16 April 2011

Liverpool at Arsenal 04.17.11

11am ET, live in the US on FSC

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 08.15.10
0-1 Arsenal (a) 02.10.10
1-2 Arsenal (h) 12.13.09
1-2 Arsenal (a; Carling Cup) 10.28.09

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-0 City (h); 1-2 West Brom (a); 2-0 Sunderland (a)
Arsenal: 3-1 Blackpool (a); 0-0 Blackburn (h); 2-2 West Brom (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Kuyt 9; Meireles 5; Gerrard 4; Maxi 3; Carroll, Johnson, Kyrgiakos, Ngog, Skrtel, Suarez 2; Cole 1
Arsenal: van Persie 12; Nasri 9; Chamakh, Walcott 7; Arshavin 6; Song 4; Fabregas 3; Bendtner, Diaby, Koscielny 2; Djourou, Eboue, Sagna, Squillaci, Vela, Wilshere 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Reina
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Suarez Carroll

As long as Johnson and Kelly are injured, it's hard to see anything other than the lineup we saw against City. Liverpool have used the same front six in the last three league matches. With Johnson, Kelly, and Agger out, and after both Flanagan and Aurelio impressed on Monday, this should be the defense until the first-choice full-backs are fit.

Liverpool have little option but to stick with Flanagan after his excellent debut. He'll be thrown straight into the deep end again. Up against the likes of Milner and Balotelli last match and barely tested, now he'd face Samir Nasri, which is a frightening prospect for any defender. But it's better than the alternative of Carragher on the flank and Kyrgiakos or Wilson partnering Skrtel. Kyrgiakos would most likely get the nod over Wilson, and Arsenal's strengths – pace, movement – are Soto's biggest weaknesses.

At the same time, Arsenal's defense will be frightened of Liverpool's front line. Szczesny and Djourou should both return from injury, which isn't as tantalizing as Suarez and Carroll facing Squillaci, Koscielny, and Lehmann, but Arsenal's frequent uncertainty and propensity for errors can be exploited.

Still tangentially in the title race – at the least, United's closest competitors – Arsenal have repeatedly spurned opportunities to seize momentum, drawing with the likes of Blackburn (h), West Brom (a), and Sunderland (h) in its last four league games (in addition to losing the Carling Cup Final and going out of the FA Cup and Champions League in the same time frame).

Nonetheless, Arsenal are perpetually dangerous opponents. They're quick in every phase of play; have small, speedy players who'll challenge Liverpool's lack of pace; and love to have possession. Lucas and Spearing will have a far harder time winning the midfield than against Manchester City, facing a Fabregas-Wilshere-Song triangle.

Injuries mean that Liverpool won't be able to replicate the formation, but the game plan will probably be markedly similar to the 1-0 away win at Chelsea: focus on defense, press and hassle furiously, and look to spring the counter attack. And that game plan's worked (for other opponents) against Arsenal in the past.

Liverpool need to have the same movement and desire as against City, and need to play aggressively despite being away from Anfield (which, admittedly, is a big ask). Arsenal can be both stifled (as against Blackburn) and exposed (at West Brom). Matches between these sides are always tight despite recent returns; 10-man Liverpool should have won the reverse fixture if not for Reina's inexplicable gaffe, an occurrence almost as rare as a Torres goal for Chelsea. But Liverpool have also never won at the Emirates in six attempts, with three draws and three losses since 2006.

1 comment:

Neel said...

I can't see us winning. A 1-1 draw or a 2-1 loss. Though everyone in the press is hailing Carroll and how he is going to trouble the Arsenal defence, I'm convinced the key is going to be Suarez. He forces mistakes from defences - and Arsenal are very keen to help in that regard. Should be interesting to watch.

Also, Flanagan will get a good test in this match. Meireles might be moved to a defensive right mid. And Kuyt moving centrally. I doubt we haven't been a width based team anyway - could be our downfall today.