3pm, live in the US on Setanta
Last 4 head-to-head:
1-1 (a) 12.21.08
4-2 Liverpool (h; CL) 04.08.08
1-1 (a) 04.05.08
1-1 (a; CL) 04.02.08
Last 3 matches:
Liverpool: 4-4 Chelsea (a); 4-0 Blackburn (h); 1-3 Chelsea (h)
Arse: 1-2 Chelsea (a); 3-0 Villareal (h); 4-1 Wigan (a)
Liverpool: Gerrard 13; Torres 11; Kuyt 8; Benayoun 4; Alonso, Riera 3; Aurelio, Babel, Ngog 2; Agger, Arbeloa, Carragher, Dossena, Hyypia 1
Arse: Adebayor 10; Van Persie 9; Bendtner, Nasri 6; Denilson, Eboue 3; Arshavin, Diaby, Gallas, Silvestre, Walcott 2; Clichy, Fabregas, Song, Toure 1
Referee: Howard Webb
Guess at a squad:
Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Benayoun Kuyt Riera
Feels like I’ve written ‘this is the most important game of the season’ for over a month now. That’s the fun of an honest-to-goodness title race, I guess.
This is Liverpool’s last game against a “big four” club, and Arsenal’s the only team they’ve failed to beat, having done the double over both Chelsea and United. And four of the last five encounters between the two have ended 1-1.
Other than the absence of Gerrard, the line-up seemingly writes itself. Maybe we’ll see the same as against Chelsea, with Lucas in Gerrard’s role and Benayoun on the left, but I reckon this is more likely. In my mind, the only real questions are over Skrtel and Aurelio, who could be replaced by Agger or Hyypia, or Insua or Dossena respectively. But more often than not, especially in the big games, those two are the starters. Aurelio’s got far more experience, and Skrtel has the blend of aerial prowess and speed.
It’s an utter pity that the captain will miss out, but not entirely surprising. It’s never smart to look back and wonder over injuries, but both he and Torres have struggled with niggling ones all season long. Obviously, the most important thing is to rest Gerrard now, no matter the opposition, and hope to have him healthy for as many games as possible.
Which, unsurprisingly, is what Liverpool’s doing – and that shows Benitez’s faith in the squad. In seasons past, I guarantee Gerrard would have played against Chelsea and/or Arsenal if the situation arose. But now, Rafa’s confident in the likes of Benayoun, Kuyt, and Riera, and it certainly helps that Torres has found goal-scoring form.
It’s sacrilege to suggest, but Liverpool’s missed Torres more than Gerrard when they’ve been injured this season. Gerrard is the heartbeat of this club, the pulse of Liverpool. But Torres’ goals have been far harder to replace.
And while Liverpool can certainly complain about injuries, Arsenal assuredly has it worse. The BBC’s reporting that Van Persie, Adebayor, Clichy, Gallas, and Almunia will all miss out. Fabianski had a howler against Chelsea on Saturday, but that probably means he’ll play out of his mind tomorrow. Regardless, Liverpool’s should test him right out of the blocks, and the recent direct style of play should help in that regard.
Six more matches. Make them count.