They say it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.
In Arsenal and Liverpool’s case, they’re still undressing the fat lady and figuring out how to chuck her into the bath—let alone getting her out of the dressing room onto the stage. It’s a while yet before she has to sing.
For the two clubs that have been written off as title contenders and preferred more as title pretenders—tonight is a key match. It’s not so much the must win game that the media cheering squad make it out to be. I feel that both teams want a positive result from this game for psychological reasons.
Liverpool have had a season to forget and it’s paramount for them to consolidate their position and mark their territory for the fourth Champions League spot for next year. It’s only a couple of months ago when they were totally written off and I must admit, I too expressed my fears of Liverpool dropping to mid-table mediocrity.
Personally, I feel that it’s now going to be hard for Villa, Man City, or Spurs to dislodge them off the fourth spot—especially since they’ve now smelt and sat on it for a while. The difference is that Liverpool are experienced campaigners and out of the fourth spot chasers, they have more big game nous than the rest.
Arsenal, on the other hand, will be hoping that Aston Villa and Everton repeat the feats they achieved against Man United and Chelsea respectively in the first leg encounters.
However, it’s absolutely pointless for Arsenal to hope that Chelsea and Man United will drop points—if the Gunners are not able to take advantage by claiming full points. Chelsea and Man United will for sure drop points, least against each other, but Arsenal has to win all the remaining 13 games to have a chance of winning the title.
It’s important though, that before we talk about winning titles, the team gets back to winning ways a game at a time. Arsenal is a confident team and to be frank, confidence is running pretty low at London Colney right now.
There’s two ways to look at this: The Arsenal team can call last orders and we can all go through the motions and fulfil the remaining fixtures before folding our tents and waiting for next season. I’d much prefer that the team restores their confidence and fights tooth and nail for every minute of every game. There’s a hell of a lot at stake, not least the pride of the players and supporters.
Tactically, I can see Benitez going with his two guard dogs of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva marauding around his midfield and trying to stop Arsenal’s flowing game. Their defence is wearing thin especially since their Greek defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos obliged to the legend of the Merseyside derby and collected one of the customary red cards for the privilege of missing tonight’s game.
The flaw with this defensive minded strategy for Benitez has been that Liverpool then don’t have much creativity to take advantage of the balls that the messy defensive midfielders win. They miss the sort of creativity that Xavi Alonso provided as a bridge between defence and attack, and the jury really is still out on Alberto Aquilani who hasn’t really set the Premiership on fire.
Arsenal should be able to contain Liverpool’s passing game, and hopefully, our propensity to attack gung-ho will have been reigned in a little considering the gift of two goals that we’ve recently given opponents from counter attacks.
Liverpool must hate the sight of Andrey Arshavin as Arsenal hate the sight of Didier Drogba. The diminutive Russian has been quite vocal off the pitch though you feel that he’d be better placed converting his guilt edged chances and avoiding the media like the plague.
From an Arsenal point of view, Wenger has his preferred midfield of Cesc, Diaby, and Song. The three haven’t played together for a while now, but it’s time they got into their stride. Eboue looked brighter than Sagna when he came on last Sunday and he may offer a better option on the right flank defensively and offensively.
Up front, Bendtner must be given a chance to start. Like Walcott, he has been away for a while and whilst I sympathize with Walcott’s lack of game time to regain his confidence, I think that Bendtner has a lot more to offer at this point in time.
Walcott will do much better in a game devoid of pressure where he doesn’t feel the stress of having to express himself well. He needs a game that he can play with a smile and not have to worry about impressing the England team camp before this summers World Cup.
Arsenal, for now, need to forget any title ambitions or any champions league fixtures. They need to use this game to regain a psychological edge. They need to use this game to lift their spirits and lift the spirits of the Gooner nation.
Liverpool won’t come to the Emirates to make up the numbers. We may have beaten them twice already this season, but that counts for absolutely nothing.
The second half of the last game against Chelsea showed good signs of Arsenal’s recognition about what seems to be our Achilles heel. Despite a good attempt to chase the game, Arsenal were solid defensively in the second half and that discipline needs to be maintained.
A top performance more than anything is now due from the Arsenal team. I sincerely hope that the two losses against United and Chelsea have given the team enough food for thought about how to approach the next game. One game at a time will do for now.
Enjoy the game wherever you are.