Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Liverpool away: A yardstick

It’s fair to say we might have had an easier return to post-Interlull action than Liverpool away, but you’ve got to play them at some point, and today is the day.

A trip to Anfield is always difficult, especially so against this particular iteration of the Mugsmashers. They are a superb side, even if a couple of recent results have shown they’re not infallible. On the one hand, them dropping points to West Ham and Brighton might be seen as an encouraging sign for an Arsenal side who haven’t won at their place since September 2012 (there have been a couple of draws in that time, but more than a couple of hammerings too). On the other hand those dropped points, in addition to having time to take stock, might also see us find a Liverpool team extra-motivated to put things right.

That said, after our last couple of months I can go into this one with some cautious optimism. I’m realistic enough to know how much of a test this is, but even if we don’t win, I hope we can make Liverpool work hard for whatever they get. The early season games against Chelsea and Man City games were depressing, not just because we lost, but because there was no sense that we could compete. That’s not a pleasant place to be for a club like Arsenal. I do think today is different.

For some it’s a kind of yardstick to see how far we’ve really come since the opening three games of the season, and I don’t think that’s particularly unfair. There have been some tests in our eight game unbeaten run in the Premier League, Leicester away for example, but nothing quite like this. Liverpool haven’t been quite as defensively secure as they normally are, but offensively they pose all kinds of threats, score lots of goals, and in Mo Salah have the most potent attacking player in the league too. This is no one-man-band either, Mane and Jota will form a trio today that our new look defence is going to have to work really hard to keep at bay.

At his press conference yesterday Mikel Arteta was giving nothing away when it came to the fitness of key individuals. He did, however, cast some doubt on Thomas Partey, saying:

He could not play for the national team, he really tried to do that because they had a massive game and he really pushed for that one, but he wasn’t close enough to do that. Again, it’s something we have to assess today because he hasn’t done enough.

I’m not sure I buy into the idea this is some kind of double-bluff to keep Jurgen Klopp guessing, because while I’m sure he’d prefer to face an Arsenal without the Ghanaian, I don’t think his approach to this game would be significantly different if Partey were fit. It’s a wait and see thing for us. From what Arteta said, it sounds like he might make the bench, I’d be surprised if he started, so let’s see.

If he doesn’t, it might well have an impact on other aspects of the team. Alexandre Lacazette has done well in the last few weeks, but I wonder if a midfield duo of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Albert Sambi Lokonga might be better served by the presence of Martin Odegaard who gives you more security in possession – a player who can drop back into the midfield with greater assurance in those periods when we have the ball. There is some doubt over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but I expect him to start up front today.

The other big decision is whether it’s KT or NT at left-back. Nuno Tavares has done well in Kieran Tierney’s injury absence, and I don’t think the Scottish international has been at his best so far this season, but in a game like this, I think Arteta will go for a player who has done it for him plenty of times in the past. When you’re dealing with an attacking force like Liverpool, and your team – and in particular – your defence, is as inexperienced as it is, you’re probably going to go for the guy who has been there and done that a lot more often. It’s no slight on Tavares if it happens, just a manager selecting one of his go-to guys. Tierney won’t have been blind to what the young Portuguese has done, and hopefully that competition will be evident in his performance if he’s picked today.

Beyond that, the team more or less picks itself. After his international exploits, there might be more focus on Emile Smith Rowe, but he’ll surely fancy his chances of exploiting some of the space Trent Alexander-Arnold leaves when he goes forward. Bukayo Saka scored for England too, but with just one Premier League strike to his name this season, today would be a good day for him to find the scoresheet.

As I said above though, let’s see how this Arsenal side can compete with one of the best in Europe. A team that destroyed Man Utd a few weeks ago; a team which scored 5 in two games against Atletico Madrid. Make no mistake, despite their recent blip, on their day Liverpool can beat anyone. We’ll have to work hard to keep them at bay, then be smart and efficient when we find ourselves in possession or with chances to break and turn them around. It’s just impossible to know what we’re going to get, but I hope we can stay in this game and continue to show improvement and progression. Let’s see.

As always, we’ll have live blog coverage for you, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. In the meantime, have a good Saturday, don’t forget to check out the Patreon preview podcast, and I’ll catch you later for the game.

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