique are expected to be back for the game) though Carragher seems to have worked his way back in to the fold ahead of Skrtel The middle of the park has seen Allen, Gerrard, Lucas, Shelvey, Sahin and Henderson all get a regular run of games at various times with Lucas, Gerrard and Henderson currently being the favoured three.
The arrival of Sturridge has had a pretty big effect on the way we set up, and we look much more dangerous for it. Suarez has been playing behind him at the tip of the midfield in a 4-2-3-1 (as opposed to roaming all over as the centre forward where he was absolutely outstanding for the first half of the season). Henderson has been playing a recycling role from the left with Downing finally producing something resembling good form from the right. Sturridge has instantly clicked with and taken the work load off Suarez meaning El Pistolero is no longer attacking teams all on his own, while their constant movement creates space for others to exploit.
Liverpool are still horrific at defending the counter attack. Any team who puts us under any sort of pressure on the ball, and works their counter attack well is likely to get points. With the pace Arsenal have up front I could easily see it happening. Liverpool will look to do what they always do – get control of possession and slowly build up our passing game from the back. That Arsenal have a similar style and are at home however means we’re likely to see less of the ball, something we’re not at all used to, so it will be interesting to see how we react. Despite Rodgers’ much vaunted pressing style when defending, we have yet to actually see any pressing for a prolonged period of time suggesting we may sit deep without possession and look to counter.
I think Arsenal’s key threats are Wilshere and Cazorla. I would have confidently backed a pre injury Lucas to deal with Cazorla in the 10 role but he’s been a bit patchy since he’s returned from his year out (understandably) so that could be a key factor in the outcome. Likewise Wilshere. He can dominate a game given the time and space so it’ll be fascinating to see who comes out on top between him and Gerrard. As I mentioned earlier I think Arsenal look fragile at the back but their pace in the front three does worry me, particularly if Carragher starts.
Whatever happens I would be surprised if it’s not an entertaining game. There’s decent enough attacking talent on display and neither team looks well drilled yet, meaning lots of gaps for the front men to exploit. For me though the key battle comes down to the midfield trios. Whoever controls the middle should go on to win the game. With Lucas back and Gerrard in good form we look fairly strong. But whatever trio Arsenal pick will always be good with the ball, and the creativity of Cazorla and Wilshere could really hurt us.
Prediction: I think Arsenal are there for the taking but we just can’t seem to get a win against the top sides. Away from home will be tough as well but I’m going for a 2-2 draw. I can see goals being scored at both ends and I think Liverpool will manage to come away with a point.
The score is all that matters to me at this moment. Yes I do concede that we were unlucky in the build up to both goals but who cares. Modern football is a game now where almost every decision is contentious and bluntly I am bored of talking about them. I also believe (to use an Areseneism) that despite Chelsea’s misconduct, both goals were very defendable and once again we saw Arsenal switch off.
In the wake of the defeat Arsene said in his press conference:
‘The start was similar to the Manchester City game last week. We didn’t really go for it, didn’t defend well and gave too much room to Chelsea’
So this begs the question as to why, in the biggest game of the season for us so far, we didn’t ‘go for it’. For me the principle blame has to be with the Manager and his coaching staff on this one. Not solely in the build up to the game but also with the personnel he has employed. Jack Wilshere aside, there was no one on that pitch to take the game by the scruff of the neck. It is not all the fault of the players, some personalities just aren’t suited to that role and currently we do not have enough of them in the squad. Arsene denied a lack of on-pitch leadership last night, but I am afraid that is exactly what we are missing.
I hate to bring him up but in his pre match interview with Sky yesterday Van Per$ie spoke about Manchester United and it being a club of Champions, of winners. It was sickening to watch as he smirked with delight at his love for his new teammates. But the sad fact is that he is right, Manchester Utd are winners and the ethos in that squad breeds it.
Man U have 4 strikers all of which I would have starting at Arsenal (Van Per$ie, Welbeck, Rooney and Hernandez). The reason they can have these players is because Man U win and people don’t mind sitting on the bench when they are winning things.
So when Arsene says he doesn’t want to sign Demba Ba as he is ‘too similar to Giroud’, his logic is frankly floored, he would make the world of difference at Arsenal and could easily be the difference between us and Chelsea come the end of the season.
