The important circle in the Champions’ League race– by Josif
After progressing to the next round of the FA Cup, we are back to our Premiership battle. Our next fixture doesn’t look like an easy one – we face Liverpool who have ambitions of playing in the Champions’ League next season as well.
The reverse fixture against the Reds was the match that brought our first smile to our face after two goal-less draws at the start of our campaign. We were a much improved side at Anfield and grabbed a deserved victory thanks to goals from newbies Podolski and Cazorla. However, it was Abou Diaby’s performance that was the one to talk about. Our injury-prone midfielder was the dominating figure in the middle of the park in both ways and his display was so good it felt like we were watching Patrick Vieira and Yaya Toure in one man. Liverpool were lucky to not concede a few more goals although they had chances of their own in the final part of the match.
This fixture is going to be a bit different than the reverse. First of all, we are on a positive run given that we won both matches played last week with 8 goals scored in the process. Half of those goals were scored by Olivier Giroud who was still looking for himself when the two teams first met. The Frenchman could have scored at least one goal at Anfield but his header went over the bar. It is still unknown whether Koscielny will play instead of Vermaelen as Mertesacker’s pacey partner but it is very likely that Bacary Sagna will return in the starting 11 at the expense of Carl Jenkinson so our defense will look different, especially since Sczszesny has been available for a while. Between the two Liverpool fixtures Abou Diaby suffered a serious injury that slowed him down a bit but he is returning to shape and his presence in the midfield could prove vital again. It is interesting to notice that last two Premiership victories Arsenal recorded over Liverpool have Abou Diaby’s mark on it – he scored the only goal of the game in the last Arsenal victory over the Reds at the Emirates in 2010 while in the aforementioned match at Anfield this season he gave a Man of the Match-performance. Mikel Arteta probably won’t be ready for this match.
This won’t be an easy game as Liverpool have arguably one of the best strikers in the Premiership. Sure, Luis Suarez might not be the guy that you would go with to watch a football game (unless you have some sort of bitting fetish) or the guy that should be a poster-boy for fair-play but his footballing class is undisputable. He is an excellent dribbler and he created a lot of troubles for us in both fixtures last season, especially with his one-twos with his team-mates (including the man named Stewart that deserves his cabinet in Downing Street 0) since he is very dangerous off the ball as well. He got some help in the January transfer window as Liverpool signed Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea. The English forward could make either a dangerous partnership with Suarez or they could repeat the famous Dyer-Bowyer fist-fight since both of them are rather selfish players and easily get nervous during the match if they fail to score. Still, in terms of quality, both attackers can cause problems for us, especially if we repeat some of the defending from the Brighton match.
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The two aforementioned attackers are not the only threat to our goal – Raheem Sterling is one of the most promising wingers in the league and his pace may cause problems. Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, is still capable of making perfect passes that leaves his strikers with only one option – to score – though we all like to recall his perfect pass to Thierry Henry in 2005.
Liverpool haven’t lost at the Emirates since 2009-10 thanks to Diaby’s aforementioned goal. In 2010-11, Liverpool scored the latest goal in the history of the Premiership to snatch a draw consequently sealing the fate of Emmanuel Eboue who gave away the soft penalty that Dirk Kuyt converted. In 2011-12, we were playing without several important players with the important transfers of Arteta, Mertesacker and Benayoun yet to come to fruition We lost Koscielny to a back injury after a quarter of hour (his substitution Ignasi Miquel’s promising performance was shaded with the clearance that made Ramsey score an own goal) while the impressive performance from Emmanuel Frimpong was spoiled with his second yellow card which turned out to be crucial moment of the game. It was also the last match Samir Nasri played for Arsenal.
It should be said that this match – as well as the Premiership – is probably more significant for Liverpool, especially after their defeat against Oldham on the weekend. They are out of the FA Cup, out of the League Cup and the last thing they need is the gap between them and fourth place expanding. Their backline was horrible and the League 1 side knew how to exploit their appalling defending from the likes of Coates et al. Of course, Rodgers most certainly won’t use the same formation against us as he started without proper balance against Oldham – Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge and Borini were all in the starting 11. Jose Manuel Reina will also probably start between the sticks. Once the strongest Liverpool defensive asset and now just a mistake-prone goalkeeper, Reina will face the club that, allegedly, once wanted to sign him for 20 million pounds. In the reverse fixture Reina was to blame for Cazorla’s goal. One of the threats for Reina will be Theo Walcott, a player who was targeted by Liverpool in this month before Theo signed ‘da ting’. Olivier Giroud’s first encounter against Liverpool came back in time when he was “lost in pace” but now he is full of self-confidence. If Matt Smith (no, not Matt “The Eleventh Doctor” Smith but the one that plays for Oldham) managed to score twice against Liverpool, why Giroud shouldn’t be able to do the same?
Victory against Liverpool would complete a great run of victories against West Ham and Brighton. The Merseyside outfit are one of the rare sides in the league that struggle with consistency more then we do and we should exploit that. 1-0 victory would do just fine for us.