These are the articles I like to write the most. Just before a game the expectation is high and there is an uneasy feeling in the stomach. The mind runs amok with dream scenarios and nightmarish ones. That’s the beauty of this sport, isn’t it? One moment of magic or of madness can make it or break it. And once you have plenty of players capable of both there is just no end to the possibilities. Add to it the fact that it’s the first game of a new season at a place no less historical then Anfield and you get a high like no other.
I’ve been flying all day but I guess now it’s time to focus. To be frank, I can’t make up my mind. This could be a big win for Arsenal, it could be a big loss, or it could be a high scoring draw. I’ll be very surprised if it ends up as a dull, low-scoring affair.
Both managers have something to prove and both set of players need a good start. There is uncertainty about some big players on both ends. We don’t know if Cesc, Song, RvP and some others will be fit to play or not. Liverpool fans will be anxious to see if Torres or Mascherano get on the field.
Wenger said that players without match fitness will run out of steam. We could see that in the first game when Spuds had a good first half but went completely missing in the second. So there is a good chance Arsene will play only one or two out of Denilson, Diaby, Cesc and Van Persie.
I guess seven players pick themselves. The back four will be Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Clichy. There is a argument for picking Gibbs ahead of Clichy but I think Wenger will go with experience. Nasri, Arshavin, and Chamakh are the other three. Fabianski will probably get the nod in goal but I don’t care either way about that selection. I’d also pick Eboue ahead of Walcott on the right.
But the game will probably be decided by the other two players in midfield. If I were the manager I’d start with a strong midfield. Wilshere and Frimpong have been good but giving them the responsibility of stopping a fired up Gerrard or the wily Joe Cole in a big game doesn’t seem like a good idea.
The big question is, Can those without match fitness play at a high tempo for at least one half? If so, I’d start with Denilson and Diaby behind Nasri (assuming Song isn’t available). Rosicky is also an option but his defensive contribution in recent games hasn’t been up to the mark.
I’ve a feeling Liverpool will slow down later in the game. They’ve not had an ideal pre-season due to the Europa League qualifying games and that should give us a better shot in the second half. So tactically I’d prefer a cautious start with the best available players and subsequently we could use the fresher and faster youngsters against tiring legs.
Gerrard looked hungry and in good touch while playing for England. This will be a huge test for Koscielny. His fabled skills in one-on-one situations might be needed more than once as the Liverpool captain is quite likely to make those forward bursts.
The absence of Torres could help us but Cole and Gerrard will test our midfield early on. We cannot afford to switch off or lose focus because both these players are capable of hurting us within moments and out of nowhere. That’s also the reason I’m hoping we get half a game from our experienced players who’ve been there and done that.
On the other end, I think this game will be a good test for Chamakh and Nasri. They have to show that they can carry their pre-season form into big games. Obviously, everyone at Anfield will be keeping a close on Arshavin as well. The diminutive Russian loves to play there and I won’t be surprised if he comes up with another big performance. He will have to shed the cobwebs and the lacklustre attitude that we saw in pre-season. He is the kind of player who is most dangerous when you’ve forgotten he’s on the pitch so I’m not overly concerned by his pre-season form.
Eboue should provide us some balance and we can use Walcott later on against tiring legs. Some might argue that he can do a lot of damage from the start but I’m one for a cautious start.
I tend to believe Liverpool don’t have the kind of depth we have and that could be to our advantage. Our rigorous pre-season training also helps us start better as is evident from the 14 goals we’ve scored in the last three opening day away fixtures. Sadly, the key midfielders have all missed that and that makes Wenger’s job of picking the team really difficult.
Arsene could surprise us all and pick a team similar to the one that started the second half at Legia Warsaw. Nasri and Wilshere would be in the midfield with Vela (or Rosicky) slightly ahead of them and Eboue and Arshavin on the wings to support Chamakh upfront. We controlled the game against Legia with a similar system but I’m not sure it will work against Liverpool.
If Arsene does decide to go with a youngster or both of them in the middle, I hope Nasri plays a deeper role and Wilshere plays in a more advanced position. If we have the two youngsters as the deeper midfielders we will struggle to get the ball out from defence as Liverpool excel at pressing high up the pitch, a tactic Hodgson has successfully used against us with Fulham. There is a good chance things will get ugly in such a scenario and that could affect the confidence of the youngsters and that of the squad (and here I am trying to get rid of the nightmarish thoughts!)
Ultimately, I think our depth and better fitness levels will see us through. I’m guessing there will be at least four goals in the game and we could win 3-1 or draw 2-2; both acceptable results in my opinion, although the first one would probably be better classified as an explosive start.