Here we are folks. A festive match day is upon us and just as I suspected, all of that excitement ahead of this top of the table clash against Liverpool this evening, has been replaced by a nervousness. And it is a top of the table clash this evening because depending on the result today, one of these teams are going to be top at Christmas, after Villa surprisingly slipped up at home to Sheffield United. It’s safe to say I don’t think any of us saw that coming.
And if you’re a Liverpool fan today knowing that your side hasn’t lost to The Arsenal in the league at home for over a decade, you probably aren’t seeing anything but a win at home coming in this evening’s kick off, but my hopes and Christmas prayers are that we get served a little something different up today. We’ve got the best team we’ve had going to Anfield since our last win and with Saliba and Rice back in the team it feels like we’re much stronger than the side who drew last season after going two goals up. So my hope is that we show up and put on a display against what will be a very vociferous home crowd, gee’d up by Klopp’s comments during the week and sure to bring a bit of noise and atmosphere to try to put us under pressure.
But as Arteta said yesterday in his press conference, it will be up to us to quieten that crowd down, which can be done by playing well from the first minute. We’ve seen over the last year or so that we can sometimes be a little tentative when we start games, or switch off, so that’s what we have to be super mindful today. Liverpool will want to blitz us in the opening 15 to 20 minutes and if they create early chances and are given more of the ball, then they might just get their wish. Remember what happened at Villa just a couple of week’s ago? We were by far the better side, but Villa came flying out of the blocks in the first five minutes, roared on by the home crowd, then went ahead. After that initial flurry they sat back and did nothing. Liverpool will want to replicate that blueprint, but the difference is that they are much better than Villa and if they go one up in the first five, ten or 15 minutes, then it could be a lot worse because they won’t sit back like Villa did and give us chances.
So it feels like we need to ride out the first 15 minutes, then grow in to the game, without any stupid early mistakes. I bet Arteta is at pains to stress that to his team this evening.
As for that team, I think given injuries and player availability, as well as the fact we’ve had almost a week since our last game, we’re probably looking at:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zimchenko
Odegaard – Havertz
Saka – Jesus – Martinelli
It’s the best team we can muster and it’s a good team, but aside from Nketiah, Trossard and an only recently returned to fitness Smith Rowe, we have not a lot of options to mix it up from the bench. So it feels like this team are going to need to do the bulk of the heavy lifting if we’re going to get anything tonight.
And I’ll be honest with you, I’d take a point, even if it means another year without winning at Anfield. If you’re going to be Premier League title winners you probably need to be able to go to your title rivals and win away from home; in 2004 we did it at Anfield with a superb Pires goal, last season City came to our gaff and beat us, so it does feel like you need to be making a statement by winning away. We’ve got the City win at home knocked down, but our record at the Etihad, Anfield and even Old Trafford is, to put it kindly, abysmal. We just never win at those places. So I think a lot of us are looking at this game and hoping that something amazing can happening tonight and it can change.
Maybe that can be today, maybe it won’t, but if it is then we’re going to need to win some key battles. Mo Salah has 15 goals in 24 games in all competitions this season and up against Zinchenko he’ll fancy his chances. If we had Tomiyasu fit there’s no way that Zinny starts, but with him out Arteta needs to call on the Ukrainian to probably have the game of his life. Then in midfield there is a battle and it’ll be interesting to see how we get on against Gravenberch and Endo, with Trent inverting in to midfield a la Zinchenko from last season. Trent is having a fabulous season since his position has changed, but much like when Zinchenko vacates the space, Martinelli may just find himself some time to have a run. We have to hope so. Then on our right and Liverpool’s left, Saka is up against Tsimikas and with Robertson injured, that’s a match up that you’d hope we’ll see more from Saka. Tsimikas is a snidey little f**ker though so he’ll need to be careful; I suspect Saka is going to get some kicks tonight.
Which comes to my final worry, which is another PGMOL disaster-class, which is perfectly plausible this evening. There is no conspiracy; the PGMOL are not all against Arsenal in an overt way, but they do carry with them a subconscious bias I think. We don’t get 50/50 decisions going our way and we certainly won’t do this evening, so we just have to hope that we don’t do anything to give the referees and their assistants an excuse to punish us, be that through penalties or red cards or any other kind of marginal decision that could be game-defining.
Liverpool will be missing Robertson as I’ve already mentioned, as well as Matip – although they have Konate instead so I don’t think that’s a massive downgrade – but the one that usually always scores against us is Jota, so that’s good news for us. Firmino is long gone to haunt us, but Darwin Nunez scored last season and I suspect he’ll be on it tonight as well as Salah. Then we have the rapid Luis Diaz to contend with and in that front three they have enough firepower to trouble our back line.
This feels super tight to call and I guess the opening salvo’s will probably define how the game goes. If we play like we did for the first half an hour last season then we might have one heck of a game, but given them impetus to get their tails up and it could be a long night.
Amandas is going to go live after the whistle this evening so you can join her on the channel later this evening to digest what transpires. Should be live on our YouTube channel this evening at some stage – here.
Catch you wonderful humans tomorrow – hopefully with some points to The Arsenal to speak of.