Happy Easter Saturday in which let’s all be completely honest with each other, unless we get a win this lunchtime, won’t make this festive season a fun one.
Liverpool come to town and it’s a Liverpool team in which Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana will no doubt have miraculously recovered from the injuries that conveniently left them out for the duration of the England matches played over the last ten days, but not any Liverpool matches at all. I’m pretty sure if Arsène Wenger tried a similar stunt he’d be metaphorically hauled over the coals by the media, but I guess one of the advantages of ‘Being Liverpool’ is that the media either fall over themselves to edge an unspoken bias about that club, or they completely sweep things under the carpet.
Still, it is what it is and whilst Liverpool will have the collective threat of Sturridge and Sterling to concern us with, at least they are weakened defensively with the absence of Skyrtel. Whether Gerrard would have played is questionable, but in Lucas they have a combative player who is a dirty little scummer, so I’m sure Brendan is happy that he has more than enough to give us an uncomfortable afternoon. And no matter what anyone thinks, it will be uncomfortable for both sides I think, because United at home a fortnight ago aside, Liverpool were in great form and you’d probably say it was almost as good as ours. They’ve been picking up clean sheets and winning on the road and their home form has stabilised too. This is a massive game for them because three points keeps them well in the hunt, so much like we were desperate for a good performance against Monaco away, I think Liverpool might just try to take the same approach against us come 12.45.
For us it’s a chance to continue our momentum, but also put some very real daylight between us and the scousers, so we have to be massively up for it. Our returning players coming back from internationals all appear to be ok and when you look at the form of some, it’s hard not to fancy us from getting something in the game, although I’ll not go as far as pronouncing our victory just yet. Far from it, actually, as I still have the same old big game nerves I usually do.
The manager has an almost entirely fit squad to choose from, so needs to make some serious decisions about who his best XI are, as I’ll be darned if I know. I can have a stab at it, but it’s just as likely to be bailed on as it is a totally different side altogether.
I think Ospina starts in goal, with a back four of Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscienly and Monreal. Three of that four in defence haven’t played any internationals and so would be fresher for today’s challenge. Having said that, Gabriel offers more pace than Per and there are two pacey attacking players in Sturridge and Sterling, so it wouldn’t be unthinkable to see the Brazilian from the start.
Midfield simply has to have Coquelin at its base. Arteta may have returned to action in a friendly against Brentford, but Le Coq has been superb and his ability to break up the play will come in handy when creative players like Coutinho are on the ball. Ahead of him you’d expect to see the form player of the season, Santi Cazorla, whilst Özil’s displays also warrant inclusion I think.
I’d be surprised if Alexis and Giroud don’t start, but who will get that third spot? Theo may have been unimpressive against Italy, but in games like today, with opponents that are a little bit weaker defensively, I just wonder if this might suit him. Welbeck picked up a knock and The Ox is still injured I believe, so Theo may just find himself given an opening to the first team. If he is, he needs to take it with both hands, which means goals, threat going forward and work rate.
Whoever is left out, at least we had a mighty strong bench to choose from, with some very good players that won’t even make the squad.
We can’t afford to be timid today. Liverpool may well try to catch us cold by getting at us quickly with a high pressing game, so we have to be able to react, either with our own high press, or containment for the start of the match. The last time we played Liverpool for a Saturday kick off we were smashed to bits and the narrative that seems to have been built is that we don’t prepare properly for early kick off games. We need to re-write that media rhetoric. We need to win on our own soil and move on towards the goal of a top three finish.
Come on The Arsenal!