Last 4 head-to-head:
1-2 Arsenal (h) 12.13.09
1-2 Arsenal (a; CC) 10.28.09
4-4 (h) 04.21.09
1-1 (a) 12.21.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Everton (h); 2-0 Bolton (h); 0-0 Wolves (a)
Arsenal: 0-2 Chelsea (a); 1-3 United (h); 0-0 Villa (a)
Liverpool: Torres 12; Kuyt 9; Benayoun, Gerrard 5; Ngog 4; Babel, Johnson 2; Kyrgiakos, Skrtel 1
Arsenal: Fabregas 11; Arshavin, van Persie 7; Vermaelen 6; Diaby 5; Denilson, Eduardo, Gallas, Ramsey, Rosicky 3; Bendtner, Eboue, Merida, Nasri, Song, Vela, Walcott 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Odd, seeing how Webb's gotten the last two Liverpool/Arsenal league games.
Guess at a squad:
Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Gerrard Aquilani Riera
Carragher Skrtel Agger Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Riera
Update: I should have waited an hour. Evidently Aquilani's picked up an illness that rules him out. I'm leaving what I wrote below for posterity's sake, but the absence of Aquilani forces a bit of a rethink.
Arsenal’s last two matches, against United and Chelsea, provide the perfect road map on how to beat them. Villa did similar, but couldn’t score on the counter in the 0-0 draw two weeks ago. Admittedly, both United and Chelsea are stronger than Liverpool at present, with or without Liverpool’s current injuries. And Liverpool has rarely impressed away from Anfield this season. But it’s eminently doable, and Liverpool’s recently reacquired fighting spirit increases that possibility.
The first requirement will be not allowing Arsenal to play their game. Well, Liverpool will want them to try to knit passes through the middle – their too-clever-by-a-half football – but cannot give them any space in the final third. As Arshavin’s repeatedly shown. That Liverpool’s coming off three successive clean sheets – six in the last seven league games – is an enormous boon, and while there’ll be enforced changes due to Kyrgiakos’ red card, I’d have guessed Skrtel to return to the backline for the upgrade in pace regardless.
Closing down the midfield is the second part of that task. And that’s why I imagine both Lucas and Mascherano will be in central midfield. The pairing’s become standard fare against top-tier sides, especially when Liverpool’s away from home, and its best asset is nullifying the opposition.
But I still think there’s a role to play for Aquilani, and it’s why I’ve guessed the front four listed above. United and Chelsea put a combined five goals past Arsenal thanks to the counter attack. The interplay of the front four is most crucial, and that’s where Aquilani’s close control and vision comes in. The pace of Ngog or Babel doesn’t seem as essential (but could be very important off the bench), and while even I’ll admit Kuyt’s usually no great shakes upfront, he’s best attacking in combination (see 5-1 over Newcastle in 2008) and on the counter. Whomever plays on the right, whether it’s Gerrard, Kuyt, or Maxi, will need to test Clichy, who’s been absolutely gash in the last two matches.
Don’t get me wrong. It wouldn’t be a walk in the park on a normal day, and Arsenal’s become a wounded animal after taking one point in the last three games, against the seventh, second, and first placed sides. Despite scoring once in the last three matches, they’ve tallied 60 goals in 25 games, 17 more than Liverpool. Arshavin always ups his game against Liverpool, scoring five in his last two against. Sagna and Clichy will bomb forward, and Liverpool can be vulnerable to crosses. Maybe Arsenal will start Bendtner (I would if I was Wenger), but otherwise they aren’t very tall in attack.
Liverpool’s only dropped four points from the last seven games, finally working their way up to fourth. The final CL place is nearly Liverpool’s to lose; with Manchester City coming after Arsenal, a win there could see City’s games in hand made moot. And a victory tomorrow, at a stadium where Liverpool’s never won at (three draws and two losses), would see third place eminently achievable despite the disastrous first half of the season. But, of course, a loss would cancel out almost all of the last few weeks’ good work.