13 August 2010

Liverpool v Arsenal 08.15.10

Live in the US on FSC at 11am ET.

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Arsenal (a) 02.10.10
1-2 Arsenal (h) 12.13.09
1-2 Arsenal (a; League Cup) 10.28.09
4-4 (h) 04.21.09

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at the line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Lucas Gerrard
Kuyt Cole Jovanovic

Well, at least Liverpool begins its league campaign at home, for the first time since 2003-04. Funny how that happens as soon as the Spanish manager's sacked. I'm sure it's just coincidence. But otherwise, there's little to be happy about with such a difficult first game. To be fair, I'd hazard a guess Arsenal isn't too pleased with the match-up either.

For once, the Europa League qualifiers have been beneficial, giving Liverpool match preparation in more competitive circumstances than Arsenal have had. The second leg against Rabotnicki demonstrated how Liverpool can and will set out to attack at Anfield, although Arsenal's obviously a more difficult opponent. Still, I expect a reasonably similar side.

Reina and Kuyt, if fit enough following the World Cup and without any preseason appearances, should be nailed-on starters; according to Dave Usher of The Liverpool Way, Kuyt scored in a closed-door friendly against Tranmere this week. Neither Agger nor Aurelio started last Thursday, but if Agger's back strain has subsided and if Aurelio's played his way into any sort of shape, both should be in the first XI. Granted, I admittedly worry about a half-fit Agger against Arsenal's new signing Marouane Chamakh; the striker's excellent in the air, which isn't a strength of either Agger or Carragher.

As has been written for weeks now, left-back continues to be a worry, and if Hodgson doesn't think Aurelio's fit enough, it'll come down to Agger or Kelly. Agger's already questionable, and as much as I'm enraptured with Kelly's potential, it's a stretch to start a 20-year-old prodigy out of position against the Arse, most likely up against either Nasri or Arshavin.

It'd be wonderful to see Torres' name on the teamsheet, but Sunday's match probably comes too soon after his apparent injury in the World Cup final, despite Hodgson's quotes today. As crucial as he is to Liverpool's fortunes and as difficult an opponent as Arsenal is, 'better safe than sorry' seems the smartest tack. Please listen to the sports medicine department in regards to Torres. That doesn't mean he shouldn't be on the bench, ready to be called upon if needed, though. No matter whether it's Ngog or Kuyt up front, either must test the new central pairing of Vermaelen and Koscielny, which gave up five goals in Arsenal's last friendly.

New signing Christian Poulsen may go straight into the side, and a tough tackler obviously could be useful against the likes of Arshavin and co. But after little training with his new teammates and with limited preseason preparation at Juventus following the World Cup (as well as being left out of Juve's Europa League qualifiers so he'd be available for Liverpool's), I'd rather trust a central midfield of Lucas and Gerrard despite worries over the pairing's defensive abilities (and the worry over Lucas' fitness after 90 minutes midweek in New Jersey). Again, despite Hodgson's pronouncements, I doubt Mascherano will start since a transfer still seems imminent, even though as of now, he's a Liverpool player. Don't get me wrong; I'd rather he stayed and I'd rather he played, but after a summer's worth of gossip, it doesn't look likely.

Regardless of Liverpool's potential line-up, Arsenal have more fitness concerns. Ramsey, Bendtner, and Djourou are definitely out. Song, Denilson, and Diaby are doubts, as are Fabregas and van Persie for fitness reasons similar to Torres. Chamakh and Koscielny will be making their competitive debuts, while Arsenal may have to start a central midfield of Wilshire and Emmanuel Frimpong. There's never a good time to play Arsenal, but this could be as good as it gets with such an untried team. Of course, they still have Arshavin, who's scored five goals from six shots on target in his last two trips to Anfield (via the wonderful @OptaJoe, who you simply must follow if you use Twitter).

I don't think it's hyperbole to suggest that Sunday's result could define this season. Yes, it's one game, but it's an important game against a side that will probably be one of Liverpool's direct competitors. We saw how early losses doomed morale and the campaign last season, while a victory would lead to an immeasurable morale boost. I hate putting so much emphasis on one match, let alone the first league match of the season, but its significance seemingly can't be overstated, especially with the slate of games that follows it. Three points dropped or three points earned in August are equal to three points won or lost in December, but the circumstances make this match much more important than usual.

As I quoted yesterday, "Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly."

Finally, yet another reminder about the OYB fantasy football league. Since I procrastinated in setting it up, I feel the need to remind as many times as possible in the hopes of getting a fair few participants (up to 24 at last count, which I think is close to as large as my league's ever been), especially since the update to the original post was buried under the season preview and Poulsen posts. If you're of a mind to join, go to http://fantasy.premierleague.com, create a team, and click on "Join a League." The league code is 278930-276658. You can still sign up after the first week, but even if you've already created a team, I don't think your points will count in leagues you join after the fact.


Noel said...

You've nicely captured the dilemma of this opening match and that it feels as though it could make or break the entire season. I find myself one moment thinking it's just about the worst possible opponent one moment, but then that it's just about the best--after all, they're hurting on the injury front, and Liverpool's got an unexpected bit of buoyancy about them which might have almost seemed inevitable if I hadn't been so caught up in the ending of last season and the first few months of the summer.

A win here could really add a bit of substance to that veneer of optimism in a way that a dull dispatching of Wolves on the road wouldn't. So as you say, Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. Or other similar clichés and platitudes about victory going to the bold and nobody achieving greatness by vanquishing mediocrity.

drew said...

Arsenal will be bricking it, this pretty much their year if they intend to win the League and they already must have in their minds the thought, How do we recover if we lose at Anfield?

Abhiram said...

Joined the fantasy league... My first time.. hoping for beginners luck :) ...

Good analysis nate... Now if Mascher stays (no club is pready to pay his price that is) then i don't think Poulsson and Lucas will many games.... Can look at it as an advantage but i somehow don't feel so...Mascher is too one dimentional... Would prefer Lucas to him...

Anonymous said...

N'Gog will not be in the squad matey: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Aurelio, Lucas, Mascherano, Gerrard, Kuyt, Cole, Jovanovic, Torres, Babel, Cavalieri, Kyrgiakos, Rodriguez, Kelly, Pacheco, Aquilani, Poulsen (three to be omitted). Other than that keep up the brilliant posts, love reading them :)


nate said...

Where's that provisional squad from? If it's BBC, Guardian, or Sky Sports, they've been wrong before. I didn't see any Ngog injury news prior to writing this preview.

yowie said...

I'm buzzing with anticipation to see which liverpool will turn up to the game. I also hope arshavin is marked out of the game like white on rice HAH. And I'm also skeptical abt ngog NOT being in the squad considering torres is def not 100% yet.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for the match to begin...Come ON REDMEN!!!!!!!!