Congratulations are in order, Liverpool (Under the keen eye of Kenny Dalglish) have ended their 6 year silverware drought. A shiny Carling Cup trophy found its way into what has been a poorly stocked Liverpool trophy room. Arsenal are still trying valiantly to bring some silverware into their cabinet, with their recent premier league form they’re making a definitive attempt to unsettle the boys over in Manchester.
The last few times this fixture came around there was a lot of drama, but not a whole lot of goal-mouth action. Based on Arsenal’s incredible goal scoring run and Liverpool’s uncanny ability to dismantle teams generally stronger than they are, this is unlikely to be a boring 0-0 draw you wish you did not waste 2 hours of your life on.
Both Liverpool and Arsenal will be in high spirits, Liverpool’s recent cup win still fresh in their memories, and Arsenal having secured derby bragging rights when they more than managed to trounce Tottenham in their 5-2 goal-fest. Its time to look at which players could turn the tide in their teams’ favor.
Building From the Back:
Liverpool will be without Daniel Agger after he suffered a possible rib fracture in their Carling Cup Victory. His partnership with Martin Skrtel has been the crux of Liverpool’s enviable defensive record, without him their solidity might be in question. Carragher is likely to step in for Agger, but the aging Scouse stalwart might prove to be a weak link facing up to Arsenal’s fast and crafty forwards.
Arsenal’s defense has been boosted with the return of Sagna and Gibbs, both very capable and quick fullbacks. The Gunners have a history of employing quick and sharp-minded defenders, and are well-equipped to deal with Suarez’s trickery and unpredictable playing style. They might encounter problems with Carroll’s physically imposing presence in the box, and this should be a focal point for the Scousers. Arsenal will be without Per Mertesacker, their vertically gifted German center-back. The onus will be on Vermaelen to deal with Liverpool’s aerial threats, as the rest of the Arsenal defense will be unlikely to deter the likes of Carroll, Skrtel and Carragher from set pieces.
Controlling the Middle of the Park:
Gerrard is still a major question mark for Liverpool, his rush to fitness being left to the last minute. Losing their talismanic captain and creative influence for such a crucial encounter could leave Liverpool exposed, but it could also give youngsters like Spearing and Henderson the opportunity to shine. The Reds have been relying heavily on set pieces to provide them with goals, with a lot of their players being extremely efficient in the air. One of the main reasons is that the deliveries into the box have been impeccable, all thanks to the accurate left foot of Charlie Adam. His set piece contributions will be vital to Liverpool if they want to achieve a positive result.
Quick, short passes are an Arsenal hallmark, and no player is more capable of stringing together defense-splitting passes like Mikael Arteta. The Spaniard has an astounding pass rate of 90%, this consistency combined with Walcott and Van Persie’s tendency to run into space behind the opposition back four could very well be the key that unlocks the Liverpudlian defensive wall. Alexander Song’s unexpected forward runs and defensive work ethic are likely to be important if Arsenal want to maintain their midfield shape and cover all the potential gaps.
As everyone is most likely aware, Liverpool’s attacking strength comes primarily from their mercurial (but frequently inspiring) Uruguayan forward: Luis Suarez. His quick thinking and general lack of following any coherent game plan make him tough to mark and almost certain to do something unexpected. This unexpected contribution could manifest itself as a 40 yard run ending in a deft finish…or an uncontrollable urge to bite an opposition player. His unpredictability is certain. The inclusion of Carroll has not yet paid off this season, but his aerial prowess and ability to hold the ball while waiting for support might be of some use to his team. That being said, Reds fans waiting for consistent finishing from their 35 million pound man might be holding their collective breath for quite some time.
Generally the team that have the league’s highest goal-scorer in their arsenal (Yep…I went there) tend to do quite well. Robin van Persie’s contribution of 23 goals so far has made Arsenal’s offense the third best in the league, trailing only to the two Manchester juggernauts. All eyes will be on the Dutch captain to lead his players from the front, and hopefully chip in with a goal or two. Another potential source of goals for Arsenal is their attack-minded midfield, with Arteta and Walcott etching their names onto the score sheet with increasing regularity.
Who is most likely to win the game for their team…
Liverpool: Suarez will be the man to watch, his unpredictable playing style often results in defenders fouling him and giving away free kicks in areas that Charlie Adam could exploit. Arsenal will have to do their best to shackle this dangerous playmaker.
Arsenal: van Persie, his current hot streak is undeniably why Arsenal is so confident on the ball, and the responsibility will lie with him to set the attacking tone for his team to follow.
Potential Impact Players:
Liverpool: Craig Bellamy. The Welsh forward has a tendency to come off the bench and hit the ground running, often scoring crucial goals and being an outstanding pest that even the best defenses find difficult to manage.
Arsenal: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. This speedy attacking midfielder could prove to be difficult to handle if he makes an appearance in the second half. Liverpool’s already pace-deprived defense might not be able to cope with Chamberlain’s blistering and direct runs, especially not if his legs are fresh and theirs are fading.
Potential Weak Spots:
Arsenal: Set pieces, the combination of Charlie Adams’ lethal dead ball skills and Arsenal’s lack of physically imposing center-backs makes a well delivered cross a very good way for Liverpool to score.
Liverpool: The general lack of speed in their defense (apart from Enrique, but everyone knows he harbours a secret ambition to be a wing) could be the chink in their impressive defensive armour. All Walcott, Chamberlain or van Persie need is a little space and they’ll quickly be warming Reina’s gloves…or tearing his net down.
Carroll/Skrtel Vs. Vermaelen/Koscielny: Carroll and Skrtel are both extremely good in the air, whoever the two Arsenal center-backs are they’ll need to stay sharp to avoid losing ground from corners or free kicks. Carroll might not be scoring as often as he should, but he is still more than capable of putting a header into the path of one of his team mates.
Robin van Persie/ Theo Walcott Vs. Carragher/Skrtel: van Persie and Walcott are both fast and crafty players, something Liverpool’s slower and more traditional center-backs might have difficulty containing. Walcott has the ability to run circles around the Liverpool defenders, they will need to be vigilant to avoid fouling him in dangerous areas.
Anfield may no longer be the impenetrable fortress it once was, but it is still home to an extremely resilient Liverpool team that has not lost at home in a very long time. Arsenal are not the most consistent team on the road, but they have a brilliant opportunity to catch up to Tottenham if they can get a positive result.
Going out on a limb: Personally, after their cup win Liverpool might be on cloud nine and could be guilty of some complacence. Arsenal on the other hand have their eyes set on climbing the log and dethroning Tottenham if they can, they’ll come out all guns blazing (Sorry, I’ll stop now). I’ll go for a 1-2 win for Arsenal.
Van Persie has scored 3 less goals than all of Liverpool’s players this season.
Mark Halsey is the referee, and he has not shown a red card yet this season.