RAWK preview - Arsenal v Liverpool 30 Jan 19.45

Posted by Yorkykopite on January 28, 2013, 10:53:23 AM

Arsenal v Liverpool

Is it likely that a team which loses to cup fodder at Boundary Park can, three days later, take home all three points against Champions League contenders at the Emirates Stadium? More than a few Rawkites will laugh at the notion – or would do if they weren’t still blubbing like bairns.

Personally I think we’ll do it. The key will be for Brendan Rodgers to expunge the Oldham fiasco from the team brain. His biting post-match address said what needed to be said about that and after such a tirade one presumes that no mention need be made of Oldham ever again. It’s on to Arsenal now and a whole new challenge.

We’re not in a bad position. For the first time in a long time Liverpool have a better squad of players than Arsenal do. For the first time in a long time our prospects look rosier than theirs. For sure, our squad is only marginally better and our prospects are only a tad rosier. But it does mean we can go to north London in genuinely optimistic mood for once. I expect we’ll be out of the blocks quickly, if only to avoid repeating the desperate opening minutes of each half against Oldham. Our best hope is that we can reduce Arsenal to the argumentative, shapeless rabble they were in the opening ’45 against Chelsea. It was an astonishing sight to see players openly berating each other like the Gunners were doing that day. That has to be the aim. 

Of course we tried that at Anfield in the early part of the season. For fifteen minutes or so it looked like Liverpool would dominate the ball and push Arsenal around the pitch – but then Carzola, Arteta and (especially) Diaby began to assert themselves and suddenly our midfield started to fray and tear. Sahin, the slowest footballer in Europe, has gone now and so we won't be as open to capsizal as we were that day. But Arsenal’s strength is in central midfield where Wenger is over-endowed. The brilliant Wilshere is back now of course and Diaby is shaking the rust out of his joints after a long lay off. They also have the promising Coquelin and the experienced Rosicky in reserve. It’s going to be difficult for us to master the centre of the pitch but absolutely vital if we’re going to get anything from this game. Obviously Gerrard and Lucas will be restored. But who will be the third cog? I’d play Joe Allen rather than Henderson - partly because he was one of the few players to perform at Oldham but mainly because he holds his position better and closes down opponents quicker. Rather like Lucas a few seasons ago Allen gets a grossly unfair share of criticism. He may have gone off the boil slightly since the start of the season. But his class is self-evident – or should be to Liverpool supporters. I guess that many of those who don’t see it never will, although – as eventually happened with Lucas – they’ll pretend they do so in order not to appear foolish. 

If we match Arsenal’s midfield we’ll win the game. Why? Because in attack they’re poor and in defence they’re actually useless. Everyone thought Steve Bould had sorted them out defensively at the start of the season. They came to Anfield, I think, without having conceded a goal and while they were there they managed the extraordinary feat of blunting Suarez. But since those early days they’ve disintegrated at the back. Everyone gets goals against them. Mertesacker looks dreadful, especially on that big home pitch of theirs. Vermaelen has looked fallible. Gibbs doesn’t seem to understand the offside law. And even the excellent Sagna has struggled (I’ve been told by Arsenal friends that he’s lost a bit of pace this season).

Up front I’ll stick with what I said for the reverse fixture. Giroud is hopeless and Podolski overrated (although Pepe – please let it be Pepe – will need to watch his shot which is a dangerous weapon and can be unloaded from unusual positions). Then there’s Walcott. If Carragher plays he’ll have loads of room to operate and that will be scary. If Skrtel plays it could be tougher for him, but then is Skrtel in any shape to play after Sunday's bombardment or will he still have shell-shock?

A brief word on us. How much character do we have? This game will tell us. There’s no need to worry about the likes of Suarez. We know his character and it’s indomitable. But what about the new lad Sturridge? How does he react to a bad performance? And, let’s be honest, he absolutely crumbled on Sunday. Will he become subdued for a couple of months or will he play as if the Oldham game never happened? The answer to that question will tell us quite a lot about whether we have a bargain or not.

One thing I think we should be grateful for. We're playing Arsenal on Wednesday and not shitty Stoke. It's the chance for the team to apply what it's learnt without the distraction of having to cope with blood-and-thunder opponents and a supportive referee. This is the kind of game, at a point in the season, which ought to tell us a lot about how far we have progressed since August. I think we'll edge it. 

Please note that RAWK will mute anyone posting just a formation in a Preview thread until the day after the match is over. This is to improve the quality of preview replies. Formations posted alongside rational comments and debate are exempt. Thanks, RAWK.

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