Sunday, 16 February 2014

Arsenal vs Liverpool: Match Preview

This match might just be our biggest of the season.

The FA Cup represents our best chance of a trophy this season. I'd argue that it is our only chance, seeing that we can't come close to competing with City's and Chelsea's world-class squads in the EPL. When one sorts out priorities, it becomes painfully obvious that winning the cup is much likelier than the league or the CL. I still think that we are quality enough to win this coming game, if the manager plays his cards right.

But will he play his cards right? He's said as much that he's looking to rotate his squad for one of the biggest games of our campaign. Why would he increase the chance to get eliminated from the Cup? So that he loses by a lower margin to Bayern Munich?

Liverpool also view the FA Cup as their best chance for a trophy, so one can be sure that they will field their best possible lineup today. With no European competition for them to look 'forward' to in midweek, I'm certain that we will see a lineup featuring Gerrard, Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge. Remember, it's a lineup that so comprehensively defeated us merely a week ago, and is well capable of doing so again if we remain so complacent, distracted and uncommitted in defence.

So why are we looking at rotation here? I can understand some changes - players like Flamini, Podolski and even Fabianski and Bendtner are tolerable because our key men need a breather. However, if Wenger decides to play Jenkinson, Monreal, Gnabry or (god forbid) Yaya Sanogo, then he shall have little excuse should we lose.

And lose we will. Unless we play our strongest squad possible and remain mentally motivated, I see no way that Liverpool won't win today. Brendan Rodgers is a very good manager who will doubtless take advantage of Wenger playing a weakened side, yet it seems that such a scenario is plausible to unfold.

We have to face realities. Beating Liverpool at home in the FA Cup is much more probable and productive than beating Bayern Munich at home in the Champions League. I'd actually be okay if we play Wojciech Szczesny, Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud today, and be forced to field Lukasz Fabianski, Tomas Rosicky and Nicklas Bendtner against Bayern. To me, today's game carries much more significance than Bayern's.

However, I'm sure Wenger doesn't see it that way. Even though we have quality players that can smash the Mugs, expect to see Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Nacho Monreal and Nicklas Bendtner in the starting XI today. Of course, I'd want Arsenal to win even if they field eleven Yaya Sanogo's out there, but I wouldn't count on it.

While Santi Cazorla is out for this match, I suspect a motivated Lukas Podolski would make a seamless transition on the left flank. However, it's the other positions that worry me. I'm praying for a lineup of The Back Five guarding the goal, with Flamini and Wilshere in midfield. I'd love to see Chambo on the right and Podolski on the left, with Mesut Ozil or Tomas Rosicky just behind Giroud or Bendtner.

However, such is the stubborn mindset of Arsene Wenger that he almost considers it protocol to rotate in an FA Cup match, be it against Liverpool or Bournemouth. I'm expecting dreading to see Jenkinson, Monreal, Gnabry or Yaya Sanogo in this match, with key men like Gibbs and Giroud benched. I can only hope that our substitute lineup pulls the surprise of the season by beating one of the best Liverpool sides in a long time.  

Manchester City's victory over Chelsea means that they are the only other top side remaining in the FA Cup. We need to take advantage of that and defeat Liverpool at the Emirates today, or else our season will disappear in a trice. Winning the Barclays Premier League is a step too many for this side, while winning the Champions League remains the most wildest of fantasies.

If we are to win this game, I'd promptly call our next FA Cup match as one of the biggest of the season. However, a loss is unacceptable, mainly because it would all but confirm a fact that most have feared about.

A ninth trophyless season.

P.S. I know that Arsenal have announced a £120.6 million profit, which would mean that at least £100m would be available at Arsene Wenger's disposal. Don't get too excited though, you can't trust Wenger with all that money. Remember Project Youth?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )