20 December 2014

Liverpool v Arsenal 12.21.14

11am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Arsenal (a; FA Cup) 02.16.14
5-1 Liverpool (h) 02.08.14
0-2 Arsenal (a) 11.02.13
2-2 (a) 01.30.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-1 Bournemouth (a); 0-3 United (a); 1-1 Basel (h)
Arsenal: 4-1 Newcastle (h); 4-1 Galatasaray (a); 2-3 Stoke (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Gerrard, Own Goal, Sterling 3; Henderson, Lallana 2; Can, Coutinho, Johnson, Lambert, Moreno, Sturridge 1
Arsenal: Alexis 9; Giroud 4; Cazorla, Ramsey, Welbeck 3; Chambers, Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, WIlshere 1

Referee: Michael Oliver

Guess at a line-up:
Toure Skrtel Sakho
Henderson Gerrard Lucas Markovic
Coutinho Lallana

I'd be fairly surprised if it's not the same formation and XI as against Bournemouth. Lovren's doubtful, so Sakho seems likely to start, but that seems the only alteration.

The biggest difference of late is that the 3-4-2-1 has actually been fun. Sure, Liverpool are still leaking goals – United scored three, Bournemouth could have easily scored three had they taken their chances – but Liverpool somehow look competent in attack, scoring three good goals on Wednesday, creating a hatful of good chances that they should have taken against United.

It's last season's philosophy rediscovered, if to a much lesser extent due to personnel. But it's a start. Quick attacks, clever interplay, and constant movement from the front players. Lallana and Markovic were both outstanding on Wednesday, Sterling looked increasingly comfortable (and took him chances) up front, and Henderson also did well as a right wing-back. Nonetheless, Arsenal will have chances.

While Markovic was excellent against Bournemouth, at least going forward, I worry about his defensive duties against Arsenal. More specifically, against Alexis Sanchez. Bournemouth's best chances came down Liverpool's left, Bournemouth's goal started down Liverpool's left, and that's where Alexis will be playing. Moreno's pretty much a defender in name only at this point as well, while Jose Enrique remains Jose Enrique, so maybe being as proactive as possibly and hoping to pin Alexis back, with Sakho and Lucas helping to cover when he gets forward, is the best option.

Also, Liverpool's midfield will continue to make me quite nervous. Gerrard and Lucas paired always makes me nervous, but Gerrard-Allen wasn't any better against United and Henderson's needed as the wing-back (especially with Johnson injured). Can seems an option in this formation due to his versatility, whether in midfield, at left wing-back, or left-sided center-back, but I suspect if he's used, it'll be off the bench.

Liverpool's aren't overflowing with other options. 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, and 4-Diamond-2 have all looked inferior, no matter personnel. Balotelli's suspended, which means that Sterling pretty much has to start up front, whether on his own or partnered with Lambert. Flanagan and Suso are back in training, but not yet fit enough to feature. Johnson will be out for a while, Sturridge is still a few weeks away at best.

I would suggest one other change. Please bring back Mignolet. I understand why Rodgers has dropped the Belgian for the last two games; Mignolet hadn't been anywhere near his best, and like City did with Joe Hart last season, Rodgers is trying to remove him from the firing line while he figures out what the hell's gone wrong. But Brad Jones is worse. Significantly worse. He was at fault for none of them, but Jones could and should have done better on all four goals Liverpool have conceded in the last two games.

Currently sixth in the league, five points ahead of Liverpool, Arsenal are once again very Arsenal. Dangerous up front, if sometimes unable to take advantage of excellent scoring moves and opportunities. Often held together with duct tape in midfield and defense, still lacking an out-and-out defensive midfielder, and frequently riddled with injuries.

And, as usual, Arsenal have even more injury concerns than Liverpool do. Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil, Koscielny, Rosicky, and Arteta will all miss out, while Oxlade-Chamberlain, Monreal, and Walcott are questionable.

Other than Chambers returning from suspension, tomorrow's XI will probably look the same as that which beat Newcastle 4-1. Szczesny; Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Flamini, Cazorla; Alexis, Giroud, Welbeck. That front three is incredibly threatening, especially the aforementioned Alexis, while both Giroud and Cazorla are in goal-scoring form.

But whether Chambers or Monreal partners Mertesacker, Arsenal will have to play at least one fullback at center-back, as they've done often this season. It'll be up to Liverpool to exploit it through pace and movement from the front three. And if Oxlade-Chamberlain's also unable to start, Arsenal's other injuries will require either Gideon Zelalem or Francis Coquelin to start in midfield.

You're going to hear an awful lot about Liverpool's 5-1 win in last season's fixture tomorrow. Arsenal will be thinking about it. Liverpool will be thinking about it. And tomorrow's match will probably be defined by Arsenal's reaction to it.

If they're tentative, with that match weighing heavily in the memory, Liverpool have the potential to take advantage thanks to the rediscovered attacking form and Arsenal's makeshift defense. But if Arsenal are determined to make amends, determined to take the game to Liverpool from the opening whistle, and have learned from last season's mistakes, the home side could be in for a very long match.

This is the first match in a very important festive schedule, the first of five in 15 days. If Liverpool win, they'll only be two points behind Arsenal, with winnable matches against Burnley, Swansea, Leicester, Sunderland, and Villa to come over the next month. The 5-1 win over Arsenal last season marked the start of Liverpool's long winning streak, a victory which nearly propelled them to an unlikely title.

But if Liverpool lose, that eight point gap will feel like 20, Liverpool will remain mired in the bottom half of the table for at least another week, and fourth place will seem an impossibility, even with 22 games still to play.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

We really need a win tomorrow. The players need it, the fans need it and no doubt Brendan deserves one. Even Miley Cyrus deserves a big win.

The lineup seems to almost write itself for once. I also would like to see Migs back between the sticks. Like you said Nate, Jones should have done much better in contesting all of the last 4 goals. You could blindfold Migs and he would have done much better. If he's having an issue with distribution, just make it simple for him. All players on the field have to work their socks off to get open when Migs has possession. Let him know he is free to punt the ball up to the front guys any time he wants. Even though we will likely conceded possession on those few punts not having Balo or Lambert on the field to bring it down, it's still a much better dynamic than to have Jones not able to contest shots with much effectiveness.

SG needs to compete in top gear all match. Anything less is not acceptable. When his legs go, BR needs to sub in Can or Allen. It's time for him to show some gumption in this regard.

In Kenny's final season, it was the devastating late 2-1 March home loss to Arsenal that sent us off a cliff. Picking up 13 of the next 39 points. We can not lose tomorrow. Our fans need to be in top voice supporting the team.