Actual football returns as we take on Liverpool at the Emirates in what is probably the most important game during the run-in. Win, and we open a nine-point gap on the Mugmashers and maintain at least a seven-point one on Spurs and Southampton.
However, Liverpool is a dangerous team to play right now, exactly because of their position. Missing out on the top four hardly tops Liverpool’s priority list and the game against us is the last chance to put their campaign back on track. If they lose, they’ll most likely find themselves outside Champions League places come May.
Liverpool will have to fight tooth and nail, however, they’ll do so without several players. Gerrard and Skrtel miss out due to suspension, Lovren is also likely to miss the game (though through injury), while there are question marks hanging over Sterling, Sturridge, Lallana and Lucas.
I’m pretty sure Sturridge, Sterling and Lallana will play and I find it disgusting. Not their involvement itself, but rather the way Liverpool covered for them, so both wouldn’t feature for the national team and get a nice long rest for a key game. If they really do play against us, I suggest FA investigate how both players were too ill to represent England, but were miraculously revived to face us a week later. Back to Arsenal, however.
Team news update
Debuchy, Arteta, Wilshere and Diaby all played against Brentford behind closed doors (yes, Diaby!), though Arsene revealed most likely none of them will be involved on Saturday.
Which is completely understandable. Arteta and Wilshere haven’t played since the end of November, throwing them in the deep end in a game of such magnitude is risky, to say the least. Debuchy could have perhaps played, he was out for a shorter period, but Arsene knows his players better. If they need another week or two, then be it. It’s not like we don’t have depth to compensate for their respective omissions.
Oxlade also remains sidelined, while Welbeck’s participation is unclear. Wenger said the Englishman “has a little chance” to feature. So your guess here is as good as mine.
With all that more or less sorted out, time to put together a likely squad.
In Debuchy’s absence Bellerin should continue to deputise at right-back, though if Arsene chooses to start Walcott further upfield, a start for Chambers is in order. And I won’t rule out such a scenario.
Monreal will most likely be preferred to Gibbs once again, while I’d go with a Gabriel-Koscielny tandem in central defense. Whether it’s Sterling or Sturridge up top for the Mugmashers, I wouldn’t fancy Mertesacker’s chances. He may start as he’s vice-captain after all, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
I still remember what a make-shift midfield we had at Anfield: Flamini, Oxlade and Cazorla. And we paid the price for it. Cazorla desperately tried to hold onto the ball, the other two let him down time and again. It’s understandable: Flamini is Flamini and Oxlade isn’t a CM for now.
This time, however, we have options. I’d prefer to see Coquelin, Ramsey & Ozil started. Ramsey is in fine form, he’s our best number 8 and he’s forged a good understanding with Ozil.
However, I wonder whether Arsene will be itching to fit in Cazorla somewhere and not somewhere on the flank. Santi has been phenomenal in central midfield, though less so alongside Coquelin (or should I say Coquelin was less phenomenal in tandem with Cazorla? Link, Arsenal Column). I won’t be really surprised if the Spaniard starts. But again, I think Ozil really ought to.
Not the least because I have a feeling neither the German, nor Santi will, or, indeed, should be shifted out wide. A side as dangerous as Liverpool might just use it to our detriment.
If Welbeck is fit, then he, Sanchez and Giroud should start. However, difficulties will arise if Welbeck doesn’t make it.
Should we play Walcott in this case? After he had 14 touches for England in 55 minutes? Taking into account his contact situation?
I somehow get the feeling Theo will deliver on Saturday given the chance. So I’d start him (just not over Welbeck). He’s also a better winger than our other options, like Santi or Ozil.
Also, while we don’t have this problem just yet, it’s only a matter of a week or so before we do: squad depth. We have too many (can you believe it?) players for a starting XI and the bench. Some will have to miss out, maybe even as early as our next game. ClockEnd Italia (link) speculates who that might be. Give it a read.
Alright, I’m now going to try this reverse psychology thing: we are not going to win this game. And playing before our own fans and inside the Emirates (where we have only lost two league games in two seasons) isn’t going to help us in the slightest.
Look at the situation in the table. We literally have nothing to fight for, while Liverpool are a whisker away from challenging for the title.
Whichever way you look at it, Liverpool is just too much quality for us. We won’t be able to contain them, especially since we don’t even have a full squad at our disposal. Not a chance in the world we can beat them.
Our recent form also isn’t encouraging. Just look at how bad we were in the last ten league games and you’ll know how this one is going to end. Liverpool, meanwhile, are cruising to victories all over the place. And them having some key players out is just a mastermind diversion from Rodgers. We all know these key players aren’t actually the best, their replacements are. Brendan is just keeping it under wraps.
Phew, I’ve done my bit. And remember, if this reverse trick doesn’t help, it’s solely because some crazy Arsenal blogger out there not only thinks we can win this one, he also has enough stupidity to put it in writing. God knows there are fools aplenty around.
Back with a review.
And come on you Gunners.