The pressure was expected to be on Arsenal to win this afternoon at Anfield to retain an eight point gap on Chelsea. Now the opportunity has presented itself to close that gap to six points, with a home game in hand, potentially three points.
Not content with that, reports this morning suggest Arsene is on the verge of protesting about Michael Essien’s involvement in Chelsea’s home win over Wolves, FIFAs regulations meaning that he should have missed the game for refusing to play for his country. A three point deduction the likeliest outcome. Then goal difference comes into play.
For the trip to Liverpool, Arsene has no new injury worries and Abou Diaby may apparently make the bench. Eduardo is apparently nearly ready to return but will not make the game. Whilst his impending return is excellent, there must be some concern that his fitness may not be up to playing three games in a week so perhaps better to leave that to Wednesday and Saturday.
That suggests that Andrey Arshavin will hope to give the Liverpool centre backs a similiar runaround to those experienced by their Stoke counterparts last week. With Theo Walcott coming through the Champions League unscathed, some sort of semblance of normality is beginning to return to the squad. All it requires is Bendtner to return and whisper it, Arsenal have fit forwards to choose from.
Defensively, there are no fresh worries with the partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen crucial to containing Fernando Torres. The Spaniard may not be totally fit but the pairing will need to be on top of their game. And to think the Belgian almost went to Tottenham three years ago. A man of suitably good taste to avoid that career-wrecking move.
Vermaelen is confident that the current Arsenal squad is capable of winning trophies:
The main reason I like playing for Arsenal is the vision of the boss. The way he wants us to play. I believe we CAN win trophies playing this way. What is the vision? The vision is basically for a young team who all share the same philosophy to play good football, to grow and eventually win a big trophy. I know there are many critics who say that playing a certain way then good things can’t happen.
But maybe they should just think for a while and look at how a team like Barcelona has grown and how they play. Look around at THEIR side. They don’t have many strong players but they have been winning BIG trophies.
There are plenty who doubt that the players can deliver, including most of the media. This morning sees reports that Arsenal have apparently asked Real Madrid how much they want for Rafael van der Vaart whilst Dzeko’s name appears regularly alongside the misinformation that he has a release clause in his contract. He does but that applies only to any offer from AC Milan, who by coincidence are about to offer £5m for…well, it’s the silly season so you get the drift that the transfer merry-go-round is picking up speed.
Vermaelen’s stock is still high with few criticisms of him emerging on a regular basis, a novelty of sorts for Arsenal centre backs since Sol Campbell was at his peak. Since then, each player in that position has been too slow, too small, too cumbersome or just plain useless so those who know tell us. To certain degrees those critiques have not been entirely wrong but lack of patience with defenders is founded in the knowledge of those who have gone before. Vermaelen is making strides into the list of great central defenders to wear the red and white.
Back to this afternoon. Liverpool are in a poor run of form this season, capable of playing in the big games but stumbling in matches that they should win. Rarely have we gone to Anfield with the hosts so defensively incontinent. Fortunate perhaps given our own attacking woes on the injury front. Crucial to winning will be stifling the Liverpool midfield, they will seek to do the same with Mascherano sitting tight on Fabregas.
The onus in those circumstances will fall on others to provide. Denilson still has his critics but may revel in the added responsibility, especially if marked by Lucas whose form is very much hit and miss. Certainly, any combination of Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri has the pace to undo the expected back four of Carragher, Agger, Insua and Johnson. The Arsenal left in particular may like to expose the England right back, excellent going forward but suspect when carrying out his defensive duties.
I would expect the line-up to be:
Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Traore; Fabregas, Song, Denilson; Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri
Three points is vital this afternoon to take advantage of the unexpected slips by those around us yesterday, Aston Villa being the only team in the top 6 to win. Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.