Arsenal Weekend Preview: Expect Olivier Giroud to Open His Scoring Account
Arsenal have not lost in their past five league trips to Anfield—a run that extends all the way back to the 2006-07 season, when Liverpool exacted revenge for three previous losses to the Gunners, in league play (3-0) and the FA (3-1) and Carling Cups (6-3).
Though the Reds won 4-1 on that March 31 evening, they have since drawn three times ('07-08, '08-09, '10-11) and lost twice ('09-10, '11-12) to Arsene Wenger's side.
The most memorable of this past string of games was Andrei Arshavin's four-goal performance in the '08-09 season. In his 11th game for the Gunners after signing in January from Zenit St. Petersburg, the Russian dynamo produced one of the most unforgettable individual exploits ever seen from an Arsenal player, sweeping aside braces from Fernando Torres and Yossi Benayoun.
But how things have changed since that April 21 night—and not just for Arshavin, who has become the epitome of a bit-part player at the Emirates. Benayoun is on his second consecutive loan deal (West Ham United until January after signing on a season-long basis for the Gunners last season) since moving to Chelsea in summer 2010.
Fernando Torres, who followed Benayoun to Stamford Bridge the following winter for a now-infamous fee of £50 million, has seen his own career stagnate before an apparent re-kindling this past summer for Spain at the European Championships (where he somehow, someway emerged as the Golden Boot winner) and in the nascent league season for the Blues, where he's scored twice.
Looking now to Arsenal's upcoming trip to the red end of Merseyside—the fixture is scheduled for a mid-afternoon Sunday kickoff of 3:30 GMT—the Gunners are poised to send out a side with 10 changes from three-and-a-half years ago (although Abou Diaby and Theo Walcott, both likely starters this year, came on as substitutes that night).
Liverpool's selection shouldn't be that drastically changed—they have a chance to see three starters from that night back on the pitch (Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger and possibly Jaime Carragher).
It's one of the bizarre workings of football, that teams seem to change so frequently, and the side Arsene Wenger sends out on Sunday will be a markedly different one than even last spring, when a Robin van Persie brace fired the Gunners to a 2-1 victory in early March.
New signings (or, in Arshavin's case, relatively new) have a habit of scoring in his particular fixture, with Arshavin's four goals coming in just his 11th game for the Gunners. (The Russian would get the winner eight months later, when his superb strike, seemingly out of nowhere, gave Arsenal a 2-1 victory two weeks before Christmas '09.)
Marouane Chamakh notched his first goal in his Premier League debut two seasons ago, although Laurent Koscielny, signed that summer alongside the Moroccan, was sent off with a straight red card.
Giroud and Podolski in particular will be approaching this match with relish.
Both have come desperately close to scoring their first competitive goals for their new employer, with Giroud botching a right-footed effort against Sunderland and Podolski seeing a debatable incursion from Stoke City's Andy Wilkinson deny his close-range effort on his favored left boot.
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Wenger noted that Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, former Arsenal stars and members of the 2003-04 Invincibles side, took some time to find their feet after moving from Juventus and Olympique de Marseille, respectively.
Neither was an automatic starter after making the switch to England from another country—a path trodden this past summer by Podolski, who came from Germany (FC Cologne), and Giroud, who crossed La Manche/English Channel from France (Montpellier Herault).
These latter two have already started a Premier League match, and will be looking to continue their upward trend.
Both looked lively during last weekend's trip to the Potters, with Podolski appearing to acclimate to the left wing, where he normally plays for Germany.
Though Arsenal have not scored in their first two league games—Wenger has said that he is "50 percent happy, and wants 50 percent improvement" for the Liverpool encounter—it seems likely that they will open their account on Sunday.
With games against Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea on the docket this month, a positive result (and some goals scored) would be a massive boost of confidence for this side that is still attempting to discover its identity.
Giroud, in particular, is a good bet to find the back of the net.
"I only want to take my place, gradually make my mark and win over the hearts of the fans," Giroud told the official website earlier this week.
The 6'3" striker has moved quickly to dismiss comparisons to the departed van Persie, and for good reason. Though both are left-footed, the similarities largely end there. Giroud is a far more imposing physical presence in the attacking third, and while he lacks the individual guile of the departed Dutch No. 10, he is a superior aerial threat.
Those 25 goals he scored last season for Montpellier don't mean nothing. Expect him to have scored his first for the Gunners come this time tomorrow.
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