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.
So the previous post was centred around my optimism surrounding two potential new central midfield players added to the already outstanding addition of Santi Cazorla. As happens all too often since the advent of twitter, the Sahn deal was all but confirmed by many supposedly reputable media sources. Like many of you I’m sure, I was pretty pissed off when he ended up on Merseyside because of difficulties surrounding personal terms and an option to buy clause. Shortly afterwards, in a rare moment of supposed honesty, Arsene told us he intended to sign a defensive midfield player to replace Song. So there we were at 11.00pm on Friday in disbelief as yet again we failed to end up in the red. But should we really have been surprised? and can we really challenge for trophies with the current squad?
My outlook continues to be hopeful even without foreign investment. My previous assessment suggested that a squad with more depth and more creativity in the middle of the park would unify and stabilise the team as a whole. Arsene seems to be of the opinion that the return of Wilshere and Diaby will provide this, and on the basis of the performance against Liverpool, It looks like he could be right. I’m sure no-one enjoyed watching Diaby bullying Sahin on Sunday more than Wenger himself. He really does have something of a Vieira about him and it’s great to see him playing at all after the injury ravaged few years. Interestingly Guillem Balague has been speaking about Real Madrid’s interest in Cazorla 3 years ago highlighting the quality of the little man.
“Real Madrid tried to sign Cazorla from Villarreal 3 years ago. Cazorla wanted to go, but Real Madrid’s wage offer wasn’t great. Villarreal offered Cazorla a contract extension with better wages than Real Madrid offered, so Cazorla stayed at Villarreal”
I watched the match on Sunday with a couple of Liverpool fans who, off the back of their draw against City and the introduction of Brendan Rodgers’ style of football, predicted that they would dominate possession and win the midfield battle. How wrong they were.. It was great fun to watch Arteta, Diaby and Cazorla keep the ball so efficiently but crucially also use it so effectively. Something I haven’t seen from an Arsenal midfield for many years. Unbelievably Mikel Arteta has averaged 96 passes per game thus far, more than any Stoke player has made overall!
Podolski and the Ox, whilst still providing pace, work incredibly hard and have the technical ability to penetrate in the final 3rd. The usual frustration with Gervinho and Walcott running into brick walls was absent and I think those two would be better off used as impact subs if we need an injection of pace. As a team we still haven’t conceded a goal, the best defensive record at this stage for 80 odd years. We’ve made more tackles than any other Premier League team. How much of this is down to Steve Bould I’m not sure but everyone seems to understand their role and their responsibility so long may that continue.
Before the Liverpool match the odds on us winning the league were 25-1, straight afterwards they were slashed to 12-1…. Just sayin.
Clearly it’s far too early to make any real judgement. Of the last 5 leading teams going into the first international break, only Chelsea in 09/10 have gone on to win. I’m aware that there is a need to ground my sickening positivity in some realism. Much harder tests lie ahead. We have the international break to look forward to which will give my own XI-a-side season a chance to get under way. The team name this year is ‘Bacardi Sagna’ if you’re interested. Hopefully shortly after the break the real Sagna will be back in training with a certain Jack Wilshere to follow shortly afterwards. Let’s pray for no horror injuries on international weekend. Nick