Liverpool v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: December 21st, 2014 16.00 PM BST
It’s going to be our second trip to Anfield this year. Our previous visit that took place in February didn’t end well – we lost 5:1 conceding four goals in the opening twenty minutes. Oh, and Martin bloody Škrtel scored twice on that day. Nevertheless, we have already settled the score for a bit – we won the FA Cup clash at the Emirates and eventually won the trophy even if we were the second best team for the biggest part of that match too.
There were a lot of things that didn’t work for us in that terrible 5:1 defeat. It was not just an early kick-off that tied our limbs (speaking of which, the whole story of early kick-offs last term was a rather poor excuse unless we had a team of vampires). We were terrible with the ball and even worse without it. Mesut Özil played his worst game in an Arsenal shirt and lost the ball twice before Liverpool goals. Our defence didn’t react well during set-pieces which allowed Škrtel to score twice in the opening ten minutes of the game. Olivier Giroud didn’t use our best chance between Škrtel’s goals to bring us back to the game. Nacho Monreal and Mikel Arteta were overrun like their countrymen would be a few months later against Holland. Apart from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere, we were awful. On the other hand, Liverpool’s counter-attacks worked perfectly – Jordan Henderson was bossing the midfield while Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez were destroying us from both flanks and down the middle.
Now, ten months later, things have changed. A lot. First of all, Liverpool are far from their last-term quality. Suarez has left for Barcelona, Sturridge has spent most of this term on the sidelines and won’t feature on Sunday either and Sterling has been their only value (see what I did there) in the attack. Secondly, unlike the one-geared Arsenal that visited Anfield in February, we have a lot of pacey options in the attack to hit The Reds in similar fashion to what they did to us in February. Alexis Sánchez is a human version of Suarez, Danny Welbeck has pace like Sturridge and Santi Cazorla – with his newly found form – can create goals just like Sterling. Oxlade-Chamberlain will probably be available to play and will add another dimension of creativity from the deeper positions. Thirdly, neither team have had the best defence in the universe this term and it’s very likely that the same trend will be kept on Sunday.
Liverpool have already suffered a painful result-swing last week against Manchester United – from a comfortable 3:0 victory at Old Trafford in the spring to a heavy 3:0 defeat in just nine months – a baby that had been conceived on a day Liverpool dominated was probably born on a day United had their revenge. Perhaps it’s time for us to do the same.
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However, speaking about the result from Manchester… It wasn’t exactly a realistic portrayal of the match. United took the lead in less than a minute after Sterling had been denied by David De Gea’s save and the second United goal should have been chalked off as Juan Mata was offside. Liverpool were creating chances and Manchester United were scoring goals. First United goal was an interesting one though – Antonio Valencia made three Liverpool defenders look like clowns before cutting the ball back to Wayne Rooney. Now, it was pretty much the same (or at least similar) description of a goal Bournemouth scored during the mid-week league cup match that Liverpool won 3:1. Perhaps there is a chance for Alexis to drill a similar hole on the left side of the Liverpool defence and to create a goal for, say, Santi Cazorla in the D-area?
The match against Bournemouth was the odd one. Liverpool did play well (at least compared to what they’ve been offering in other games this term) with Raheem Sterling and Lazar Marković playing impressively before half-time. Now, what I don’t get is why did Brendan Rodgers put his pretty much strongest team against the Championship side? We will enter the match after an 8-day-break while Liverpool players will have had half that time. It’s not like the match against us isn’t important for them too – they are five points behind us and a defeat would see them falling eight points behind us and far, far away from the Champions’ League places.
Before the defeat against United, Liverpool failed to find the net against Sunderland at home (0:0). Adam Lallana, one of the rare players who looks like a threat in today’s Liverpool, inspired their come-back against Leicester (3:1) and Glen Johnson’s rare goal gave them all three points against Stoke at Anfield. Their home form has been far from intimidating this season and they’ve already lost two matches on their own soil – Aston Villa (0:1) and Chelsea (1:2) while teams like Hull (0:0) and Sunderland (0:0) have kept a clean sheet. Their Champions’ League campaign is already over due to their inability to win second place in the group against the terrifying competition of FC Basel and Ludogorets.
Our players should be aware of their set-pieces. Steven Gerrard is still capable of scoring a really good free-kick so there should be no stupid fouls made around the box. Raheem Sterling likes to make runs behind the defence so Mertesacker and whoever will play next to him should be cautious. Perhaps the central defence that played against Newcastle – Debuchy and Mertesacker – wouldn’t be a bad idea given that Calum Chambers isn’t the paciest player out there and his partnership with Mertesacker would make us vulnerable in terms of pace.
Wojciech Szczesny is the one for the place between the sticks.
Hector Bellerin – who gave an excellent performance against Newcastle – will probably start on the right side of the defence. Given the aforementioned weakness on the Liverpool left side of the defence, he might make a couple of good runs down the flank against The Reds too.
Kieran Gibbs will take his place on the left side of the defence.
Mathieu Flamini will have a huge role on Sunday – he’ll have to protect the back four and help Oxlade-Chamberlain create something from the deep. The Englishman has been more comfortable playing higher up the pitch so Flamini should protect his back as well in case The Ox loses possession.
Alexis Sánchez will be our main asset again. He was a transfer target for Liverpool this summer and considered as an ideal replacement for Suarez but he opted to sign for Arsenal instead. The Chilean has scored 14 goals this term, nine of those in the league, and will do his best to show to the home fans what they didn’t get this summer.
Santi Cazorla has scored three goals in the last two matches (two from penalties though) and has already knocked Liverpool twice in two 2:0 victories. His first league goal for Arsenal happened at Anfield and I wouldn’t mind if he repeats the trick on Sunday.
Danny Welbeck – who hasn’t been very prolific – can change his luck in terms of goals scored by putting one behind Brad Jones on Sunday.
Olivier Giroud has looked very confident this term – he has already scored four goals in the league despite the long spell on the sidelines – and there is no reason why he shouldn’t keep his shooting boots on.
If there is an ideal time to play against Liverpool, it’s now. We have quality and form on our side and our recent record at the Anfield – aside from the February fiasco – has been really good.
Given the facts, Arsenal should win the match. If I listen to my traditionally cautious head, I’d say we’ll win 2:1. If not, I’d say we’ll win 4:1. Alexis to score a brace with a single goal from Cazorla and Welbeck each. Gerrard to score from a free-kick for the hosts.
Head to Head
FA Cup (FAC) 16 Feb 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 8 Feb 2013 Liverpool FC 5 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 02 Nov 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 30 Jan 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 2
Premier League (EPL) 02 Sep 2012 Liverpool FC 0 – Arsenal FC 2
Bellerin Debuchy Mertesacker (c) Gibbs
Alexis Cazorla Welbeck
Liverpool 1 v 4 Arsenal