In less than two weeks time we may get a feel of how this season will turn out. We play four matches in three different competitions (Capital One Cup, Premiership and Champions’ League respectively) in the space of just 12 days and all four opponents (Chelsea, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United) have won the Champions’ League in the past 16 years at least once.
After we were knocked out from the Capital One Cup by Chelsea, we have to try to bounce back against Liverpool in the Premiership. Our visitors have enjoyed a rather successful season so far and stand just two points ahead from us on the table. In times before the Premiership had begun, it was unthinkable for the Reds to consider themselves lucky for simply being competitive but the European champions from 2004-05 haven’t had too many successful Premiership campaigns of late. It’s not like they haven’t made any attempts to return to the elite. After all, not so long ago they had spent almost 80 million pounds on the likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson before they realized that Kenny Dalglish’s methods were no longer required in modern football. That’s why they have been patient with Brendan Rodgers who made a really good job of Swansea.
Liverpool haven’t won the English champions’ title since 1990 but it has been more worrying for them that they haven’t been the best team in Liverpool since 2010-11. That’s the reason why they were so determined in the summer transfer window. They rejected our offers for Luis Suarez despite his openly stated desire to leave them for us and Champions’ League football. Not only that they have kept the Uruguayan – they had signed some quality players during 2013. A very talented attacking midfielder Phillipe Coutinho has been a revelation since joining from Inter Milan. I have been an admirer of Coutinho ever since I saw his skills against the Spuds in the Champions’ League (Inter won 4:3). With him in the team their two best players – the aforementioned Suarez, a skillful dribbler and a dangerous goal-scorer, and Daniel Sturridge, a striker that has flourished since joining from Chelsea – they are even more dangerous for their opponents’ defence. Coutinho was injured but it seems he will be fit for the match against us. Victor Moses has some nice memories from the Emirates from his Wigan days so our defenders will have to pay attention to him if he gets a chance.
Another great reinforcement for Rodgers’ squad was Simon Mignolet. After years of Pepe Reina’s decadency, Rodgers decided to ship out the experienced Spanish goalkeeper and signed the Belgian who has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership for some time. Mignolet has conceded just eight goals so far and his saves – alongside goals from Suarez and Sturridge – have been the main reason why Liverpool stand so high on the table. He saved a late penalty kick from Jonathan Walters and that’s how Reds managed to grind out a 1:0 victory from their opening Premier League fixture.
Their defence went through some changes as well. Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho were added to help Martin Škrtel and Daniel Agger. Against Southampton at home (Liverpool lost 0:1) Rodgers started with all four central defenders in the first team. It didn’t end up well for Liverpool as Southampton won 1:0.
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In recent history, Arsenal and Liverpool have sabotaged each other in favour of other clubs (non-intentionally, of course). In 2007-08 Liverpool held Arsenal to two 1:1 draws in the Premiership and knocked the Gunners out of the Champions’ League. Arsenal ended third with four points behind the champions Manchester United who had won all six points against the Reds. Arsenal didn’t have to wait too long for their revenge. In 2008-09, Liverpool had came very close to winning the Premiership – they lost just two matches in the whole campaign, won both derbies against the eventual champions Manchester United and collected a massive 86 points – but at the end they were four points short.
The Reds lost those four points against Arsenal – the 1:1 draw at the Emirates and the unforgettable 4:4 draw at the Anfield with Andrey Arshavin’s four-goal-haul that effectively ended Liverpool’s title dreams. Had they won those four points, Liverpool would have won the Premiership on the goal-difference. In 2010-11, both teams spilled two points on their home soil due to late mistakes that led to goals – Arsenal got their point at the Anfield thanks to an own goal from Pepe Reina while Liverpool saved themselves from the defeat in the reverse fixture thanks to the needless 102nd-minute-penalty conceded by Emmanuel Eboue. That penalty probably ended Eboue’s spell at the Emirates.
Speaking of the Emirates, whilst we have enjoyed three victories at Anfield in the last four visits, it should be noted that we have had a lot of problems with Liverpool at home lately – we haven’t beaten them since 2009-10 when Abou Diaby scored the only goal of the game. Also, Simon Mignolet has kept two clean sheets at the Emirates with Sunderland and Robin Van Persie has been the only Arsenal player that has scored against Mignolet at home. It would be nice to break that tradition and send Mignolet home with at least three balls in his net.
Last season, we won at Anfield 2:0 with a splendid opener from Podolski and a dominating performance from Diaby. Neither of them will be available for this match against Liverpool. Podolski’s absence might be a bigger loss than anyone would think – he gave an excellent performance at the Emirates against Liverpool in January as well and terrorized Johnson whole night. Theo Walcott hammered an equalizer to complete our two-goal-come-back but he won’t be available for this match either.
Personally, if I expect anyone to step up, it’s Santi Cazorla. He was one of the best in our away victory against the Reds last season and scored a winner against Mignolet’s Sunderland. He hasn’t opened his goal-account this season yet but it has to happen at some point and perhaps the best day for that would be today. He has already shown his skills against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea but wasn’t rewarded with a goal. Our defence must remain still and any tragicomic defending like that led to Liverpool’s first goal in January or Szczesny’s attempts to show a Cruyff’s turn to Sturridge are forbidden.
If we win against Liverpool, they’ll be five points behind us and we will travel to both Dortmund and Manchester in a better mood.
So, let’s beat the Reds!