This time last year, Arsenal was in shambles, managing to stay afloat relegation waters after an atrocious start to the season that saw Arsene Wenger’s side lose two of their first three games. Swansea visited the Emirates in a nervy encounter, but a Michael Vorm error allowed Andrey Arshavin to score the goal that restored belief back to a team bereft of confidence after that humiliation at Old Trafford.
One year later, a lot has changed but Arsenal isn’t still in a pretty situation in the Premier League. With just two games gone, the Gunners have showed their mettle defensively with two consecutive clean sheets but they are also firing blanks upfront, as Robin van Persie’s replacements haven’t arrived at the party yet.
The transfer window has been slammed shut and no new acquisition was made by the club, but Arsene Wenger has explained his decision not to buy,
“Spending in itself is not a quality. Buying better players than we have – that is a quality.
Since the boss is content with his present crop of players, we as fans have to forget about the M’Vilas, Bilgias, Cabayes and holding midfielders from Krypton for the time being (till January) and show the club our full support. Besides, Wenger has also stated that he loves rebuilding his team and he’s unfazed by players that seek greener pastures elsewhere.
Unlike Sunderland and Stoke that defended in depth and numbers, Liverpool offer a different challenge. Brendan Rodgers new-look outfit was torn apart by West Brom but they gave Manchester City a run for their money, even though the Citizens have to be thankful for the gifts offered on a platter.
In recent times, Arsenal’s visits to Anfield have been faithful, with the Gunners unbeaten in their last five visits. Amazingly, the last four Arsenal-Liverpool league meetings have seen a total of five goals after the 90th minute (van Persie’s winner at Anfield last year, Suarez’s match-clincher at the Emirates, those two penalties in the 1-1 at the Emirates in April of 2011, and Pepe Reina’s own goal equalizer at Anfield in the 2010/11 season opener).
Each of the last three meetings at Anfield have seen both sides suffer ignominies of scoring calamitous own goals (Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey last season; Glen Johnson in December 2009.)
Last season, Liverpool ran the show against the Gunners, but there was a certain Robin van Persie that proved to be the difference between both sides. Unfortunately, he and the little boy inside him have headed north to Old Trafford and he’s now a distant memory.
Despite being early in the season, this game is of great significance to Arsene Wenger’s side because the outcome will play a vital role in making or breaking the team’s Premier League campaign. On the bright side, a win at Anfield (amen to that!) would see Arsenal leapfrog into seventh place, with five points to show for it, but a loss would put Arsenal in a somewhat similar situation with the start of last season, and that’s a feat the fans have no plans of relishing again.
There’s also an international break before the home tie against Southampton, so a victory in a ground like Anfield will keep the spirits high ahead of the next fixture, where the floodgates are expected to be open. Arsenal’s lack of goal scoring thus far might be attributed to the loss of van Persie and lack of cohesion in the forward line, but Sunderland and Stoke put up dogged defensive performances. Judging from the comedy defensive show Liverpool put up against Manchester City, I’m tipping the likes of Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski to break their ducks.
To team news, both sides have their fair share of injuries but Arsenal’s treatment table list outnumbers Liverpool’s list 3 to 1. The Gunners are still without Tomas Rosicky (Achilles), Bacary Sagna (broken leg), Emmanuel Frimpong (knee), Lukasz Fabianski (shoulder) and Jack Wilshere (foot) while the club is sweating over the fitness of Wojciech Szczesny (rib). Liverpool, on the other hand, are without Lucas (thigh) and Joe Cole (hammy).
Szczesny’s deputy, Vito Mannone, kept a clean sheet against Stoke and he’s looking forward to facing the Reds. He looked assured against Stoke and a clean sheet must have done wonders to his confidence. The Arsenal defense will have to show off Steve Bould’s continuous impressive work when they come up against a very pacy Liverpool attack.
Youngsters Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson have been very impressive in their respective full back positions and they’ll be odds on to retain their slots. However, the gaffer will be in a dilemma in making his central defensive pairing, as Koscielny has been declared fit to play at Anfield. Skipper Thomas Vermaelen is a sure-fire favorite to start and Per Mertesacker has been outstanding thus far, but I’m a bit concerned with the speed of the Liverpool attack.
Irrespective of the back four Wenger chooses, I’ll want them to pick up where they left off against Sunderland and Stoke.
In midfield, Wenger has a vast array of options to pick from, but I have a hunch that he’s going to stick with his present triumvirate, Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla. With Wenger opting not to purchase any replacement for Alex Song, Diaby will have to give the fans a reason to believe in him, and a stellar performance in Anfield could see the lanky Frenchman win a few hearts (mine included). The Spanish duo of Arteta and Cazorla have been very consistent thus far and there’ll be some pressure on them to deliver yet again.
In attack, the newbies, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski will get a run-out again, but they’ll be supported by
Theo Walcott. The speedster has been in the spotlight recently with his refusal to sign a new deal, but we hope that he’ll let his football do the talking with a goal or two against Liverpool. Based on what I’ve seen in his six-year stint with the club, Walcott doesn’t deserve £100,000 per week and Wenger has stated that he won’t raise his proposed pay.
Arsenal, it’s time to kick-start your Premier League campaign.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.