A lot has happened since the sides met on the opening weekend of the Premier League. Liverpool have hit the metaphorical rock-bottom and are now on their way up again. I don’t think this is a good time to play the Scousers because they really don’t have much to lose, which always makes teams that much more dangerous.
However, Dalglish and his players haven’t done all that well away from home. Since their legend took charge, Liverpool have lost against the likes of Blackpool and West Ham away from home. They’ve also been knocked out of the Europa League after some sorry performances but those teams were not full strength. In contrast, they’ve beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and United and City at home, so on their day they can undoubtedly mix it up with the best.
The Mugsmashers have an interesting strike partnership developing. It’s too early to judge their January recruits but Luiz Suarez and Andy Carroll have the ability to form a strong attacking duo for years to come.
Both these strikers have qualities that make them invaluable to a team playing on the counter attack. And I have no doubt that’s how Dalglish will line his team up on Sunday. They will have two banks of four to defend and will rely on their ability to break at pace.
Under Benitez Liverpool thrived as a counter-attacking side and they have troubled us in the past even though they haven’t won away at Arsenal for a decade. I expect to see quick change of flanks, runs down the channels by strikers, midfielders (probably Meireles) running down the middle to support the attack, and a number of one-twos between the attacking players.
Arsenal’s back four will have to be at their best for the Gunners to have any hopes of picking three points. Suarez and Carroll will move all over the place and if the defenders don’t track them diligently we could see the Keeper coming under fire from all sorts of angels.
Needless to say, set-pieces and crosses will be their strong point if Carroll starts. Arsenal have to get their marking right and the Keeper should stay on his line unless the ball is very close to him. That way the striker will have to generate power and direction with his header and won’t have an open net to knock it into.
Breaking down the Liverpool defence will be a tough ask, especially if they drop into their own half in numbers. I expect a low scoring game and we might need the repeat of a Diaby special that won the fixture last time around. If Dalglish sacrifices one of his strikers for an extra midfielder it will end up as a midfield battle with few clear cut chances.
I’m hoping Cesc will be able to produce some of his magic to unlock the Liverpool defence early on.
The Scousers also seem a bit vulnerable down their left wing. Theo can be Arsenal’s big weapon in this game but he will have to be found with some quick passes that prevent the visitors from doubling up on him.
Reina is arguably the best shot-stopper in the League but I believe he is error prone when he has to come off his line. If the Gunners can put some balls into areas where the Spaniard has to come for them, it could lead to some mistakes and a goal.
Based on fitness issues, Arsene will have to make some tough and interesting choices. Most fans will want Szczesny, Djourou, and Song in the starting line-up but I’d prefer if they are not rushed back.
Arsenal have the NLD in just three days and then another game next weekend. Both are tricky away fixtures. It is better to ease the returning player back in because all the remaining games are going to be hard fought.
I’d make only one change to the line-up that won at Blackpool,
Lehmann – Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Diaby, Cesc, Wilshere – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.
If one or more of Szczesny, Djourou, and Song are fit enough that there is no risk in playing them thrice in eight days, they should replace Lehmann, Squillaci, and Wilshere respectively.
Wilshere has been excellent all through the season but Cesc-Song-Diaby is Arsenal’s best midfield due to the different qualities each one has. Diaby did really well in the last game and looks like he is coming back to form. I don’t think dropping him at this stage is a good idea. But Wilshere should start if there is any risk in playing Song.
Apart from the players this will be a test for the crowd. The twelfth man can make a difference either way.
Before signing off for the day I wanted to share this picture that says it all.