Here it is, Arsenal's first real testing match of the Premier League season. We are currently on top of the league following a run of great form. With only two points dropped this season (at home to Blackburn after a Jens Lehmann clanger) we will be going to Anfield with plenty of confidence. Rafa Benitez's Liverpool side will not have the same morale though.
Whereas the Arsenal squad find themselves on a run of twelve straight victories, and come off of a 7-0 midweek win over Slavia Prague, Liverpool come into this match with only one victory in the month of October. The Merseyside team, which is currently in fourth in the Premiership, suffered a humiliating 2-1 defeat at Besiktas on Wednesday, and have also drawn with Tottenham (who Arsenal defeated 3-1) and lost to Marseillie 1-0 this month. Their only win of October came against their arch-rivals Everton, and even that came only after many favorable calls (a doubtable penalty, as well as two penalty shouts for Everton).
In terms of injuries Liverpool are also slightly worse off. Missing out will be Harry Kewell, Daniel Agger, and most importantly new signing Fernando Torres. Liverpool will find it tough to crack a thus far watertight Arsenal defense without the young Spaniard.
Arsenal are also missing their top striker, Robin van Persie, who was injured on international duty with the Netherlands. The only other injury to Arsene Wenger's squad is Philippe Senderos, who was unlikely to start anyway.
Wenger's lineup will almost certainly feature Manuel Almunia in goal again, and I have to say, I am starting to gain some confidence in the man.
In front of Almunia will be Bacary Sagna, Kolo Toure, William Gallas, and Gael Clichy. Our back line has been solid so far this season (conceding only 6 goals in all competitions, with two being Lehmann blunders) so I don't think that we should concede many goals, even against a quality Liverpool side.
The midfield will once again be a bit tough to predict, but I once again suspect that Arsene Wenger may drop Emmanuel Eboue in favor of Tomas Rosicky. On the other wing will be Alex Hleb (who was instrumental in the 7-0 dismantling of Slavia) and in the center will be the effective partnership of Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini. While Liverpool have an impressive midfield lineup (especially Steven Gerrard) I think that Arsenal should be in control for most of the action in the middle of the pitch. Fabregas and Hleb are masterful passers, and Flamini's tough tackling will keep pressure on the Merseysiders. Fabregas, Hleb, and Rosicky will all be potent goal threats, and Hleb, if he plays again like he did against Slavia, will wreak havoc on the Liverpool defense.
Up front, Emmanuel Adebayor will partner either Theo Walcott or Eduardo. Walcott would be my preferred choice, as he was electrifying on Tuesday. However, Eduardo is also a threat, and with goals hopefully coming from midfield I don't know how much help we'll need up front.
Arsenal's offensive players can run rings around even the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, and Steven Finnan. For that reason, we should be able to create lots of chances, and if Adebayor manages to take a few of his shots well, he should be able to score at least once. With goals also coming from midfield, I think that we will be able to get two past a tough Liverpool defense.
The Liverpool attack has also looked decidedly blunt without Fernando Torres. I think the Reds will step up against the quality opposition provided by our youngsters though, so we will have to look out for Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, and Andrei Voronin.
This game (and next weekend's game against Manchester United) will be the defining point of our season, and if we manage to win, we can finally silence the pessimists among football pundits. Liverpool will be a stern test, but I believe we can win this one 2-1, with Liverpool's goal coming from a Steven Gerrard set piece.
Friday, October 26, 2007