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20 September 2015

Preview: Arsenal vs Liverpool (August 24th)

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When this season’s fixture list was first released, I naively viewed this fixture to be our first real test of the season. After two tough games so far, it just shows either a) how bad I am at making football predictions, or b) how tough it is to predict Premier League games full stop. Mondays can often prove to be tricky days for Arsenal to play games, and regardless of the pasting we gave them last season, Liverpool have some talented players in their squad.

Key tactical points to look out for:

Ramsey or Cazorla?

At this point, even after a feisty and slightly risky outing at Palace, Coquelin is one of the first names on the team sheet. His tenacity, ability to break up play and provide physicality to what is otherwise a somewhat lightweight midfield are assets we do not have elsewhere in the squad. Arteta has a calming, technically astute presence (and did thoroughly well in his Selhurst cameo, if you ask me). However, he doesn’t have the zest or the bite that the young Frenchman provides.

The important question is then, who to play alongside him? Ramsey is definitely a central midfielder and not a winger. He’s looked to be on good form so far this season, making himself available in attacking positions across the width of the pitch and providing a welcome energy and directness. However, for me his running and sheer bloody-mindedness do not make up for the unnecessary turnovers he sometimes makes when he tries to go for that little bit extra. Ramsey is a player capable of providing a little bit of magic – however sometimes he gives the ball away when attempting this kind of play – and, because of this, I prefer him playing further up the field.

Santi is similarly a player who does take the occasional risk in his transition game – however, he loses the ball far less frequently it seems. His befuzzling close control and two footed passing make him the best player in the team in terms of initiating counter plays and turning defence into attack. What has also impressed me, since he’s taken up the deeper role over the last year, is his positional astuteness, and for a pretty lightly built guy, an absolute determinedness to get stuck in.

For me, this one’s a no-brainer. There are a couple of more in depth pieces you can read here by Anam Hassan and here by Michael Keshani which look at both sides of the argument.

How much of a threat will Benteke provide?

Christian Benteke is a player of similar stature to Giroud and, while I’d suggest that he provides more brute force and pace, he definitely has a lot less finesse and technical ability (and looks). He has a previous record against Arsenal, having scored a brace against us on the opening day of the 13/14 season, and there’s no denying that his physicality and finishing ability render him a genuine threat. A lot of Liverpool’s early season depends on his ability to convert the chances that the midfield trio of Henderson, Milner and Coutinho will likely create for him, until Sturridge returns from his long injury layoff.

Can Liverpool’s new-look midfield click?

As I write this, there is noise of Henderson being out for the game with a foot injury. He’s a much improved player over the last few seasons and it will be interesting to see whether he is able to genuinely fill the rather sizeable boots of Steve “Born Slippy” Gerrard. I’ve always thought he had the makings of a great player since he convincingly beat the Ox in a game of tennis ball keepy-uppy in 2012.

Milner is a great addition for Liverpool, and brings some much needed experience to the centre of the park following Gerrard’s LA jaunt. Even given the wealth of midfield resources Manchester City have had available, Milner has been a consistent starter for them under a number of managers. He’s a much underrated player and I think will be a very valuable signing for them.

We all know Coutinho has some fantastic talent, but he doesn’t show up consistently. He’s capable of changing and winning matches singlehandedly and, if he shows up on point, Coquelin is going to have his work cut out to stifle his innovation and vision.

On paper their midfield looks very good and Firmino’s not even played yet. That being said, it hasn’t truly clicked in either of their games so far. Even though they look very good in the middle of the park, we’ve got the strongest midfield in the league in my eyes and are a much more functional unit, with a fair bit of experience playing together. I think we’ll outclass them here.

We still must wait and see which Arsenal turns up on the day, but I believe the above points are definite deciding factors in how the match plays out.

I’m calling it 3-1 to the Arsenal.

The game will be played at all the usual spots:

  • Midtown Gastro in Toronto
  • The Pig and Duke in Calgary
  • The Pint in Vancouver

For those of you in the Waterloo, ON area, it will showing at Heaven Gastro Pub in the University Plaza. This is a new offering, so if you are nearby try to make it out!

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