12pm EST, live in the US on FSC
Last 4 head-to-head:
4-1 Liverpool (h) 03.31.07
3-6 Arsenal (h) 01.09.07
1-3 Arsenal (h) 01.06.07
0-3 Arsenal (a) 11.12.06
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-2 Besiktas (a); 2-1 Everton (a) 2-2 Spurs (h)
Arsenal: 7-0 Slavia Prague (h); 2-0 Bolton (h); 3-2 Sunderland (h)
Liverpool: Torres 4; Voronin 3; Alonso, Kuyt 2; Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard, Sissoko 1
Arsenal: Adebayor 6; van Persie 5; Fabregas 4; Rosicky 2; Diaby, Hleb, Senderos, Toure 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Guess at a squad:
Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Gerrard Alonso Mascherano Benayoun
According to reports, Torres is fit and should start, Alonso may start, and Sunday will probably come too soon for both Arbeloa (who is in the squad) and Agger (who is not). Given Liverpool’s defensive struggles over the last few games, both of those players will be missed, but having both Torres and Alonso back will help the team to be sure.
I’m more than cognizant of what can happen when players are rushed back, and it’s only been 4-5 weeks since Alonso broke his metatarsal, but Liverpool desperately misses his steadying presence in midfield. And Torres’ merits can go unsaid, especially considering Liverpool’s goal return in the games he’s missed.
In the build-up to this game, one of the main things on my mind was last year’s 4-1 win over Arsenal at Anfield. Neither Liverpool nor Arsenal’s sides are radically different from that game.
First, and I hadn’t thought of it when writing the Besiktas preview, but Crouch could be likely to start Sunday based on his performance last season, which could explain why he only got around 10 minutes on Wednesday. He’ll come up against the same center-backs -- Toure and Gallas -- as last March, and Arsenal is vulnerable to height in defense. I considered including Pennant for this reason, and wouldn’t be surprised if he started, but having Gerrard, Alonso and Mascherano in midfield seemed more important to other parts of Liverpool’s game.
Last season, Crouch started alone up top with Gerrard in a free role behind. I don’t think that likely this weekend for two reasons: one, Liverpool hasn’t played that way all season, and two, Torres will be on the field if fit (and rightfully so).
But with Gerrard on the right, with Alonso and Mascherano in the center, Liverpool should be able to both restrict Arsenal in the middle and allow Gerrard a free enough role to influence proceedings as he does best. If Gerrard does end up in a free role from this position though, Finnan (and Carra, who almost always plays next to him) will have a lot to do to make sure the defense isn’t caught out down Liverpool’s right by either Hleb or Rosicky.
Two players who had a huge impact on last season’s game, Arbeloa and Aurelio, won’t feature on Sunday. Both did excellently getting forward from defense and providing crosses, and Liverpool will miss the presence of both. Arsenal, for all their strengths, can be taken advantage of on the flanks. It will be imperative for both Finnan and Riise to do similar, especially for Finnan to deliver crosses like the one for Torres’ equalizer against Spurs.
Admittedly, with both Agger and Arbeloa out, the speed of Arsenal’s attack worries me. Which is another reason for the inclusion of both Alonso and Mascherano, in addition to Gerrard on the right. Liverpool cannot let Arsenal play their style of football or let them get the first goal. We saw time and time again last season (three times, actually) what can happen when Arsenal do either. And with the confidence Arsenal have coming into this game, the first goal will be even more crucial.
There’s little to be said about Arsenal’s start to the season. Impressive sums it up adequately. They’re unbeaten and have only drawn once, away at Blackburn, which was over 2 months ago. I’m sure everyone’s aware that they won their last game 7-0. Fabregas has been one of the best, if not the best (my vote goes to Elano, but not by much) player in the league so far this season.
But they will miss van Persie. I’m not convinced they’ll be able to maintain this form all season. And they can be beaten.
Liverpool will be fully aware how important this game is to the rest of the season, and hopefully more than willing to put recent performances behind them. I don’t like hyping an October match any more than it should be, as it is still October, but this game will tell us a lot about the future.