The focus today is of course the Champions League first-leg tie between Arsenal and Liverpool to be played at Emirates Stadium later tonight. It is the first time these two English clubs have played each other in European competition and while recent Chelsea-Liverpool matches in the Champions League have been woeful, I can hardly see the match between Arsenal and Liverpool going the same way. Indeed, it should be a pacy, exciting, hard fought match in which the home side will be searching for a goal and a clean sheet and the away side will be after a sneaky away goal or two.
Arsenal should welcome back Emmanuel Adebayor to the starting lineup after a much-needed rest against Bolton and the big man will surely start alongside Robin van Persie up front. It’s a menacing combination that – for the first time since the Dutchman’s return from injury – will see both players at the peak of their powers. Indeed, van Persie has now had three games to get rid of any cobwebs while Adebayor’s time on the bench will see him absolutely raring to go. Even if neither of them score, I’m expecting the pair to cause the Liverpool defence a huge amount of trouble.
The back four should be the same quadruple that started against Bolton; Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy on the right and left respectively with Philippe Senderos and William Gallas in the middle, while Manuel Almunia will surely continue in goals. Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and Cesc Fabregas are also certainties to start in the midfield, which leaves one spot up for grabs for the likes of Emmanuel Eboue, Theo Walcott and weekend villian Abou Diaby to fight over. It will be interesting to see who the manager picks, especially considering the comments he made yesterday about the impact that Walcott has been making of late.
“Theo has made a big impact every time he’s come on at the moment. I’ll use him sometimes with him coming on. Other times I’ll start with him. I will see. The first game will decide a lot.”
Hmm. Will he start? Will he come on as an impact player? It’s all very confusing. A lot of people would probably want the youngster to take the field from the very beginning tomorrow night but I’d probably be happier for Diaby or Eboue to start. Playing a 4-4-2 with two out-and-out strikers as opposed to the 4-5-1 that was employed in both legs against Milan suggests to me that a slightly more defensive-minded wide midfielder is probably the go tomorrow. At this stage, Walcott could hardly call himself that, so it’s Eboue or Diaby for me please Arsene, even despite the rubbish that the pair often cop from supporters.
Everybody is aware of Liverpool’s dangerman and the Arsenal defence will have to play very well to keep Fernando Torres off the scoresheet tonight. The Spaniard – who, incidentally I tipped not to flop when he joined Liverpool at the start of the season – has been in immaculate form of late and is one of the few men in Benitez’s side who has the ability to create a goal out of nothing. The other man who can do just that is Liverpool’s captain, Steven Gerrard, and Arsenal defender Toure has pointed out that shutting down the link between the two men on the field will be the best way to prevent Liverpool posing an attacking threat.
“Torres is a really good player, but if he does not have a really good Gerrard then the game will be much easier for us. They understand each other – the way they play, the way they pass the ball, the way they move and that is what we will be looking to stop.”
If the defence do stop Torres and Gerrard then I feel Arsenal have every chance of walking away with a one or two-goal advantage from the first leg. For all of Liverpool’s excellent recent performances in the Champions League and Benitez’s European know-how I just think that this tie suits this particular Arsenal side and I can see them getting through. In terms of a respectable result, any win without conceding would be perfect for Arsenal, while a 0-0 would be quite a decent result as well. As always, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
What do you think?
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