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Liverpool: 4th place; 54 points out of 30 games
Arse: 3rd place; 55 points out of 29 games
Last 4 meetings:
3-6 Arsenal (h) 01.09.07
1-3 Arsenal (h) 01.06.07
0-3 Arsenal (a) 11.12.06
1-2 Arsenal (a) 03.12.06
Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 0-0 Villa (a); 0-1 Barcelona (h); 0-1 Man Utd (h)
Arse: 0-1 Everton (a); 1-0 Villa (a); 1-1 PSV (h)
Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 9; Bellamy 7; Crouch 6; Gerrard 5; Alonso, Fowler, Garcia 3; Gonzalez 2
Arse: Van Persie 11; Henry 10; Gilberto 8; Adebayor 6; Flamini 3; Gallas, Hleb, Toure 2
Referee: Steve Bennett
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carra Agger Aurelio
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Riise
Finally, a Liverpool game. It’s only been 13 days, seems like ages. And it very well may be for 3rd place in the Premiership.
It may not have seemed that bad a stretch with the high of progressing past Barca in the Champions League, but Liverpool is winless without scoring in its last three. Like last season, the team’s fallen into a patch of few goals. Normally when Liverpool has struggled this season, they’ve still created some chances, but not much has come off in recent games.
For that reason I’ve put Gerrard back in the center with Alonso. In the past games against Arsenal this season, it seems Rafa’s been hesitant to play Pennant against his old team, with his only start coming in the FA Cup. But Pennant looked one of the more lively players when he came on against Villa (although that’s not saying much), and given Liverpool’s recent impotence in attack (especially from midfield) in the last couple of games, Gerrard could do with a start in the center. Maybe his storming runs from midfield will help to remedy the situation. I also remember some of Kuyt’s best play coming when he was linking with Gerrard in the middle.
Of course, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a midfield of Gerrard-Alonso-Sissoko-Riise/Aurelio. Sissoko does frequently play an important role in games like these, and he was out injured for the ones in January. Getting the ball away from and keeping it away from Arsenal is frequently how Liverpool attempts to beat them, and it’s been a useful tactic against Arsenal for others. But it hasn’t worked for Liverpool so far this season, and the lack of goals and overall lack of impetus in offense necessitates some sort of change. It may however be worth a mention that my guess is nearly the same lineup as in the FA Cup tie, without Dudek in goal, Aurelio in place of Garcia and Bellamy in for Crouch.
I believe Crouch is still out due to the surgery following his broken nose, so the frequent striker question is off the table. Fowler should surely be on the bench though; while I don’t know if he should start as he can’t be relied on for a full 90 minutes, if the game is tied or Liverpool is struggling to score, I’d hope he gets more than 5.
But it’s not as if Arsenal’s taking over the world at the moment either. The last month has seen them beaten in the Carling Cup final and knocked out of both the FA Cup and Champions League. There was the “unfortunate” incident that led to suspensions for Adebayor, Eboue, and Toure which only recently ended. At the same time, there’s somewhat of an injury crisis with Henry and van Persie out long-term, as is Walcott, with Eboue and Clichy also doubtful. But they have still managed to pass Liverpool into 3rd in the league.
I’ll be honest, and I mention this with reticence, because I don’t want to seem to be downplaying this match after building it up for so long, but 3rd place isn’t the end all, be all. Both 3rd and 4th qualify for the same stage of the Champions League, and I believe they get the same starting revenue. And while Liverpool is not in the best form, they are 7 points ahead of 5th place. With 8 games to go, it’s certainly not insurmountable, but it looks a healthy margin and regardless, unlike the difference between 3rd and 4th, 5th place most likely won’t be decided by this game.
Tomorrow seems more a matter of pride than anything else. Liverpool will not reach the points total of last year, thanks mainly to away form at the start to the season, and would probably like to at least reach the same league position. And then there’s the matter of the three previous games against Arsenal played this season. I don’t want to go into the gory details any further; I would hope the players remember them vividly enough.