Morning folks and here we are, finally back to a match day, thank gawd. Only it’s a match day in which if we’re honest probably doesn’t have that much riding on it.
Liverpool come to town and despite their poor form, they are still a side to be feared and we are a side who sometimes make its own fans fearful of it, so quite how this game plays out is anyone’s guess. I suspect we might lose it if I’m honest; we may be in better form since the turn of Christmas but with one eye on the Europa League next Thursday I suspect we might have our attentions on making sure there are no major injuries taking place, which to be honest I’m kinda ok with. The season has been a busted flush for us for a while. The only way we get into Europa – let alone the Champions League – via the domestic route is if we win all of our games between now and the end of the season. That includes Liverpool tonight, Everton at home and Chelski away and whilst I could see us winning in the other games against Sheffield United, Crystal Palace, Fulham and Brighton, I can’t see us picking up maximum points in those other three games I mentioned first.
That’s why I am kinda hoping Arteta has a bit of rotation in mind tonight. I’d be ok with Cedric starting if we play Bellerin on Thursday. I don’t think Chambers is the right man for the rapid Liverpool forward line, otherwise I’d be having him in there. And in defence I think Gabriel could probably play, but I’d be ok with him going with another option alongside him. That won’t be Mari as Arteta likes his lefties on the left and his righties on the right, but if Luiz is injured then it will most likely be Holding to come in. Then a decision needs to be made on Tierney. I am pretty sure he will play, but I wuldn’t be too cheesed off if it was Cedric on the left if I’m honest. Like I say, I am cool with rotation tonight, because in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it will matter to us in the league. We have left it far too late to mount any kind of proper charge and so let’s focus on those important Europa League games.
In midfield we’ve seen Xhaka and Partey in the middle and I think that solid spine should probably remain. Partey hasn’t played enough football this season so getting more minutes in his legs is important for momentum, whilst Xhaka is a guy who always plays and I would expect so tonight as well.
In front of them will be the real questions. Personally I know Saka trained yesterday, but I’d have him on the bench and start Pepe just to be sure, then I’d have Odegaard in the middle and take a call on the left. The call is Smith-Rowe or Aubameyang and if fit you do wonder whether Smith-Rowe will start. If he’s touch and go at the moment then you just shunt Auba there and play Laca through the middle. It isn’t our best team, but this isn’t our most important game of the season, so sacrifices can be easily made tonight I reckon.
Liverpool will also have some considerations to make. The league for them is about getting in to the Champions League spaces, because the title is done, but they are five points behind Chelski in fourth and if they lost tonight it would probably be all eggs in the Champions League proper for them. The challenge they have is that their game against Real Madrid is on Tuesday night and that means that Klopp has a dilemma on how much to rotate. Most of the main football sites have Liverpool starting with a pretty strong line up that will include Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson, Fabinho, Thiago, Wijnaldum, Mane, JOta and Salah and that is a side very capable of doing us a lot of damage. Jota scored on his debut against us and has also bagged goals whilst in a Wolves shirt I believe, so I suspect he’ll be up for this one. Plus we have to deal with the inevitable goal from either Salah or Firmino this evening. They always seem to score against us. The bar stewards.
But perhaps in that defensive line up we can look to some opportunities for us. Kabak and Phillips are a young and inexperienced duo and if we can get Odegaard on the ball and dictating play just in front of them like he did against West Ham tonight, we will get chances. It will then come down to whether or not we can take those chances. That’s where we need to see more from Lacazette like his last game, but certainly more from the likes of Auba too. If Alexander-Arnold and Robertson are pushing high up the pitch though, we could get pockets of space in behind when the ball transitions. That is where we will need to be quicker moving said football from back to front. If Liverpool are attacking us and the ball turns over, get it wide, get the likes of Pepe/Saka or Aubameyang running in behind, so we can see how that Liverpool back line is stretched.
As I said at the top of the blog I’m less fussed about tonight than I have been in previous years. That doesn’t mean I don’t want Arsenal to play well, it just means I’ll be able to cope with the inevitable shooting ourselves in the foot a little easier! But it does feel like this game is more about morale and momentum tha it is Premier League points.
I still hope we get the points though.
Catch you tomorrow.