23 August 2015

Can Arsenal exploit Liverpool's soft underbelly?

There was a time, believe it or not, when these two clubs vied for supremacy. I’d like to make a play on “Prem” and “supremacy,” but the era defies such word-play. Ever since 1989, when Arsenal won the First Division in epic fashion, the two clubs have parted ways. At one level, that match seems to mark the arrival of the modern game where television revenues are so central to so many decisions. Whether it also marks the decline of a once-great franchise—Liverpool—is another question.

It’s an odd question, given how close Liverpool came to winning the Prem two seasons ago and the fact that Liverpool did win the Champions League in 2005, all the more so when we consider that Arsenal, since 2005, can boast only of a few FA Cups and Community Shields, the lion’s share of those coming in the last two years. Still, the traffic to and from Anfield and the Emirates is telling. While we might lament the loss of van Persie or Fabregas, Liverpool have seen the likes of Sterling, Suarez, and Carroll leave for greener pastures—literally and figuratively. In the meantime, they’ve tried to compensate by buying up anyone willing to come to Anfield, a motley crew to say the least. Whether Rodgers can bed in so many new signings in short order is, well, a tall order.

By contrast, Arsenal have taken an at-times agonizingly slow approach to rebuilding, with the additions of Özil, Alexis, and now Čech. To have signed players from Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Chelsea seems to signal greater ambition than signing players from Aston Villa or Southampton (no offense, Villans or Saints…). Then again, Liverpool are off to a fine start, controversy-marred or otherwise, while Arsenal languish midtable. It’s early days, to be sure, but every point matters, and Liverpool are the only club to have claimed all the points available to them.

This is not to say that Liverpool’s current squad is built to contend over the long haul. However, we know full-well the threat that Benteke can pose, but the real question in my mind is whether Liverpool’s back line can handle our attack. While they’ve kept two clean sheets, they’ve done so against Stoke and newly-promoted Bournemouth. Can Škrtel, Lovren, and Gomez contend with the threats posed by Alexis, Özil, and Ramsey? Gomez, just 18 years old, has already collected two yellow cards. Something suggests that we’ll target him aggressively with Ramsey and Bellerín, pinning Coutinho back in the process. Liverpool will have to find a way to support Gomez on that left flank without sacrificing their own attack if they hope to have any chance of escaping the Emirates with their pristine record intact.

LAST 3
Arsenal 4-1 Liverpool (04.04.2015)
Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal (21.12.2014)
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (16.02.2014)

FACTFILE
The two clubs first met on 1 August 1893, a 2-0 win for Liverpool.
Arsenal are undefeated in 18 of their last 19 home matches against Liverpool.
Arsenal have scored two or more goals in seven of their last eight against Liverpool.

INJURIES
Wilshere, Welbeck, and Rosický have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Cazorla, Coquelin; Alexis, Özil, Ramsey; Giroud.

Despite the early-season follies from Arsenal, Liverpool will struggle to replicate its wins over Stoke and Bournemouth.

PREDICTION Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool