It’s Liverpool at the Emirates today and I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome of this game. Not so much because we demonstrated brilliant football in the first two games (though our first half against Palace was pretty damn inspiring), but because Liverpool simply don’t look up to scratch.
They’ve won the first two games, however neither can be labeled as convincing performances. A late 30-yard strike from Coutinho and an offside goal from Benteke is hardly a sign of a swashbuckling style to come.
That being said, the players found out the hard way what complacency can lead to. This is the Premier League, where even the newly-promoted teams don’t go down without a fight. Seeing as form at home is usually key when mounting a title challenge, we should build a decent record to have a go:
“If you want to have a successful season you want to be strong at home. Normally we are strong at home. This is an opportunity to show that.”
Team news update
The news is that there’s basically no news:
“We have nobody back from the players who did not play against Crystal Palace. All of the players who were available at Crystal Palace should be available on Monday night.”
The closest to a return is Jack Wilshere, though the Englishman won’t help us before the international break:
“[Playing before the international break] is a bit too optimistic, it’s too early to think he would be playing for England. After the international break he has a chance, but before the international break he has no chance.”
The good bit is that Alexis Sanchez is now fully fit. Which is pretty amazing, considering he took part in both Premier League games, thus his preparation has been disrupted. But then it would probably be foolish to expect anything less from our Duracell Bunny:
“On Monday night he will not be short of full fitness. It’s surprising because when he has not got the basic fitness required, he has the mental resources to dig deep and be combative to fight. He also has the talent.”
As for Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers side has seemingly lost Henderson to a foot injury. The captain limped off at half-time against Bournemouth and didn’t take part in full training today. I expect Emre Can to take up Henderson’s place on Monday, effectively partnering James Milner at the base of the midfield.
This is what Brendan Rodgers said on how his side will approach the game:
“If you assess the last 10 games Arsenal have lost at home, it was about dangerous possession for the teams who won. They only averaged four shots on target with 43% possession. That tells you you don’t need to dominate the ball but you can dominate the space. That is important in the away games.”
If these words are anything to go by, it means Liverpool will cede possession and try to hit us on the counter. Quite how the brilliant attacking-minded Can and Milner will help them turn defense into attack quickly is anybody’s guess (maybe that’s what Rodgers been working on all week?), but that’s not the important thing here.
The important bit is that Liverpool will try to push us out of their half by pressing men in possession. Knowing we have a knack of attacking down the middle (no wonder, Ozil and Cazorla play there), they’ll probably try to congest the middle of the park.
Where does it leave us? In need of width. As such, I can see Oxlade coming in for Ramsey. The trick with Ramsey on the right in this particular case will not work again, as Liverpool are now playing with a back four. Oxlade, meanwhile, will give Gomez a torrid time and provide us with an outlet when things get crowded in the middle of the park.
The other possible changes Wenger may be tempted to make? Gabriel for Mertesacker and Walcott for Giroud. Both are unlikely in my opinion. In case with Gabriel it’s simple: Wenger seems to prefer Mertesacker at this stage. His aerial prowess and positioning can be vital when up against Benteke.
Theo up front for Giroud has the potential to be quite ineffective. With Liverpool sitting back Theo won’t have much space to thrive on, while I don’t fancy his chances in a direct battle with Skrtel and Lovren. Theo’s hold-up play is also whack, something that can only impede our flow in and around the box.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Bellerin – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Monreal – Coquelin – Cazorla – Ozil – Alexis – Oxlade – Giroud.
Last time we faced the Mugmashers you all remember what happened. Our high-energy approach, crisp passing and lightning speed in possession proved too much for Brendan Rodgers’ side to cope with. Our pressing game was spot-on and despite Liverpool’s best efforts to push us out of their half, they failed miserably, something that was down to Arsenal just passing the ball around their press.
Coquelin was one of the key figures then: his sweeping abilities broke up a lot of Liverpool’s attacks before they even managed to cross the halfway line. I expect Coquelin to be no less important on Monday.
However, we were caught out on the counter a couple of times. Liverpool no longer have Sterling to rely on in these situations, but Coutinho is still around. He mostly operates from the right, with a tendency to drift inside, so we’ll need Alexis, Monreal and Coquelin to be fully switched on defensively.
That dangerous counter-attacking style Liverpool deployed last time is what made me consider Gabriel at centre-back: Mert was a bit suspect in April and sometimes struggled to keep up with the speed. We’ll see if whether Arsene is thinking along the same lines soon enough.
All in all, while I don’t expect us to cakewalk the game, I’ll be hugely surprised if we drop points. The quality of our squad is such that should we turn up with the right attitude (like against Palace), the three points should be ours for the taking.
So come on you Gunners.
Back with a review