Arsenal will face a ‘big four’ opponent for the first time this season when they travel to Anfield to take on a Liverpool side struggling for form but stacked with quality players.
It will be the first of two big tests within a week, with Arsene Wenger’s side having to follow up the tricky away game against Liverpool with an even tougher task, against Manchester United at Emirates Stadium. Manchester United regained the lead at the top of the Premier League table after comfortably beating Middlesbrough 4-1 overnight but Wenger’s side will steal it back if they get a result at Anfield.
Logic says that Arsenal should start favourites; they have been in great form this season, unbeaten in all competitions and on a run of twelve successive wins. On the other hand, Liverpool have stuttered their way through the early stages of the Premiership and are coming off another disappointing performance in the Champions League, this time losing 2-1 away to Turkish side Besiktas. Liverpool will pose as difficult a threat as Arsenal have faced all season and despite the fact that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger seems well aware of this, he has also pointed to his side’s record last season as evidence that they will be up to the challenge.
“Playing a big side is the last question mark against this side. I feel that if we repeat our record against the big teams from last year then we will be very difficult to beat. That’s the challenge we face now.”
Last season Arsenal performed very well against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool but it should also be noted that the only fixture in which they lost against those sides was at Anfield. Liverpool won 4-1 on the day, with Peter Crouch scoring a hat-trick, and Wenger only needs to remind his players of that result to emphasise just how difficult a game this could turn out to be.
Liverpool’s biggest problem so far has been maintaining consistency and I strongly believe this has been down to Rafa Benitez’s overelaborate rotation policy. When you look at the firepower they have up front in Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel, Andriy Voronin, Dirk Kuyt as well as last season’s hero Crouch, you can see how much potential they have. But Benitez’s insistance to rotate the team has meant that no two strikers know each other’s game inside and out and subsequently Liverpool have been unable to fulfill their potential thus far. Even the rotation in the midfield has meant that no players have been given enough time to establish themselves in the side and play their way into form.
Consistency versus rotation
Wenger’s policy of generally continuing with a winning team has meant that Arsenal have been able to do this. Robin van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor have formed a good partnership up front, Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini have done the same in midfield, and Tomas Rosicky and Alexander Hleb’s are certain starters when fit. When injuries have occurred, players like Eduardo da Silva, Abou Diaby and lately, Theo Walcott have ensured that the rhythm in the side has remained largely undisturbed.
What all this essentially means is that predicting a result in the Arsenal-Liverpool game will be exceptionally difficult. If Benitez plays his best side then I really feel that they have the ability to beat Arsenal, but if he continues with the policy then I would expect Wenger’s side to at least draw or perhaps snatch a win. I feel that Arsenal’s big advantage over Liverpool is the fact that if that if they are stifled by the home side’s defensive approach then Wenger has enough variety on the bench to find a way through to goal.
It will be interesting to see who starts up front for Arsenal in the absence of van Persie. Walcott had a strong game against Slavia Prague midweek and is probably favourite to start, but I wouldn’t be unhappy to see Eduardo handed a start. He’s still a relative unknown in England, so the unpredictability factor is there, and I just feel his poaching instincts could come in handy against a Liverpool side that values watertight defending over free-flowing attacking.
In my mind, this is the biggest game of the season so far for Arsenal because of the status of the opponent and the timing of the fixture. Everybody has been talking about the fact that Wenger’s side are yet to face a ‘big four’ opponent and I’m sure the players are well aware of this. While a loss away to Liverpool would be no disgrace a win would give the players the psychological boost they might need to follow up against Manchester United a week later and beat them at the Emirates. This would extend Arsenal’s lead at the top to five points, still with a game in hand. On the flip-side, a loss against Liverpool could very quickly turn into second poor result against Manchester United and the good start to the season could be lost in a very short space of time.
I really think a lot will be learned about Arsenal’s title credentials today. I’m dreaming of a win, but I think a draw is a more realistic option. If Wenger’s side can go to Anfield and get three points it will say a lot about this side’s potential. The reality is that there aren’t many more tougher fixtures then an away match against Liverpool, regardless of their form. I think this is going to be really tight and I’m actually tipping a 0-0, but I also really feel that if any side is going to win it it’s going to be Arsenal. I’d love to see Eduardo grab the headlines with a winner in a tight match but I can tell you right now, I won’t care who scores the winner as long as Arsenal win the game. Wherever you’re watching this one, enjoy it because it should be an absolute cracker.
What do you think?
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