Liverpool-Arsenal: The Series, Pt. 1
Over the course of seven days, Arsenal and Liverpool will face-off three times:
Wednesday at the Emirates for the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, Saturday again at the Emirates for an important Premier League match, and finally Tuesday at Anfield for the quarter-finals second leg.
This series will reveal some interesting aspects of both clubs.
Arsene and Rafa, the strategists
It is hard to catch a smile on the faces of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger or Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez. Both carry their poker faces well, even when they're ahead in a match.
Wenger has an obvious advantage in playing two of the three matches at the Emirates. If Liverpool scores an away goal in the first-leg CL match at the Emirates, then Benitez has an advantage in playing the last CL match, and probably the deciding one, at Anfield.
This three match series offers a unique chance for us to see Wenger and Benitez strategize likes generals, as they can fix their eyes on three consecutive battles with one enemy. Look to see whom they start each match, how they substitute players, and if they capitalize on their opponent's weaknesses in successive matches.
Is Liverpool made for Europe?
"Come on," you say. "Give me a break. I'm tired of hearing about how many times Liverpool have won the European Cup. When are they gonna win the EPL?"
You raise a good point. But I'm talking about what drives the heart and soul of this club, not if winning European Cups is better than winning the EPL.
After Steven Gerrard drilled a 20-yard shot in the final moments to solidify a two-nil win over Inter Milan, defender Jamie Carragher commented that his captain "is made for the Champions League."
Some have said similar things about Liverpool itself. The Reds can transform into a different team when they are pressed against the European elimination wall.
We saw the turnaround in the last match of the 2004-05 group stage, when they plowed their way to the Finals against AC Milan. In that match, they were three goals down in the first half to Milan, until Steven Gerrard orchestrated an amazing comeback that ended with Liverpool as Champions of Europe.
The turnaround has happened again this season, when after three straight CL matches without a win (1 draw and 2 losses in a row) and facing possible elimination in the group stage, Liverpool became a different team. Starting with their second game verse Besiktas, they won their next five CL matches, outscoring their opponents 19-1.
While one may argue that they should have been playing that gloriously the whole time, that's not the point. The point is that the heart of this team beats for Europe. Even Arsenal acknowledges it.
Last year, Arsenal eliminated Liverpool from both the FA Cup and League Cup. Liverpool will be ready for a non-EPL rematch with Arsenal this year, especially since it involves Europe.
This series will reveal again how much Liverpool's European passion really matters.
Arsenal's priorities are…
"Mr. Wenger, you can pick one of these matches to win, one of them to draw, and one to lose."
That would add an intriguing twist to these matches, but we're allowed no such pleasure. While we know the stigmas about Liverpool's priorities regarding Europe, reading between the lines may help us see where Wenger and Arsenal's are.
At this point, Arsenal have only an outside shot at the EPL title. But after the recent comeback against Bolton, we see they still have some fight and they are not giving up on the outside shot in the EPL.
The Gunners sit six points behind Man United, but aren't too worried about dropping below fourth. Arsenal have five EPL matches left after facing Liverpool on Saturday. One of those matches is at Old Trafford not even a week after the Liverpool series ends.
Will Arsenal throw out all the stops in Saturday's Liverpool match, hoping they can win Saturday, AND at Old Trafford AND that Man U will stutter before the season's end?
Or will they focus their attention on the Wednesday and following Tuesday Champions League matches?
Here's Part 2:
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