01 November 2013

Kos will be key vs. Liverpool

Saturday's match provides us with our first truly stern test in the Prem as, despite our fine form, we still see only two points separate us from 3rd place Liverpool. Had Suarez, scorer of six goals in four games, not missed Liverpool's first six matches, they might have done better than to draw against Swansea or lose to Southampton. As it stands, he and the club as a whole are in fine form indeed, and this looks to be a real barn-burner.

As I see it, the key match-up—at least the marquee one, as it looks on paper—will be Suarez against Koscielny. Sturridge may lead the team with 8 goals, but he's less mercurial or volatile. Blunting Suarez's runs, dribbles, and shots will key, and Koscielny will be the man who puts his shoulder to that wheel (although gently, as we all know that gravity pulls extra hard on Suarez, especially in the opponent's box). Koscielny explains his approach to man-marking thusly:
On man-marking, I don’t let the striker breathe. I love one-on-one challenges...my aim is to never let the striker open on his good foot to go towards goal. You have to be very intelligent.
I have faith in Kosicelny's intelligence and ability to stay close to Suarez. Who to pair with Kosicelny, though? Although Vermaelen played tolerably well on Tuesday, and conventional wisdom suggests Mertesacker should return, I might go out on a limb to call for Sagna to pair with Koscielny in the center. Between Sturridge and Suarez, we haven't seen two such quick forwards together, and I worry that Mertesacker, for as great as his positional awareness is, will not be able to stay close should one of them slip past Koscielny.  However, that still leaves Sturridge to account for, which is why I'd prefer Sagna's mobility over Mertesacker's positioning.

While Suarez is fleet of foot and can be lethal, I have a lot of faith in Koscielny's ability to stick tightly to him. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Suarez gets frustrated at how difficult Kos will make things for him, not that this would prompt another Suarezian meltdown, but it could be enough to unsettle and distract him. A frustrated Suarez is an ineffective Suarez. After all, for as much as been made of Suarez's goal-scoring form, it's been a while since he's faced an individual defender as tough as Kos.

Of course, it's not a one-on-one match, and each player will depend on those around him for support. Liverpool will likely overload the midfield with five men, and it's there where the match will be decided. Whoever controls the midfield will, of course, control the outcome. With Flamini out, of course, we'll certainly see Arteta and Ramsey pairing in the defensive midfield. Reminding Ramsey not to overcommit to the attack should provide more cover for the defense. With Flamini, Ramsey has had more license to roam, but Arteta lacks the pace or tenacity to allow Ramsey so much freedom to press forward. Having said that, playing Wilshere through the middle with Cazorla left and Özil right should offer us the creativity and incisiveness needed to both control possession and unlock Liverpool's back three. Between Skrtel, Toure, and Sakho, there's a great deal of height but not a lot of pace. They'll sit back so as not to concede pace behind them, but they may struggle to prevent the dribbles and shots that our midfielders can create for themselves, for each other, and for Giroud.  Giroud may not see many chances for aerial duels between Skrtel and Sakho. Then again, he could see some nifty opportunities coming from our left flank, coming near-post (as he so often does) to beat Toure. Truth be told, though, he might be most dangerous at creating chances for teammates to run onto.

I know that there's a certain degree of doubt about our form. Despite having started so strongly, there's the nagging doubt borne from having played a soft schedule and from losing our two highest-prolife matches. Let's put that to rest in two ways: one, we were unlucky against Dortmund and fielded a tossed salad against Chelsea. By contrast, Liverpool have feasted on similarly skimpy fare. It's true that they beat Man U at Anfield, but this is not the Man U we remember from years past. I think we'll see a return to form for our boys—I'm going to go out on a limb to call for a 2-0 win. I think the squad is ready to shake off the doldrums of the last ten days or so and reclaim the form that put us top of the table, simple as that.

Before we part ways, I apologize for beating this drum, but I hope you'll take a minute to vote for me in the Football Blogging Awards. I'm proud that Woolwich 1886 is one of six finalists in the Football Blogging Awards' "Best New Blog" category. I'll drop the "it's just an honor to be mentioned" charade—I want to win. Therefore, I'm hoping that fellow Gooners will take a moment to vote:
Thanks, as always for your visit. 'Til tomorrow...