13 August 2016

Look to Theo to lay waste to Liverpool...

After a season in which our lads achieved their best finish since 2004-05, it's strange but also all too familiar to fret about our chances going into 2016-17. Despite pipping Tottenham to finish behind Leicester's legendary season, the same qualms and doubts persist. With Guardiola and Mourinho to contend with, it's anyone's guess whether we have what it takes to stay in the top four, much less replicate last season's theatrics. Sunday sees us kick off the season against Liverpool—but we're already in mid-season form, at least as far as injuries go. As dire as the situation seems, we do have one ace up our sleeves—Theo Walcott.

At Liverpool's end, they continue to treat Southampton as their own academy, having signed Sadio Mané to bolster their attack (and Georginio Wijnaldum from Newcastle), but their real trouble from last season stemmed from injuries and a porous defense. There was once a time when Simon Mignolet was rated among the better keepers in the Prem. That time was long-gone. Then again, Liverpool might add through subtraction—the departures of Kolo Touré and Martin Škrtel might deprive the Keystone Klopps of a fair amount of experience in the backline, but those same departures allow Klopp to deploy shinier, newer models. Long story short, there should still be enough unfamiliarity and uncertainty in this defense for Arsenal to take advantage.

It's there that Walcott should rise to the occasion. With Giroud out, it's likely that he'll play through middle. In a preseason in which he's bagged a few goals and assists and—more importantly, I'd suggest—looked far more incisive and assertive than he has in some time, this could very well be a make-or-break season for him. He seems to lack that ruthless, cutthroat mentality that separate the elite from the wannabes, and his preseason performance matters all the more. The confidence he should glean from those goals and that decision-making should carry over against a Liverpool defense that is retooling on the fly.

With Santi Cazorla pulling strings from the defensive midfield, and with Ramsey playing as a central attacking midfielder, Walcott should have ample support and supply. With Iwobi and Alexis flying along the wings, Liverpool shall be flummoxed, even if Klopp likes to play a counter-attacking style. With new man Ragnar Klavan pairing with Dejan Lovren in front of Mignolet, Walcott should be able to pick and choose his spots, floating all along the front line, popping up here and there often enough to pin back Clyne and Moreno on the wings while daring the bigger, slower centre-backs to track him without getting dragged out of shape.

Even if it's not Walcott who scores the goals, look to him to discombobulate Liverpool's defense enough to allow those behind him—Alexis, Ramsey, Cazorla, to name a few—to sluice into the space he creates. One way or another, Mignolet will should have his hands full...even if only to pick the ball out of the back of the net.

FACTFILE
  • Arsenal have not lost at home to Liverpool in 19 of our last 20 matches across all competitions.
  • Arsenal have scored at least two goals in eight of our last ten matches against Liverpool across all competitions.
  • The two clubs first clashed in 1893, a 2-0 win for Liverpool.
INJURIES
Koscielny, Giroud, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Jenkinson, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, and Özil have all been ruled out.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI
Čech; Gibbs, Monreal, Chambers, Bellerín; Xhaka, Cazorla; Iwobi, Ramsey, Alexis; Walcott.

Walcott, leading the line, will finally answer his critics and prove that he can play through the middle.

PREDICTION
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool.

Read this far? Might as well drop down below the fold to share your thoughts about this match or about the upcoming season. Does Arsenal have what it takes to win the Prem, or are we shadows of our former selves?