After the reverse match at Anfield earlier this season, there were plenty of optimism surrounding the club. Hopes were raised due to the manner how we started the season. The defensive resilience that we long craved for, looked like it was finally arriving and we can finally build a title challenge around it. That turned out to be an outlier of a performance and we’ve looked as far away from being a title challenger as one could be.
The solidity of our defence faded soon after. Some blame it on the changes in the training ground and instructions. Claiming that Arsene Wenger wasn’t happy with the plaudits that Steve Bould is getting for the defensive improvements. Believe what you will, just know that we can agreed that that performance has rarely been seen afterwards. We only achieved the next clean sheet, 10 matches after the win at Liverpool and only a total of 6 clean sheets in 32 matches that proceeded that win. That is really poor record by any stretch of the imagination.
It would hardly be as bad, had we find the target as much as Manchester United had, at the opposite end of the pitch. It’s not that we are a low scoring side, we are currently the third highest scorers in the league. It’s just that we have delivered quite a few hammerings and not enough of spreading the goals around the matches. In Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, we have players with high numbers in both the goals and assists charts. Though, it does seem that they do well in matches when everyone is performing and less so when the team is struggling. If any of that made sense.
Having made changes at the weekend, it would surprise me to see Wenger not pick his best side for the visit of Liverpool. Which should mean that Bacary Sagna, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott; all come back into the starting line-up. Liverpool may have lost to Oldham in the FA Cup but they are in decent form prior to that defeat and are only 3 points behind us in the table. Let’s not give them the impetus and allow them to creep up on us, not forgetting the importance of us climbing up the table in search of the Champions League spot.
Having a match on the 2nd final day of the transfer window has its relieving purpose. We have a match to concentrate on and don’t have to think about who we’re not signing in this January window. All the concerns about the squad strength and what we’re lacking can be put behind, for at least a couple of hours before and after the match. Whether the result of the match can impact the manager to go full out on the last day to secure new players, remains to be seen.
For the players, the task today remains simple. Stop Luis Suarez from scoring and make sure we don’t make Brad Jones look any lesser of an amateur than Oldham made him to look like. The first part is tricky. The Uruguayan is in his best goalscoring form in his Liverpool career and can be a handful, especially to slow defenders. His ability to spin and turn quickly will cause Per Mertesacker a lot of trouble. Given the German’s form lately, we should not take the risk and hopefully we’ll see Thomas Vermaelen returning with Laurent Koscielny alongside him.
As for making Jones look bad, I hope our coaches picked up a pointer or two from that Oldham game. Take shots if and when possible because Jones looks easily shaken and his handling isn’t the best either. Not saying shoot from halfway line but for one game, we’re facing a poor shotstopper and we should capitalise on it. Our forwards will have to take a chance and be at the ready for any fumble that comes along.
Wilshere should continue to be the hub in midfield where he will go up face to face against his supposedly “hero” in Steven Gerrard. A dominating tireless performance from Wilshere against the ageing legs of Gerrard will go a long way to ensure that we gain the upper hand in midfield. With Mikel Arteta still injured, I’m tempted to have Aaron Ramsey stay in deeper midfield and Cazorla out wide.
Another 3 points please. With freeze in ticket price for next season, it should be a double cheer. Make it triple with a new signing?