12 January 2016

Can Liverpool's "reinforcements" upset Arsenal's applecart?

Steven Caulker. The man...the myth..the legend. Such is his prowess that he's already completed a loan from Southampton, widely seen as Liverpool's youth academy, to Liverpool proper, after helping the Saints keep not one but two clean sheets in three appearances totaling 144 minutes. Truly, he is a stalwart foe, one to be reckoned with. One need only understand his name before fully understanding his prowess. "Steven", of course, derives from the Greek Στέφανος, which translates to "all-encompassing." Surely, one could think of no better than for a footballer than this, one whose career will soon encompass all levels of English football? "Caulker" can only refer to his ability to caulk to many leaks in Liverpool's injury-ridden defense.

One of these former Cardiff players is superior to the other...
There was a time when we at Arsenal coveted Klopp, hoping that his heavy-metal approach could elevate Arsenal above its "classical music" approach. His gegenpressing, after all, had brought Borussia Dortmund to the brink of Champions League glory and threatened to end Bayern Munich's hegemony over the Bundesliga. However, the early byword for his tenure at Anfield has got to be none other than "hamstring," in reference to the innumerable hamstrings pulled since his arrival.

Indeed, what havoc might Klopp have wrought on an already-injury beleaguered Arsenal squad? Far more, perhaps, than this injury-ravaged Liverpool squad. By most reckonings, Liverpool will certainly be without seven regulars, including mainstays such as Coutinho, Skrtel, Lovren, and Ibe; as well as occasionals such as Ings, Origi, Gomez, Rossiter, and Flanagan; and you've got a squad with a serious injury-bug. This doesn't even include the Diaby-esque absence of Daniel Sturridge or the potential absences of Touré, Sakho, or Henderson.  All told, this looks like a squad ripe for the plucking.

Then again, Liverpool has struggled with these injury-woes for quite some time, and a similarly-riddled squad eviscerated Man City 1-4 at the Etihad, so woe betide those who write Liverpool off. We have a chance to go five points clear of our closest rivals and avenge a certain 5-1 thrashing from 'round about two years ago, so we can ill-afford to mail it in to Anfield. If anything, we will have to approach the match as one approaches a wounded, cornered beast—warily, but with a view to a kill.

For all of those injuries, Liverpool have not succumbed, winning at Stoke and Sunderland either side of a loss at Upton Park. They'll now stake their fortunes on a three-match homestand, hosting us, Man U on Sunday, and then Exeter on Wednesday next week (in an FA Cup replay after drawing at League Two's Exeter on Friday). Before scoffing at that last bit in parentheses, keep in mind that Klopp did name a squad full of youngsters.

Whereas Klopp is stuck in the mire of an injury-crisis that shows no signs of letting up any time soon, Arsenal is gathering strength. Heck, Tomáš Rosický is back in full training! While we'll still be without a few others (Alexis, for example, is still a bit short of fitness), we have to look forward to this fixture as one in which we can close out any hope Liverpool has of rising into the top four while also putting some points between us and Leicester and Man City, if not both.

Who's the man who'll rise to the occasion? I'm looking at Theo Walcott. He hasn't scored since getting the first against Man City in that 2-1 win, and even though I've doubted his bona fides in recent weeks, he's been lively of late, and Liverpool's shortage of actual defenders going in has got to have Theo licking his chops. After all, when your opponent rushes in to loan in a centre-back of Caulker's, erm, quality, you have to salivate just a bit. Whether Theo and his compatriots can tuck in will be the question of the day.

In the end, there's just too much in this one for Arsenal to overlook. We simply have to smash these Scousers. I'm not calling for a 1-5 result, but we should at least leave Anfield with three points. Clean-sheet optional.