Liverpool v Arsenal, Premier League 2.9.12 Preview

Posted by Yorkykopite on August 30, 2012, 09:02:32 PM

Liverpool v Arsenal

Itís surprising but itís true. We havenít beaten them at Anfield since the Crouch-inspired rout of 2007. Last season we outplayed them only to lose in the final minute and throw away our last chance of finishing in the top four. The year before we also conceded in the last minute when the August sun blinded Pepe and a very poor player called Chamakh stole in and nicked a draw for the Gunners. What about this time round? Big things have happened to both teams since May. We, probably, are slight favourites.

This game is bigger than the Man City one since Liverpool and Arsenal are going to be in competition (along with 3 or 4 other clubs) for the 4th spot. Hereís a chance not just to take all 3 points but to deliver a psychological blow to the enemy and a shot of self-belief to ourselves. A stylish victory for Liverpool, or even just a victory, will mean that Brendan Rodgersís next team talk is delivered with a truth tablet. Itís all very well telling players that they can out-play the best teams in the league. You can also introduce them to a method that will make the task easier. But you have to experience the fact of domination in order to become true believers. If we lose against Arsenal it wonít be the end of the world. But if we win itíll be very interesting to see the effect on the players as they enter the September schedule.     

The test, as always with Arsenal, will be for the control of midfield. Weíll be hoping for Allen to take up where he left off against City and start punching holes in the Arsenal line. Theyíll attempt to do what they always do and move forward in packs, passing quickly, and closely supporting the man on the ball. Fortunately for us they wonít have the brilliant Wilshere tomorrow. True enough, Santi Carzola has arrived and is generating a level of excitement among Arsenal fans that makes us laugh - until we realise how weíre victim to the same thing when it comes to Allenso. Sorry, I mean Allen. Like Allen the new Arsenal boy can pick a pass that most opponents are not expecting. And like all the top Spanish midfield players heís extremely difficult to dispossess. I include Arteta in that by the way. Itís possible weíll see less of the ball against Arsenal than we did against Man City. One thingís for sure, Steven will have to pick his feet up more when we donít have the ball and ensure that we are a genuine 3 in the middle. The last thing you want when Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain are on the wings is for your full backs to start coming in-field to deal with issues of under-manning.

The big unknown factor is Sahin, a player who Wenger hoped would be lining up against us, not for us, on Sunday. Will he even start? With any other manager we could safely predict that one. He wouldnít. He hasnít acclimatized. He probably isnít match fit. This is the deep end and Sahin needs to be tested in the shallows first etc etc. But Brendan Rodgers is a heterodox thinker. No one predicted Raheem Sterling starting against Man City, or Seb Coates for that matter. No one expected to see Adam Morgan pushing Andy Carroll out of the queue. Rodgers likes surprises. At any rate, given the fresh injury to the great Lucas Leiva, Sahin must be in with a shout of an Anfield debut. He sat in the stands and soaked in the awesome atmosphere on Sunday. He saw the Kop for the first time and heard how it responded to Allen and Sterling. He must be raring to go now. I bet you he gets 60 minutes.

I know one thing. Iím bloody glad heís not playing for them on Sunday.

Where are their weak spots? Normally youíd say the defence. Traditionally Wenger has never been over-troubled by the idea of travelling with a soft centre. At times last season Arsenal looked like a schoolboy team in the way they held a line. If thereís any trace of that on Sunday then Borini will kill them. So might Sterling if he starts. In theory, though, the famous defensive frailties are being sorted out following the appointment of Steve Bould. It is said that Bould will bring some 1990s rigour and discipline to a back four that, for so long, has refused to think collectively From now on when an Arsenal centre back sticks up his right arm and points to God the linesmanís flag should follow immediately. Weíll see. Sure, they havenít conceded a goal yet this season. But they havenít faced a player like Luis Suarez either who makes opponents lose concentration and sucks them towards the ball whether they like it or not. If we can get good service to Suarez in the last third and Suarez can turn on the ball (which he always can) it will take more than a smart off-side trap to stop Liverpool creating chances.  In the absence of Alex Song much will depend, I suppose, on Artetaís ability to protect the defence and choke off the supply to Suarez. Heís a wonderful player, the old bluenose, but is he a wonderful player there?

Iím going to stick my neck out however and say that Arsenalís real weak spot is the attack. Podolski is overrated and Giroud will flop. My mate Jeff (see below) enjoyed seeing Giroudís attempt to whack the ball in from 50 yards last week. I thought it looked more like Geoff Thomas playing for England. The incriminating thing was not ignoring Ramseyís (too slow) run down the middle but his own lack of pace which must have told him he couldnít move into an empty quarter of the pitch without being caught. The result was one of those speculative shots that hit the netting but was never going to go in from the moment it left his boot. You normally see them at free-kicks and you politely clap while thinking Ďwhat a waste that wasí. Will Giroud trouble Agger or Skrtel? He shouldnít do. Having said that Skrtel was pretty trouble-free against Tevez and Balotelli too. It didnít stop him taking the cyanide pill with ten minutes to go. You never know with Martin.

