The way in which I try to temper my own intensity and nervousness over a football game is usually to start at the lowest base point and work upwards. What I mean by that is that in my head, if I start at the point in which my expectations are that we will lose and put my mind into that mindset of trying to feel what I will feel if it happens, it becomes a kind of coping mechanism.
Some might argue that it’s an awfully negative way to prepare for an impending Arsenal game and certainly to an extent I’d agree with you; I’ll be spending the day at work mentally preparing myself for the disappointment rather than getting overly excited for a game that could end up being massive for us if we win it. But it is just the self defence mechanism I have built up over many years of being a Gooner and I can’t really change it now.
Having said all of that, I can’t lie to you and say that it builds up the necessary mental fortification of my mind so that I don’t feel the nerves. I am feeling them right now, pulsating through my arms and touching the tips of my fingers as I tap away at this laptop. I feel it in the pit of my stomach and occasionally already today – and the day is young and before 7am as I write this – I get an occasional skip of the heart.
That’s because the test that we face this evening is by far the most difficult of the current winning run and good form. Liverpool come to the Emirates. It’s a Liverpool with an excellent record against us, having lost just once in the last 13 games against us, with nine wins and eight draws in the various matches we’ve played them home and away. In that time there have been some real batterings and it has felt as though Liverpool under Klopp just know how to beat us. They knocked us out of the League Cup by winning 2-0 at the Emirates as early as January and if you’re a bookmaker or a neutral looking at this game you probably aren’t looking much beyond Liverpool for the win.
They are in a tremendous run of form and they have players who are playing so well it does feel as though there is even a little bit more momentum for them than Man City right now. They are a chaser for the title and sometimes that focuses the mind more, so for Arsenal I think this probably represents an even more difficult game than the one on New Year’s Day against Man City. It feels like we are playing Liverpool at the peak of their powers this season and so for Arsenal to get anything from this game one feels like we need 11 players in red and white to play eight or nine out of 10 performances this evening.
But here’s the other thing; we are playing well too. I still think we might get beat tonight, but our form is such that I am pretty confident that we’ll give Liverpool something to think about. Players like Odegaard and Saka are in scintillating form in the final third of the pitch and we have a player in Thomas Partey who feels like he’s getting back to the Atletico Madrid Partey we bought a couple of years ago. In defence we have a team who has just kept a clean sheet and whilst I must confess I am very nervous about Diaz up against Cedric this evening, other than that I am hopeful that we can see big performances from our young team.
And here’s another reason to be cheerful, as was pointed out to me by James last night as we did the Same Old Arsenal pod – our midfield compared to Liverpool’s midfield is a match I think. Their midfield is Thiago, Henderson and Fabinho. Up against an inform Odegaard, Partey and Xhaka, I think we could match up with them and at least be as good as they are. Of course I don’t think our front line is anywhere near as good as Liverpool’s, but if we can win that midfield battle then maybe, just maybe, we can get something from this game.
Liverpool will look to do what they always do; use the ability and skill of Trent and Robertson to get in to those wide positions and dominate the flanks. They will look to take advantage of Tierney and Cedric and for us to have a game in which we look resolute and ‘on it’ this evening, you do feel as though we need to keep those full backs pinned back. In the game at the Emirates I thought Martinelli played quite well and so when Trent bombs forward, if we get turnovers in play, we have to get the ball to him and see if he can get in behind. On the other flank Saka will want intricate passing with Odegaard and so I don’t think he’ll be running in behind Robertson as much, but if the Scot pushes forward that much then you never know how much space he might get.
This is going to be a struggle though. Liverpool have scored 73 goals in the Premier League this season, which is an average of 2.6 goals per game. They WILL score tonight, we have to accept that, so the question is more how can we get the most out of our attacking players to ensure we are also given enough chances to beat them. The odds are stacked against us, but thankfully having beaten Leicester at the weekend, it doesn’t feel as though this is as much of a high pressure game as it could be.
The atmosphere will be good tonight I think. I think the home fans will be in raucous mood and even if Liverpool score first, I still think the fans will do their best to get behind the players. My hope from that is that it lifts those players up and makes them not feel inhibited by the weight of pressure; go out there, play your way, express yourselves and show the watching world just how far we have come.
I’ll be there tonight and I fully expect myself to be without voice come tomorrow morning. Let’s just hope that it is for good reasons too.
Catch you all tomorrow.