Arsenal entertain Liverpool tonight in a top of the table clash in North London. Or at least that’s why we would have said twenty years ago. This time around, it is sixth versus seventh, the gap between the two clubs as close as ever at three points. Liverpool come into this fixture on the back of an awful FA Cup defeat at Oldham. The much changed line-up fielded by Brendan Rodgers put the youth set-up at Anfield under scrutiny, previous statements heralding the dawning of a new era for the club made to seem premature. Defeat was not the problem as such, the manner of it a much harsher judge. For tonight, I am not convinced that there will be much impact given the differing personnel likely to be show.
A win is vital for Arsenal with anything less being the opportunity for casting doubt on their ability to finish in the top four, a belief which will no doubt be reflected in the latest odds available via mobile betting. It is too early in the season – even though we are halfway through – to state anything with certainty. A run of four consecutive wins can change the look of the fight for Champions League qualification but Arsenal must be positive this evening and be confident in their ability to win. Recent form suggests that is entirely within their grasp. Liverpool have yet to win on their Premier League travels in 2013 and have won just twice since September on those journeys, December proving profitable as QPR and West Ham ceded the points on their own turf.
Looking back at recent years, it seems incredible that for all of their travails, Liverpool have lost just once at The Emirates since 2006 in the Premier League. That said, the goal scored by Abou Diaby in 2010′s victory for Arsenal is the only time that the home side has won this encounter in the last eleven league meetings. Whether Diaby will be offered the opportunity to repeat that feat tonight is one of the team selection quandries to be addressed by Arsène Wenger.
Defensively, he can call upon his captain with Thomas Vermaelen returning to fitness. I think he will at Per Mertesacker’s expense with the pace of the Belgian and Koscielny probably holding sway with Bacary Sagna also regaining his place. The back four takes a lot of criticism at the moment and has done so for a number of seasons as the goals against column shows little inclination to stop its increase on a year by year basis. Speaking in The Guardian, Wojciech Szczesny believes that is not just the defences fault, a lack of application by the whole team is to blame,
Over a long time I’ve honestly had enough of people saying Arsenal’s defence is not good enough. People judge defence on the back of goals conceded but you have to have a look at the defending in general. If my back four are completely exposed against Chelsea – most of the time in the first half there it was four of my defenders against six Chelsea players – they were disadvantaged all the time. You have to look at the defending of the whole team, the shape of the whole team. People blame the Arsenal defenders way too much over the past couple of seasons.
It is a point that has been made repetively; Arsenal need to defend more as a team. Szczesny’s words also underline the need for the midfield to take on more defensive responsibility – whether that needs an outright defensive midfielder, I am not sure but certainly one who is willing to curb attacking instincts. Whilst there is an argument for an enforcer in the middle of the park, to create another barrier, there is a necessity to balance that with the style of play. Arsenal rely on retaining possession and need to press quickly to win the ball back but they also need someone who can play a short pass accurately in that instant; Ramsey has done so in the last couple of games and may yet grow into the deeper-lying role. My own preference is towards the more energetic style of Coquelin but this pairing would enable the likes of Wilshere and Cazorla more attacking licence, albeit in a more traditional 4-4-2 formation. That won’t happen in the near future, if it ever does.
With the performance against West Ham to build on, Arsenal need to press Liverpool quickly, to offer the best form of defence: attack. Whilst we cannot neglect duties aimed at preventing opponents scoring, there is no denying Arsenal have trouble carrying them out as the absence of clean sheets demonstrates. The persistence needed to chase down a goal has been readily seen in the last four games, even if it was ultimately fruitless at Stamford Bridge. The victories in the other three of that quartet were as the result of desire showing through, an unwillingness to accept defeat and that is a positive for the players to draw on, converting football into its simplest form: score more than your opponents. For this evening, I wonder if that is the course which will be pursued or is Jack Wilshere the one to curb his instincts with, in all likelihood, Diaby starting.
The team I would expect to take the field tonight is:
Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Diaby, Cazorla, Wilshere; Walcott, Giroud, Podolski
Up front could see Arsène start with Walcott through the centre to trouble the Liverpool back four with pace. As harsh as it would be to drop Giroud following recent performances, that would be the only change which might happen, Oxlade-Chamberlain filling in on the right. It would set the stage for a late cameo from the French striker and with his current form, you would say that the same opportunity spurned at Anfield, would tonight find its way into the net.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.