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.
Monday’s victory over Reading and 5 promising young players agreeing new deals feels like a great week to me. Such a great week in fact, i’ve plucked up the courage to reflect on all things Arsenal and write a post. So rarely these days do we have the opportunity to soak up a convincing victory, that Monday night at the Madejski left thousands of Arsenal fans wondering why, if we’re capable of performing like that, we’re usually left regretting what might have been. I must say it was an incredible atmosphere. The pent up frustrations of our fans were finally outpoured for all the right reasons. I understand the concerns that still remain, but why not enjoy a great victory against an appalling team whilst we can.
On Wednesday morning an agent who represents a few Arsenal players, decided he wanted to grab a bit of the limelight by suggesting Arsenal fans had a ‘feel good’ announcement from the Club due at 3pm. Obviously a twitter meltdown followed as everyone suddenly knew someone who had the inside scoop. By 3pm, much like the Mayan Calendar bollocks, there was a sudden realisation that nothing had happened. Excitement was slowly turning to anger until around 3.05pm when we were informed that our ‘young British core’ had all re-signed. The future was bright. Once more however it took all of about 5 minutes for people to clock the absence of one particular youthful British player. Where was Theo Walcott? Delight turned once more to disappointment. It looks to all as if Theo is off, but frankly the loyalty of Jack and the thought of him captaining the team at the age of 25 is far more important than the future of Theo.
All 5 players signing at the same time is a great PR move by the Club at a difficult time. Arsene, the man under so much pressure, standing over them like a proud father. It certainly draws some patience from the fanbase, but it also shows a drastic change of tact from Wenger. This a man who, in February 2005, fielded the first ever 16 man Premier League squad consisting of no English players. At the time he was slated by the media, told he was showing a lack of respect to English football and the victim would be the national team. He explained that his priority was the quality of the Arsenal team. He explained that it would take 10 years until Arsenal and some other English Clubs could produce youth players with enough technical quality to compete with the best in the world.
Surely the most important thing we’ve learned from all of this is that Jack Wilshere is left footed but right handed..
Jenkinson, Gibbs, Ramsey, Chamberlain and Wilshere are great players, all of varying quality, but I think Wenger’s British core is evidence of an appreciation of the importance of players who understand the Club, understand English football, who grow up together and understand each other more than simply technical ability. The turnover of players over the last few seasons has been ridiculous. My dad doesn’t go to many games but he came to Sunderland at home, the first game of the season. He didn’t have a clue who most of the players were. Almost all of them had been at the Club for under 3 years. How can we expect the current squad to know how to win consistently in this league when most of them are new to it and new to each other?
I know everyone, including myself, has been critical of Ramsey but this contract confirms to me that Arsene sees him as his little project. We know somewhere deep inside him, Aaron has quality. He suffered a horrendous injury and he hasn’t played at all well since. Nevertheless, every time I’m reminded of his age I’m pleasantly surprised. The bloke is still only 21. What I don’t understand is why, in order to make great players, we have to hold the rest of the team up in the process. As Phillip Auclair has said many times, Arsene plays the likes of Ramsey and Bendtner wide to test them in more compact spaces. His intention is always to move them back to the middle at which point they will find it easier. Surely this is the point of the reserves or the U21s though. Can he not learn his trade in the 2nd team or out on loan and then, once he’s good enough, come back in and look the part? If he’s not good enough to play in his own position, how is he ever going to be good enough to play out of position!
Interestingly the BBC were running the headline ‘Wilshere and four others get new deals’. The way we’ve been going lately I think we’re all surprised when anyone signs a new contract. You get the feeling he’s offering them all new deals and just hoping some of them want to stay. The headline should have been ‘Wilshere and four others agree to sign new deals’.
It’s an early start at Wigan tomorrow so let’s pray we can go into the Christmas break with a bit of joy. No West Ham on boxing day means if it goes wrong tomorrow we’ll have to wait a while to put it right. Let’s hope it doesn’t come top that..