Matchday Preview

A Draw v Arsenal Just Won’t Do

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ARSENAL at Anfield: always a good game, and it usually ends in a draw (remember Liverpool 4 Arshavin 4 a couple of years ago?) But a glance at the table shows us that that won’t do this year. Never mind the top four – we’re in danger of losing touch with the top six, as Newcastle cling on most creditably and Chelsea just aren’t collapsing quickly enough (it’ll come, it’ll come). This one is a must-win.

Remember the near miss of 2009? In our games against the rest of the top four, we took 14 points out of a possible 18, doing the double over Man Utd and Chelsea – it was only Arsenal we couldn’t beat. Of course we were scuppered by dropping four points to Stoke and getting beaten by relegation-bound Middlesbrough, but still. Whereas this season we’ve already played Spurs and both sets of Mancs home and away, and taken just one point off each of them. (To say nothing of the endless stretch of home draws against the dregs of the Premiership.) Dumping both Manc teams out of Cups shows that we can beat anyone on our day; so why can’t we do it in the League?

Arsenal are a very difficult team to get a handle on. We were fortunate to go to the Emirates early in the season when they were a disorganised rabble, and beat them 2-0. But last week Spurs found a 2-0 rapidly turning into a 5-2 reversal. You never know which lot of Gunners is going to turn up.

The one predictable element is Van Persie; predictable in that he’s almost always bloody dangerous. We know that and can plan accordingly; we’ve got the central defenders to do the job. What we don’t know is how his back-up team will play. I do hope, after last weekend, that we haven’t run into a Walcott reaching his best form – I still remember him running the length of the right touchline and almost kicking us out of the 2009 Champions League. Cardiff showed us that our defence can be caught too square and vulnerable to the shrewd diagonal ball, which is what young Theo can deliver to perfection.

But leave all that to the back four – they know what they’re doing. The real question is, as it has been all season, “who’s going to get the bloody goals?” The Arsenal defence is permeable, as Man Utd could tell us, but have we got the nous to find the gaps and the firepower to make a breach? Andy Carroll may just be too blunt an instrument for this game; we will need to start getting behind defenders, something we haven’t really cracked yet. Looks like Bellars to the fore again, and I can see a role for Maxi at some point. Somehow the final-third problem has to be tackled, i.e. not just taking our chances in the final third, but getting into it at all. Stevie G can boss the midfield all he wants, but if we just keep pinging the ball around from one midfielder to another without actually taking it that little bit further, we’ll once more have wonderful possession stats but no bloody goals. Dirk Kuyt showed us at Wembley how it can be done. I hope we see more of him on Saturday.

But to hell with history – no more draws please. We’re already seven points behind Arsenal, and if we don’t score at least one more than they do, we’ll be staying seven points behind. We mustn’t get complacent now that our place in Europe is nailed down; if we don’t make the top four this season, we’ve got to become credible candidates for next year.

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