There were plenty of people scoffing yesterday at Liverpool’s loan deal for Steven Caulker, but as an Arsenal fan whose seen plenty of goals conceded to the unlikeliest of candidates, I was not one of them. Klopp is a very precise man and he knows exactly the type of player who fits in to the system that he wants to play and he explained the Caulker signing as one in which premier league experience and ability to win aerial duels is important, because opponents will always play longer balls, when pressed higher up the pitch.
Thankfully Arsenal aren’t that type of team, but we do know how Liverpool will look to set up against us tonight, with a high tempo pressing game not too dissimilar to the way in which they played a few seasons ago when they obliterated us at Anfield.
Perhaps it’s enough to get us worried – Lord knows I am – but there are still signs of hope that we could get something from the game tonight. For one thing, Liverpool’s injuries are well documented, and a central defensive partner in Toure and Sahko have mistakes in them. But equally we have frailties in our side, as the 4-0 defeat to Southampton showed, so I’m not going to suggest that because of Liverpool’s ailments we’ll get an easier ride tonight.
We need big players to click and we need to nullify Liverpool’s threats. Despite all the talking of absentees, the Liverpool midfield will still include Milner and Henderson as the drive, Lucas as the fouler, as well as Benteke as the aerial threat and Ibe as the pacey up-and-coming threat on the wings. There’s enough talent in those players to trouble us and I do think we’ll struggle not to concede. Liverpool have been pretty indifferent of late, but the whole squad was practically rested against Exeter, which I think means they’ll be a little more spritely than us.
However, we have also been able to rest up a key player in Mesut Özil, who will return and will surely be looking to add to his assist or goal tally this season. It’s a shame we can’t have Alexis ready for tonight, because I think he’d fancy having a crack at either of those centre-halfs today, but we still have the pace of Walcott and Campbell on the flanks so I would like to think we’ll test Liverpool on the counter.
This game is a hard one to call I think. Liverpool have shown that they have big performances in them, like City away, but at home they’ve struggled to break teams down and have been caught out. That’s been because teams have hit them on the counter, but I don’t see us sitting back and soaking up pressure all night like we did against City away last season. We have the ability to do that, but I think it’s often based on the teams psychology towards an opponent. I can’t find the quotes from Arsène, but I’m pretty sure he has said that on that day away to City, it was the team who decided the style of play to an extent. I know I’m putting two and two together here, but I think that was based on an acknowledgement that on the day, we couldn’t go toe-to-toe attacking wise against them. So instead we tried something different and it paid off. Against Liverpool tonight, I don’t think the teams mentality will be the same, because I think the Arsenal players will see the Liverpool side and think “we can have a right to at them tonight, boys”. Hey, if it works, then happy days. But we need to maintain an element of defensive stability against a team with players who can turn it on. Benteke is a classic example and if he fancies it tonight, he’ll be a handful for Big Per and Kos.
What we have to do is strike the right balance. Monreal and Bellerin are good on the overlap and if we get enough space, they’ll find chances to get in behind Moreno et al. But we need to make sure we’re not over committing players, because that will suit Liverpool, as it’ll allow them the space to counter us.
If I could write the script for tonight, it would be similar to that of 89. We’ve all hear the players from then talk about how George Graham told them not to give an inch in the first half. Then, in the second, we took advantage to win the league. If we do the same tonight I’ll be more than happy. Let’s frustrate Liverpool at first, draw them out after the fans start to get frustrated, then hit on the counter in the second half. If we do that, it will be a tactical masterclass from Arsène, who has a pretty poor record against Klopp so far.
Winning tonight and at the weekend would be huge, ‘Season defining’ style huge, but if you offered me a point I’d probably take it. That may sound defeatist against a Liverpool side who look to be flagging, but it’s about staying undefeated and keeping momentum right now, and a draw does that.
Up the Arsenal!