The league campaign continues with the visit of Liverpool. It’ll be the first home game of the domestic campaign and it is always important to start on the right foot. Arsenal were the best away team in the league last season but ultimately even then we finished 12 points off the top. You don’t not need Sherlock Holmes to deduce that we need to improve on our form at the Grove.
The points that we dropped last season at home were inclusive of 4 draws and 4 defeats. Twice that of Chelsea/Manchester City and quadruple that of Manchester United. Two of those defeats came at the hands of promoted sides. We must start to utilize our home advantage and turn the Grove into a fortress, just like how Highbury used to be. On a psychological level, it is time we create a fear factor for the opposition whenever they play at our home ground.
I’m sure you can remember the corresponding fixture last season. Twice the same record was broken in that match. The record for the latest goal scored in a Premier League game is in the hands of Liverpool. It was past the 100th minute mark when Dirk Kuyt scored the equaliser. The man who conceded that penalty, Emmanuel Eboue has sinced left us and hopefully, history won’t be repeating itself here. Especially not when the Merseysiders have never won away to us since we move stadiums.
Kenny Daglish has spent heavily during the close season, bringing in the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and the latest one Jose Enrique. Add to that the January transfers of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, John Henry looks like he has given Daglish a couple of empty cheques. Do these players add to the strength of the Liverpool team? Of course they do but not necessarily the ones that will help bring back Anfield’s glory days.
They will be missing their talismanic captain Steven Gerrard. In his place, all eyes will be on Suarez. The mercurial striker was such a success towards the second half of last season and even helped his country win the recently concluded Copa America. On his last visit to the Grove, he was by far their most threatening player. Cleverly getting into spaces and has that penchant to try his luck from distance.
Carroll would also be the big threat that we will have to look out for. His height and strength will be a truer test whether our defence has improved or not. We’ve already got 2 clean sheets now and that is backed by resoluteness in defending rather than just luck. Thomas Vermaelen will be the one we need to count on to snuff Carroll out. We know the latter is taller than our defenders, hence positioning will play the major part in stopping him. If we get our position right, the only way Carroll can get the ball is to foul the marking defender.
On our side, the squad as a whole will be fully tested. Alex Song and Gervinho will be suspended for their stupidity during the opening weekend of the Premier League. Johan Djourou and Armand Traore joins Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs in the treatment room. Having seen such high number of casualties, it is weird trying to comprehend Arsene Wenger’s decision to rest Tomas Rosicky. Yes, the Czech midfielder has played 2 consecutive games but this is still too early in the season to start thinking about resting players especially when we are short in numbers.
That is the line-up I’m anticipating. Carl Jenkinson had a cameo at left back against Udinese and would probably continue there. Whilst I prefer a more experienced personnel in an unfamiliar role, by that I mean Bacary Sagna at left back, I don’t think that will happen. Up against Henderson, Jenkinson should have a comfortable game. Even if Downing is put there, the winger’s tendency to cut inside will suit Jenkinson as well. The only problem remains if Carroll drift to that position and Jenkinson would have to challenge for those headers, which hopefully, he can be able to cope.
In midfield, this will be Emmanuel Frimpong’s baptism of fire. Thrust into the role after the suspension of Song, he will have to be wary not to concede too much freekicks. Even more so if those are around the edge of our penalty area. In Adam, Liverpool do possess a player who can be quite lethal at freekicks. Aaron Ramsey will have to provide defensive support for his younger compatriot.
Samir Nasri is supposed to be in the squad but given his recent remark and relationship with the supporters, it’s best that we don’t play him. The supporters are in a very fragile state of mind at the moment. No point further infuriating them by starting a player who’s eyes has been turned by money. If the team needs the crowd to be their 12th man, starting Nasri would not help to achieve that. I know fans are supposed to be behind the team, whoever plays but there’s a risk that the opposite could happen.
So then, who to play the third midfield slot? I can see no further than Andrey Arshavin. This was the role which helped Wenger make up his mind to pursue the Russian in the first place. That was the position in which Arshavin excelled in Euro 2008 and showed to the world what a wonderful player he can be. I know he has never been played there while at Arsenal but such is the state of the squad now, there is no better time to give him a match there.
Up front, Theo Walcott and new captain, Robin Van Persie will continue their work in tandem. They seem to work well as a pair, as is shown with the numerous assist by the former to the latter in the second half of last season. The bigger question is, who will be the third player in that triumvirate.
I’m hoping it goes to Ryo Miyaichi instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The reason is simple. The Japanese has been training with the team since the start of the pre season and should be well ahead of AOC in terms of adjusting to how we like to set up. And hopefully, during these short period, he has been able to struck up a certain level of understanding with the other attackers.
The fact that a lot of pundits and experts have put their money on Liverpool to overtake us in the league, makes this match even more intriguing.Many have gone for a Liverpool win for this match. I don’t mind that one bit. The team seemed to respond better when they are not the favourites. This is set up to be a close encounter and I won’t be surprise to see one goal being enough to win this game.
Time to lay the first brick on that home fortress. Come on Arsenal!!