Saturday, 4 April 2015

Arsenal vs Liverpool: Match Preview

Preview | Pre-match conference | Team news

The race for second is much better than the race for fourth, but we're in just as much of a risk of falling as we are of rising.

That sounded like a Batman quote, didn't it?

I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be nervous or excited for tomorrow. Our run of form has been encouraging, yet thoroughly overrated. The expectation of defeating Liverpool almost comfortably tends to turn into pressure very quickly, and we don't react favourably to that.

An early goal could be vital here. Once our nerves are settled there's no denying we can devastate almost any opposition. Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil, in particular, tend to flourish when the atmosphere is more relaxed. Liverpool have been on a good run but the loss to United would have hurt, and an early breakthrough could turn their confidence to ash.

We must be going for the win. Manchester City are crumbling, and Crystal Palace could take advantage of that. On the other hand, United have a pretty straightforward encounter against Aston Villa. Dispatching away Liverpool will not only keep United at bay and give us a shot at second, but would also do away with Liverpool for good.

I'm wary of Liverpool. They looked like a clueless side earlier this season, but it turned out Rodgers had a plan. Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen are playing well, Sterling and Coutinho give them the extra edge, and they may be missing Martin Skrtel, but Sturridge is seemingly going to make it. It's easy to forget that he almost scored thrice at the Emirates last season.

David Ospina seems set to start in goal, and he should, for he hasn't done anything apocalyptic to warrant a dropping. Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal would start in defence, and despite Debuchy returning from injury it seems he may not be match fit enough and Bellerin may get the nod.

The only worry I have about Bellerin is that he tends to drift towards the center a bit too much, but that may work to Arsenal's advantage as Liverpool's presumed left winger - Coutinho - tends to cut inside rather than run down the wings. Alberto Moreno may give him pause for thought though.

I like Bellerin, but if Debuchy is fit enough I hope he's given a start because his experience could bode well for us. This is the business end of the season and an extremely important game, which is why I'd rather not see any mucking about.

Francis Coquelin is the obvious candidate in central defensive midfield, but it's his midfield partner who could win us the game. I really hope that one of Jack Wilshere or Tomas Rosicky are given a role in this game - assuming their fit enough, of course - because this is the kind of game they tend to revel in. Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla are technically sound, yes, but Wilshere or Rosicky add that extra bite and flair in midfield to counter that of Henderson's. It's the manager's call, of course, but I would really prefer seeing a Rosicky or a Wilshere on the pitch.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are somewhat of a given to start, but the question lies as to where to start them. Sanchez should play on the right flank, no doubt, as Bellerin will need defensive support. My gut says Ozil would play on the left with Cazorla in the center, but I really hope that's not the case. Ozil only ever played well once on the left flank (against Aston Villa at home - hardly a barometer of his quality). If Ozil is to start, I don't see any other place to play him than in the hole. If there's no place for him in central attacking midfield, fine, get a Walcott or a Welbeck in there, but please don't diminish his powers out wide.

Giroud's improvement has been fantastic, and we need another performance of that ilk today. There'll be huge pressure on him to cut the mustard, and rightly so. We need an early goal, and we cannot afford to see Giroud have a stinker, like against Monaco. Say what you will about his current form (and I'd probably agree), but Monaco at home was the only other match where the stakes were really high. Giroud has been scoring against big teams this season, which is great, but for me he still has to do more to convince me that he's a reliable Plan A.

We're really wedged in between City and United, and it goes without saying that we need to win all of our games to have a greater comfort zone. This is definitely the time of the season where results are all that counts, even though good performances invariably lead to good results. Take this one game at a time, rest and rotate players whenever necessary, and we could get out of this pivotal stage looking handsome.

This game ought to be really difficult, but it's still winnable. Flying out of the blocks is key, because an early goal will leave them rocking. Maintaining focus is pivotal too. We rode our luck a lot against them in the 2-2 draw against December. Instead of showing them too much respect or give them confidence, we must intimidate and bully them. Because I see little chance of an Arsenal victory if we play on the back foot or keep handing them the initiative.

Come on Arsenal!

Extra reading : Crazy About EPL | Arsenal vs Liverpool : Match Preview and Prediction

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]

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