Finally, the 12th man. It was fantastic against Man City and it energized the boys in Red. As always against Arsenal the Kop represents a special advantage. The Arsenal boys play in a stadium where severe little old women with books under their arm walk the aisles shushing anyone who starts to make a sound. It wonít be like that on Sunday. It will be a cauldron inside Anfield (and if it isnít Borini will make it one). Thereís a massive desire among Liverpool supporters, over and above the normal, to see the team play exciting football. Should we hit the same groove as we did against City I think the combination of the crowd and Brendanís new-look team will prove a tad too powerful for our friends from the South.

And a view from Arsenal

OK, Arsenal fans wouldnít agree with much of that. I know this because one of my best mates, Jeff, is a Gooner. Iíve played football with him for over 10 years now and he knows his stuff on and off the pitch. I asked him to write something for RAWK about the current set up at Arsenal. This is what he said:   
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Jeff Speaks
So this season's Arsenal campaign feels very familiar. A year ago we sold Fabregas and Nasri and this summer it is van Persie and Song and in that way it feels like we go two steps forwards and, well, two steps back. It must be said we end up in the same place every year, consistently 4th (or on occasion 3rd) so it is a stable model for Champions League football though obviously without trophies for a few years and counting now (EDIT: 7 years!) I think Gooners are divided about this, and more cynical fans pointing out that the system of CL qualification plus consistently selling star players is essentially only upping the profits of the shareholders at the expense of rising ticket prices. For my own part, I have ebbed and flowed about this over recent years but at present I am proud of what Wenger is able to do, and feel that what the Manchester clubs or Chelsea are willing to spend just seems gratuitous.  I suppose I have resigned myself to thinking if we can hold the line until FFP comes into effect, and hope that it levels the playing field, we can return to the heights of the team of a decade ago.

As for the current squad - I am increasingly encouraged despite the first two goalless draws. The media focus has been on the lack of (Van Persie's) goals which is fair enough, but what I find most encouraging is our performance at the back. One of the major changes has come with Steve Bould replacing Pat Rice as Wenger's right hand man. The defence seems much more solid this time around and Vermaelen for one has remarked on the organisational improvements brought in by Bould. It was what we have scratched our heads about for years. Why wasn't Adams or Dixon or Keown, whose temporary stint got a defence with Eboue and Senderos to the Champions League final in Paris, hired before now? It must have been a personality issue, but Bould seems a good fit and has been on the staff for years so Wenger must be comfortable with him. With Vermaelen fit and now the captain, order feels like it has been restored.  We have so far this season seen him with Mertesacker. But Koscielny should be fit and will surely be preferred to help counter the darting runs of Suarez.  Out wide is the quickness of Gibbs on the left and while Bacary Sagna continues to recover, on the right is Carl Jenkinson who I suspect Bould sees as more disciplined than the sometimes erratic Brazilian Andre Santos.

The undoubted signing of the season (perhaps many a season) looks to be Santi Cazorla the Malaga midfielder who has come in to give us what we so miss from a healthy Jack Wilshire - a playmaker who can singlehandedly change a game. Cazorla is capable of beating a player or two and then delivering the defense-splitting killer pass, and - this is what separates him from Wilshire - he strikes the ball very well on goal from outside the box. He could link well with Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks and always has an eye for the slid-rule pass into the box. There are still question marks in the middle: Abu Diaby struggles to prove he belongs and Wenger's solution to Song's departure for Barcelona looks to be pushing Mikel Arteta further back and asking him to play the holding role. He has done admirably well so far, but I don't know how happy he will be there in the long run. He is great with a pass and can probably adapt to the positional differences, but the tackling and sheer pestering that Alex Song provided will not be easily replaced.

The forwards? The stat that jumps out is 40 shots on goal in those first two scoreless matches. Of course we miss Van Persie, who had a tremendous season after 7 years interrupted with injury and inconsistency. The disappointment of Chamakh, Bendtner and Arshavin over the past couple of seasons means we are looking to Podolski and Giroud to provide the goods. Podolski obviously has more history of scoring goals but for me the intriguing character is the Frenchman Olivier Giroud. He is a late-bloomer and looks like he wants to prove himself. He is strong with both feet, and yes he missed a good chance for a late winner at the Emirates on opening day. If heíd squared the ball for Ramsey in the closing minutes at Stoke we might have won, but it was what he chose to do instead that intrigued.  The first-time left footed strike from 40 yards was audacious, but he knew the keeper was out and he struck the ball very sweetly, only just grazing the top of the net. It was a flash of near-brilliance that can be forgiven early in the season. These players are still learning to play with each other, to understand what the playmaker Cazorla is going to do, so I for one feel like the team deserves patience and they will settle and improve, and the goals will follow.

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