The stage is well and truly set. What a weekend for Arsenal fans so far! Title challengers have dropped points as Chelsea were held at home and United defeated in their own backyard. Top four contenders Citeh march on in their quest for the all time record for drawing matches and the tiny Tots just gave us another chuckle.
What was already a big game has now been given added significance by these results. It gives the Scousers a chance to close the gap on the top four and we have the chance of getting up close in the title race. The psychological value of the result has its own importance. Both sides have few believers and many distractors at the moment.
Contrary to popular belief, I think this is a really bad time to be playing the Mugsmashers. All their top players are getting back into the game and must be fresh after a break of sorts. The return of Torres, the best striker in the league IMHO, gives their whole squad a boost and Liverpool are a team that thrives on belief. Even Aquilani and Johnson are fit and that makes them full strength at the moment.
Our record against the hosts hasn’t been too great off late, but it isn’t too bad either. Here are the last ten meetings between the clubs in all competitions.
The only wins we have had over them are in the League Cup and one FA Cup triumph almost three years ago. Thankfully, we haven’t lost many to them either, although there have been three occasions when we have shipped four goals in the last three years. If the results of this weekend are anything to go by, this one might be another high scoring classic.
Last year’s game was a thriller. Arsenal dominated early possession and the hosts attacked by playing long to Torres on every occasion. The Spaniard was alone up front and created enough half chances on his own. Story of the first half was possession for Arsenal in the Liverpool half and all shots on goal by Torres and Benayoun. A little pressing from Cesc saw a mistake by Mascherano near his own penalty box and El Capitan set Arshavin up for his first goal.
The Mugsmashers came right at us after the break and scored two quick goals. The Russian magician then stole a ball from Arbeloa’s feet and scored a scorcher. Our third goal came from a scuffed clearance by Carragher. Once again the Scoursers upped the ante and pushed men into our box. They were able to score two while Arshavin scored his fourth of the night in between. An epic contest ending with both teams disappointed at not winning.
I believe that game showed the true capability of Liverpool except the somewhat uncharacteristic mistakes in defence. They can sit back and let Arsenal have the ball, just like Chelsea did, with a top class striker who can trouble us at every opportunity. We also saw their ability to mount sustained pressure on our goal although that did leave them vulnerable on the counter.
I think we will see Liverpool coming out of the blocks and having a go at us in the first few minutes. Running around and hassling for every ball, shooting at sight and letting crosses fizz through our box. We need to maintain our calm in these minutes and control the tempo. It’s important that our players don’t make mistakes under pressure. Conceding an early goal will make things difficult for us.
I also feel that Arsene must ask his players to show more desire in the final third. The hosts will be happy to let us have possession and push us wide or towards the middle of the park. These areas can help in keeping possession but don’t offer any attacking threat as our ability to put the ball in the box is quite limited.
If you see the game United played today, they always created space in the attacking third even if they didn’t score. We have to learn from that. By pushing men forward at a slow tempo we allow the opposition to get their defence organized. When we attack in numbers, it just creates a crowd like one would see in a Mumbai local train. No one can score in that crowd. At best we might get away with some groping and there are no points for that!
We need more incisive passing from the central areas of the pitch supported by constant movement up front. We also need to control the tempo of the game. Top sides can increase the pace or slow the game down at will. It’s a barrier we are yet to cross. Arsene has to get the message across to the players. Keeping ball is not enough, there has to be a real desire to score from every attack.
With injuries to Rosicky and Eboue, our options are further limited. I am not sure if Diaby is fit to start or if Theo is ready to play a second game in three days. I would like to see the following team,
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Cesc, Song, Denilson; Nasri, Arshavin, Diaby;
I think Theo should not be risked again from the start and we need an option of the bench. We also need slightly better defensive cover on the left to stop Johnson. Now, can the Wengerboys walk the walk?