Yesterday Wenger addressed the subject of signings by claiming we are:
‘Not close to signing anyone tonight or tomorrow morning’
From that you have to conclude that he had not planned to purchase in this window and that any buying that goes on now will be in reaction to the poor results. If we had 9 points out of 9 in the league this month then I believe Wenger would not be thinking of adding to the squad. For a sane individual that is hard to rationalise, the lack of depth in our squad is blindingly obvious. The fact that Diaby, who has been out for 3 months, has to come back and play 3 games in a row tells you all you need to know about our squad depth.
We now have 1 point out of 9 this month and 1 point from 12 against our supposed big 4 rivals. That is not good enough for a club of Arsenal’s stature and without a couple of additions in the next 2 weeks we will not make the top 4. That will signal the end of an era for Arsenal Football Club and leave us in a position we will likely find ourselves in for years to come.
The renewed optimism we have before every game is becoming harder and harder to conjure. No one likes losing but currently the way we are losing is the hardest pill to swallow. Gone are the times when we would lose but have 20 shots on goal, these days we don’t even create that many chances.
@WillOBrien4 tweeted us yesterday evening:
‘Remember the days when we wanted spurs to beat united…. I’m sad’
Will, I couldn’t put it better myself.
Apologies for the downbeat article, but facts are facts and currently Arsenal Football Club is in serious danger of losing its top club status for a long time to come.
January is a month that brings, for most Arsenal fans, a great deal of expectation. By the beginning of February we’re usually left with a host of different emotions. Of these emotions joy is rarely one.
So far this January has been no different. We entered the month with Spain’s most prolific striker, David Villa, being touted as our main target. For me this seems highly unlikely and news earlier today has confirmed Barcelona want him till the end of the season. A move for him in the summer may be feasible but at 31 you might say he is past his peak and there is the added concern that he’s returning from injury. I can’t speak for Barcelona but I can only imagine that if he had returned and was looking as good as ever that Barca would be keeping hold of him long-term. As we have seen recently with the contract extension of both Puyol and Xavi, if the quality is there age is not an issue.
Looking elsewhere, many will point to Chelsea’s signing of Demba Ba. He would have been a fantastic addition to the squad and worth the risk given his supposed injury record (his knee that’s so terrible he’s barely missed and game since his arrival to the Premier League…). Watching him against Newcastle, his movement and hold up play was excellent and he grabbed a brace for his efforts. In this case, however, the sad fact is that even if we had come in for him I am convinced he would still have gone to Chelsea. They are likely to have given him a nice big wage, one that Arsenal couldn’t rival, and though it pains me to say it Chelsea are looking far more likely to make top four than us this season.
Now we move onto our internal solution, Theo Walcott. Looking at statistics this season (14 goals in 20 appearances) coupled with individual moments of brilliance like his first and third goals against Newcastle you might say he is a pretty good option. But when you step back from that and you point to his flaws (indecisiveness, final ball, lack of strength) they are issues we all know too well and ones that we’ve been accepting for years because he’s ‘young’ and English. Given these problems I think its pretty clear he is not a long-term solution.
There have been murmurings in the press over the last day or so that a contract is close to being signed. This is great news, he may be a flawed player but he is highly effective for us a times. I do hope, however, that Arsene and the board have not bowed to his original contract demands. What he was asking for was ridiculous for a player of his quality and bluntly the way he has gone about this whole situation has really pissed me off. If it hadn’t been for the loss of Van PerSie and Na$ri in a similar way I feel he would have quite rightly received a lot more stick from the Arsenal faithful. He stands next to Jack in interviews saying how these processes take a long time when Jack has wrapped it up in a matter of weeks. Is Walcott a better player than Wilshire? No. Work harder on the pitch? No. A better bloke? No. I could go on. The point that I am trying to make is Walcott has been taking us for a ride and as fans we have accepted that because of the mistakes made previously by the club. For me he is not a striker and he certainly does not deserve to be anywhere near the highest paid player at the club. Sign the contract and that’s great but until then I will certainly not be chanting ‘Theo’ as he laps up the applause at the end of home games.
Onto the footballing side of the month and with the draw at Swansea we have landed ourselves with an extra fixture leaving us with 5/6 games depending on the FA cup result. Four are premier league games, three coming against Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. This is a worrying schedule, our key players have started to look tired recently and given Arsene’s refusal to rotate the central three midfielders, our engine may not be running at full throttle. The supposed return of Abou Diaby to full training could theoretically help ease the burden but we all know how unreliable his fitness is.
I feel a signing or two is essential to maintaining our top four ambitions and a high quality central striker must be the priority. Either way this is a make or break month for Arsenal Football Club. I think by the end we will have a very good indication of where we will be come the end of May.