Arsenal v Liverpool, Premier League, February 10, 2010
For all the crisis talk which has engulfed Anfield this season, fourth-placed Liverpool head to third-placed Arsenal on Wednesday night knowing that victory at the Emirates will leave the Reds just two points behind the Wenger Boys and with plenty of time left in the season to push on to claim third place in the league. (Arsenal are 11/4 to finish in the top three, Liverpool are 4/1.)
It’s been a harrowing few weeks for Arsenal fans. Since climbing to the top of the Premier League, the north Londoners have managed to scalp only one point from three games as well as being routinely dumped out the FA Cup by Stoke. Arsenal have lost to title rivals Manchester United and Chelsea in back-to-back matches, leaving the Gunners hanging their heads after three defeats and one draw in their previous four matches.
Not only are the results stomach-turning for Arsenal fans, but after another uneventful transfer window, many are pointing to lack of spending from the Grove as a reason for what appears to be another year without silverware.
The long-term injury to Robin van Persie, and lengthy periods on the sidelines for Niklas Bendtner (16/5 to score) and Eduardo da Silva, has left the Wenger Boys without many options to play with an out-and-out striker in the team. While United have Rooney, Chelsea have Drogba, and Liverpool have Torres, the Gunners appear to lack a similar hustle-and-bustle centre-forward who can lead the line on his lonesome.
Instead the Gunners have opted to travel down a different footballing path. Abandoning the belief that they need a classic striker, Arsenal have adopted a pass-pass-pass style of football in which tidy control and team-work are the central team ethic. As such, captain Cesc Fabregas (5/2 to score)Â has taken over the role of the puppeteer in the middle of the park â€“ responsible for making sure the ball keeps ticking over and attacks are slickly put together â€“ while the likes of Andrei Arshavin (11/5 to score) (five goals in six games against Liverpool), Samir Nasri, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby buzz around the Spaniard as they try to bamboozle the opposition with their pace and movement.
The problem has been though that, whilst always remaining easy on the eye, the Gunners have lacked a cutting edge in recent matches and additionally they appear to have no plan B. Arsenal will continue to play their brand of football, whatever the situation demands. But when results aren’t going the way the locals would hope, as is the current situation, though football connoisseurs swear by Arsenal’s attractive attacking approach, voices of dissent in the corridors of the Emirates will continue to get louder and louder. (Arsenal are 12/5 to score in both halves.)
The return of Dane Bendtner should offer a more attacking options for Arsenal against Liverpool, but the spiky-haired assassin is both very young and woefully short of match practice, and remains far from a finished article yet. Other concerns for Arsenal will also revolve around their backline, with Gael Clichy looking to make amends after a error-strewn performance against Chelsea last time out, while Manuel Almunia still find himself forced to convince doubters that he is a truly top class keeper. On the plus side, Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas should be solid enough to handle the likes of Liverpool’s David Ngog (16/5 to score) for 90 minutes. (Arsenal are 13/8 to keep a clean sheet, 8/15 against.)
Yet Liverpool appear to have turned a corner of late, knuckling down to the basics that has seen the Merseysiders go unbeaten in their last five matches, while conceding just one goal in their last seven league games. (Liverpool are 7/2 to keep a clean sheet.) No longer do Liverpool appear to be a soft touch – Benitez has made his team hard to beat.
Defensive resolve, lead by the consistently excellent Pepe Riena, has been the key to Liverpool’s turnaround. But Rafa will be forced into changing his backline following the suspension of Greek centre back Sotirios Kyrgiakos after he was sent off against Everton last weekend. Jamie Carragher will likely continue at right-back, while Daniel Agger, Martin Srktel and Emiliano Insua will fill out the rest of the back four.
With the continued absence of Torres and Benayoun from the Liverpool attack, Rafa Benitez will need to assess how adventurous he is willing to let his team be against the always dangerous Arsenal. Itâ€™s been ten years since Liverpool last won an away league clash at Arsenal, and with that in mind the Spaniard may decide to err on the side of caution, at least from the beginning of the match.
Enforcers Lucas, Mascherano will be asked to stay competitive in central midfield, while Steven Gerrard (16/5 to score) and either Ryan Babel, Albert Riera or the so-far unimpressive Maxi Rodriguez will be asked to provide more attacking threat. Finally, with four goals in his last four matches, Dirk Kuyt (14/5 to score) will try and maintain his scintillating goal-scoring form in support on lone striker Ngog.
Arsenal may play the better football, but Liverpool have proved themselves dogged in recent weeks as they’ve clawed a Champions League berth back into their own hands. With that in mind, a score draw may leave both parties happy as they consolidate their top four status.
101gg predicts: Arsenal 1 â€“ Liverpool 1 (13/2)
Full match odds here.