Another Must-Win and a Chance to Win Back the Home Support
Early season at the Emirates is ALWAYS a testy time. The narratives regarding the transfer window are never done and dusted if it’s August, after all. Add in a traditional and always difficult opponent–Liverpool–unbeaten and yet to give up a goal, plus the disappointment supporters are feeling after a flat opening day performance, and it all makes for a potentially volatile situation. All that ‘dry powder’ only needs a spark to set it ablaze.
On the other hand, rekindling the rivalry with one of England’s biggest clubs is perhaps exactly what Arsenal–and our home support–need to galvanize the Gunners–and the Gooners–to give their very best. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will be the song of the traveling support and a fine one to make them sing–in defiance–as they absorb a defeat at the hands of our club.
That was certainly the refrain back in April, when this fixture was last contested. In that one, although Arsenal missed a couple of gilt-edged chances–and allowed one at the other end–once the breakthrough was made, it turned into romp. Width was the answer, and, once we found it, the floodgates opened. Aaron Ramsey, roaming freely from a wide-right starting berth, put in his fullback, Hector Bellerin, for the first goal. Mesut Ozil soon doubled the advantage with a stunning free kick and Alexis Sanchez put the tie out of reach with the third goal of the half. Liverpool supporters had to walk together just for their half-time refreshments.
Given that we don’t play until Monday night, here’s the long version…
That was a fun day out but it hasn’t always been so easy nor so definitive, of course, and we shouldn’t expect anything less than a true challenge under the Monday night lights.
In fact, it was only 4 short years ago, in another early season showdown, that Liverpool put the hurt to us. I’m remembering the very desultory nil-2 home loss back in August of 2011, Samir Nasri’s last appearance in an Arsenal shirt, and memorable for Emmanuel Frimpong’s sending off. Frimpong, like Carl Jenkinson and Ignasi Miquel, who had to come on when Laurent Koscielny hobbled off early in the match, were ALL making league debuts and it was a period of great transition at the club. Soon it was overshadowed by the 8-2 drubbing at Old Trafford. Football is a game that is always in flux. We’ve come a long way as a club in those 4 years, yet the old wounds are never far from the surface.
Give this one a watch if you want to see the other side of the coin. The homemade quality of the vid, I think, adds to the sense of just how badly we were feeling our way through the darkness of those times…
This time around, Liverpool are the team in transition. With two victories and two clean sheets, however, it’s ‘so far, so good’ for our opponents, making it a great test for BOTH teams.
With that mentality they should be both unpredictable and playing with little to lose. This time, instead of Nasri off to Man City, the big move in that direction is that of Raheem Sterling. He was likely the most dangerous player in the April match and took away our clean sheet by winning a penalty against Bellerin. With the absurd money earned from the Sterling transfer (and saved from the departure of Steven Gerrard and his big contract), manager Brendan Rodgers has bought the big Belgian center-forward Christian Benteke from Aston Villa while also acquiring James Milner from the Northern Oilers on a free. Those two will be at the center of the new Liverpool attack as will Brazilian Phillipe Coutinho who probably has created Pool’s best moment of the young season, scoring a late winner with a shot from distance in their opener at Stoke City. As we’ve given up goals from outside the box and at set pieces, testing our still settling central defense and new keeper, Petr Cech, with similar shots will surely be on the cards. We should also be on the alert for attacks down our left side from young winger Jordan Ibe and/or the fullback behind him, another new signing, Nathan Clyne, picked up from Southampton.
As such, Arsenal might need to keep our own wide players leaning just a hair towards defending our own goal before allowing their attacking instincts to take over. On the ball, it will be important to keep the pitch spread while working hard so that we can win the battles in the center of the pitch. This is where Liverpool might be most vulnerable as they attempt to replace the presence of their iconic leader, Gerrard. New Captain Jordan Henderson has been given that charge but he usually requires a bit of help, often in the form of the very competent (but ever cynical), Brazilian Lucas Leiva. Both, however, are fitness doubts going into the match, meaning Rodgers might have to re-jig and use players like Emre Can to fill in or, perhaps, Milner or Adam Lallana in a deeper than usual spot.
Given these limitations Rodgers might also opt for 3 central defenders. Martin Skrtl and Dejan Lovren are solid defenders but could possibly use the help of Mamadou Sakho (who played ahead of our own Laurent Koscielny in France’s World Cup squad) or former Gunner, Kolo Toure.
It makes sense to me, given that our attack had periods of real menace in our 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace. I believe Arsene Wenger will set out an unchanged 11, but, you never know, and this could be a spot where Theo Walcott gets a chance up front alone or as part of a front 3 with Alexis and Olivier Giroud. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a starter in the opening match, is another option, wide right. The partnership of Ramsey, starting from that spot but clearly in a free role, though with an eye to combine with Bellerin–and help him at the defensive end–doesn’t fit with many fans more rigid ideas about positions and formations, but, I think, serves our purposes best, especially in these tougher, tighter matches. Here then is the team I believe Wenger will put out.
Bench = Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs, Gabriel, Arteta, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Of course, Wenger may have some other tricks up his sleeve and he might be keen to try out some other options just to avoid being seen as too predictable too early in the season. Could there be some changes elsewhere in the line-up? Might Captain Mikel Arteta–who looked a calming force late on at Palace–get a start in place of Coquelin? Could Wenger change things up in the back line or try something really off the wall? Your guess is as good as mine, but–even if we’re not quite firing on all cylinders–I believe this line-up, which, except for Cech in as keeper–is the same as we played in April, seems unbroken enough to avoid fixing.
But, that’s just me. What say the (other) Would-be-Wengers? Is this a time to keep to a conservative approach (and line-up) or is it early enough in the season to give it a real go and show the players and fans that the opener was just a one-off and that we can take it to a bigger club like Liverpool? Should the manager stick with tried and true or go younger and deeper (not to mention faster and harder… 🙂 …) from the opening kick? Have at it… After all, somehow we have to make it through the rest of the weekend and all the way to Monday night before we see the real thing.