Liverpool preview – pick up where we left off

Right then, once more into the breach and this morning we face those dastardly Mugsmashers who want nothing more than smash our mugs of Sp*rs filled joy.

In terms of the team the manager cast doubts over the involvement of both Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen yesterday, due to their international involvement. The boss was unhappy about the fact he lost players all week long to go play in games that mean nothing, perhaps summed up best by the fact that Gervinho, just back from the African Cup of Nations of Africa who have an African Cup, jetted off to play a game in the Ivory Coast.

It is absolutely ridiculous. Personally I think international friendlies are becoming more difficult to accept. It’s difficult to understand that our players had to go away when injured, it’s disrespectful.

The boss is preaching the converted here. Whatever about qualifiers and tournaments, but that a club has no say over where their players go for games which mean nothing is something that has to change. Wenger was particularly unhappy with Belgium playing Vermaelen for 90 minutes in Greece when they knew he was injured, when they’re not even preparing for the Euros and when they had other players on the bench who didn’t even get on.

Anyway, I don’t think anyone needs me, or Arsene Wenger, to tell them how frustrating it is to see our players used in this way, but from the pictures posted on the official site yesterday it looks as if both Vermaelen and van Persie happily took full part in training so I expect them to start today. The manager also thinks that Rosicky is likely to be available after a groin problem kept him out of the midweek crap, in which case I think the team picks itself.

And that’s the same team that started against Sp*rs. To a man they acquitted themselves well, the system seemed to work, it looked nicely balanced and it leaves us with a couple of players on the bench (Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain) who can make an impact. And the only decision he really has to make is whether to play either of them ahead of Benayoun. It’d be harsh if the Israeli missed out after his performance against Sp*rs and I’m sure he’ll be more than keen to play against his former club.

We’ve said all week that the 5-2 should be the blueprint, that this is how we should play today. Apart from the going 2-0 down bit I think that’s fair enough. If we go into this game with the same desire and motivation as we did on Sunday then we have every chance of taking the three points today. Anything less and we’ll discover just how fine the margins are in football at this level. Arsene says:

Chelsea, Newcastle, Liverpool and us are in the fight for fourth place. We have a good opportunity on Saturday to put Liverpool really behind us. We want to take that.

We know we are in a special fight with Chelsea, who are on the same level of points, so every point we can take now is vital until the end of the season.

Without wishing to put a dampener on anything, consistency has been our major issue this season. We’ve had some fantastic results and performances but producing them week in, week out has been a problem. With 12 games left to play in the league, and the scrap for the top four as close as it has ever been, we have no margin for error.

Liverpool are always a tough opponent, they’ll be boosted by the Carling Cup win, but they weren’t up to much when we played them at home earlier in the season. An offside goal, a flukey deflection and a Frimpong red card won the day for them back in August, but we were not outplayed in any way. And they too are fighting for points to try and finish in the top four.

From our point of view we just have to try and carry on where we left off against Sp*rs. Easier said than done, I know, but the confidence we’ll take from that result now has to be channeled into today’s performance. We know we’ve got players who can hurt them, who can score goals, but we have to make sure we handle ourselves well defensively too. I don’t know which combination of Carroll, Bellamy and Suarez he’ll play but they all provide a different kind of threat.

Three points today, early on, would put the pressure on those around us. Chelsea play West Brom later while Sp*rs entertain United tomorrow. The win on Sunday was a thing of beauty, no doubt about it, but it’s gone now and we’ve got to make sure we follow it up with a similar performance today. Remember Sagna saying they were ‘The enemy’? Well, Liverpool are now the enemy, they want to take those three points today, and we’re going to have to play well to get them.

In other news Abou Diaby is back in the squad after spending most of the season out injured. Arsene says:

I will never give up on a player as long as he has the desire. If I felt that in Diaby’s head he had given up, then I would have said yes.

But he was always very focused. He’s an exceptional guy, Diaby. Such focus to do well is unbelievable.

He’s been through the mill, no question about it. What happened to him as a result of that challenge at Sunderland is a real shame. And the bottom line is the more fit players we have available to us the better. But Diaby has got it all to prove, both in terms of his fitness and his value to the team. On his day he’s a fine player, capable of fantastic football, yet he’s got to prove he can be a member of the squad who can contribute on a much more regular basis.

In an era when squad sizes are limited you have to make sure your pool of players is as efficient as it can be, and there will always be question marks (rightly enough) over a player who spends that much time out injured. If he can stay fit, all well and good, if not, then perhaps the manager has a decision to make ahead of next season.

And finally, Arsene was awarded Barclays Manager of the Month for February. “I thought they were speaking to somebody else behind me,” he said. Heh.

As always there’ll be live blog coverage of today’s game. Up to the second text commentary means you can follow the game wherever you are, and even if you’re watching with your iPad on your lap etc, so check back later for the post with all the details. Or you can bookmark the default live blog page and updates will start automatically.

If you fancy a flutter Paddy Power have a money back special: If there is a penalty scored in this game Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st/last goalscorer, correct score & scorecast singles on the match.

Click here to register with Paddy Power and get up to £50 a free bet. As well as that if you register an account in March, you’ll go into a weekly draw after which Paddy Power will credit somebody’s account with £25. Which is pretty all right.

Ok then, time for some breakfast, then for the smashing of the Mugsmashers. Come on you Gunners.

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