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Last 4 head-to-head:
1-1 (a; CL) 04.02.08
1-1 (h) 10.28.07
4-1 Liverpool (h) 03.31.07
3-6 Arsenal (h; CC) 01.09.07
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Arse (a); 1-0 Everton (h); 0-3 United (a)
Arse: 1-1 Liverpool (h); 3-2 Bolton (a); 1-2 Chelsea (a)
Liverpool: Torres 21; Gerrard 10; Babel 4; Benayoun, Kuyt, Voronin 3; Alonso, Crouch 2; Aurelio, Hyypia, Mascherano, Pennant, Sissoko 1
Arse: Adebayor 19; Fabregas 7; Rosicky, van Persie 6; Eduardo, Gallas 4; Flamini 3; Bendtner, Hleb, Senderos, Toure, Walcott 2; Diaby, Sagna 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Complete guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Riise
Pennant Gerrard Alonso Benayoun
Torres and Babel look like they need a rest. Gerrard and Kuyt, given the number of games they’ve played (and energy exerted on Wednesday) probably could do with one as well. But I don’t know if all four, Liverpool’s four main attackers, can all be rested against a team with the quality of Arsenal’s.
If any of those four is to start, I reckon it’ll be the captain, especially given Mascherano’s additional two game ban. It’s a pity he’ll be absent, although it’s little surprise, as Mascherano was one of Liverpool’s freshest after 90 minutes on Wednesday. Lucas has seen enough playing time for fans to be comfortable with his inclusion, but with so many others in line for a rest, Liverpool would be wise to start Gerrard.
Favoring the Champions League is all well and good, and a decision I agree with, but there needs to be a balance. It’s still necessary to keep morale high, especially when it would be Tuesday’s opposition that benefits from any loss of Liverpool’s on Saturday. Arsenal should make changes as well, but probably less, as they still have hopes in the title race. Liverpool have an excellent chance to put one over on Arsenal, and possibly finish their title ambition, before the second leg at Anfield.
We saw it against this exact opposition last year. Liverpool deployed two very different line-ups, but Arsenal won handily in both domestic cups in a three-day span, both at Anfield. Getting the first win in the FA Cup, against a stronger team, set Arsenal up to run riot in the Carling Cup match-up.
With all three center backs playing last Wednesday, at least one will be rested tomorrow, and Sami needs it more than Carragher. I expect Wednesday’s backline will all feature next Tuesday.
Were Gerrard to not start, I sincerely hope both Gerrard and Torres would be on the bench. Torres has been far better at Anfield than on the road, but he’s still a game-changing player, and having him on the bench would be reassuring to say the least.
Both Crouch and Voronin, if they start, have points to prove with the way this campaign’s gone. Crouch had his best game of the season against Arsenal last year, tallying a perfect hat trick. And Arsenal’s backline, with Toure still at right back and Gallas and Senderos in the center, could be susceptible to Crouch’s height.
In Arsenal team news, van Persie is injured while Diaby is suspended. Adebayor also picked up an ankle knock, but is still likely to start.
At this stage of the season, it truly is survival of the fittest. This is when Benitez’s rotation, player monitoring, and training pay dividends. We’ve seen Arsenal underperform in the league over the past month and a half partly because of this; they’ve a smaller and younger squad than their rivals, and have only won once in the league since mid-February (one win, one loss, four draws).
Tomorrow, despite the predicted changes, should be a lot like Wednesday. Arsenal will try and control the tempo and possession, and Liverpool will have to be cagey and quick on the counter. But Liverpool have an excellent chance to lessen Arsenal’s morale while improving their own, and to set themselves up perfectly for both the second leg at Anfield and the final five games of the Premiership campaign.