This will be a really tough game today. Mark my words. Don’t believe anything you read that suggests that Liverpool’s woeful 2017 form will give us hope, because I certainly am not and I fully expect them to be more up for it, than ever before.
I watched the Liverpool/Tottenham game at Anfield a couple of weeks back and whilst it was delightful at the time to see the Totts get swept aside, I think oh sadly it was also the blueprint that I expect the scousers to adopt against us today, because they know what they have to do to beat us.
In the reverse fixture at The Emirates at the start of the season we may have been undercooked, but regardless of that we still didn’t know how to deal with Liverpool’s high press and I’m expecting more of that this evening. Those Liverpool players will be reminded of the way they swept us aside in the first 20 minutes a few years ago and they know that mentally this Arsenal team can be as fragile as a an ancient Ming vase sometimes. So for me I think the tone of this game is set in the opening exchanges. If we turn up at Anfield and look passive, unable to keep accuracy in our passing and folding under players pressing high, then we’ll get battered. But if we can hold off Liverpool for the first 20 and grow in to the game, you never know, and that is what we all have to hope for today.
At the sharp end of the pitch is where we have to be ruthless. We have to take our chances and we have to have runners in behind. The high press tactic from Liverpool will work if the whole team presses. If that is the case, under a turnover of possession, you have to be ready to counter-strike. That’s why Leicester battered Liverpool in the score line. They played ‘rope-a-dope’ on Liverpool and with the scouse defence being what it is, it was easy pickings for the likes of Vardy.
That’s why I’m praying Arsène goes for pace and movement without the ball today. That’s why I’m hoping we see Walcott, Perez or Welbeck, either side of Alexis. My preference would definitely be Perez, because he can play off the shoulder of the last man and will make runs in behind, but I can’t work out in my own mind whether I’d like to see Walcott or Welbeck. The reason I say that is because Walcott has a better goalscoring record than Welbeck, but we all know how anonymous he can be when it comes to large sections of a football match, which won’t happen if you play Welbeck. But Welbeck isn’t as natural a finisher and will he play on the shoulder of the last man as much as Walcott? I’m not sure that he does.
So that’s why I’m thinking Walcott and Perez would be the best option in today’s game. Alexis will drop deep and want the ball, so when that happens we’ll need people ahead of him and I like the balance Lucas and Walcott could offer.
Without Özil today might also make it possible for Arsène to play those three. He’s been persisting with Iwobi out wide and it hasn’t worked for me, but if Iwobi plays in that number ten role we have a direct runner and three pacey forwards, so I’M hoping that’s where Arsène’s head is at today. Then, with the Ox and Xhaka behind him you have two players who will look for those balls in behind Liverpool’s back line, so pace and counter attack by quickly moving the ball from front to back becomes a realistic game plan and one we haven’t seen too much this season from Arsenal.
The back five will remain as is I suspect, but they are looking pretty fragile and I don’t have much hope in them holding back Liverpool’s attacking threat, so by the time we are breached, I just hope we’ve already got one, two or even three!
I’m not holding out much hope though. It’s good that the team has had time off to recharge, but we haven’t turned up for a big away game in literally years, so why change what is becoming a habitual thing? The players are capable of winning it and a victory would go some way to restoring a bit of my faith in the team, but right now I would take the dullest football match on earth for a 0-0. Psychologically I have no idea what defeat would do to this lot, but by 6pm tomorrow evening I expect every one of the teams around us to have picked up three points, so we could be staring down the barrel of 6th place by then.
Let’s just hope the worst doesn’t come this evening.
Come on Arsenal. Show us you have some mettle.