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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
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.