Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Liverpool preview: The pitch, not the crowd

Ask an Arsenal fan what their ideal present would be this Christmas, and I bet most of them would say ‘three points at Anfield’.

That’s the challenge for us this evening: to get the maximum return from a game in Liverpool for the first time since 2012, a fixture in which Mikel Arteta featured in midfield. They are very strong at home, and although we’ve played well in our ‘big’ away fixtures this season, we’ve ended up losing to Newcastle and Aston Villa. Hopefully it’s third time lucky later on.

In terms of the team, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t exactly the same as the side that started against Brighton. We’re not exactly replete with rotation options as it is, but we played very well against an difficult side, and I don’t think there’s any reason to change anything. Ideally, this would likely have been a Takehiro Tomiyasu game, but without him it’ll be Oleksandr Zinchenko and that side of the pitch will be busy for both sides.

Obviously they possess a lot of attacking threat on their right with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah, which will require plenty of defensive vigilance. Not just from Zinchenko, but also Gabriel Martinelli who will need to track back and do his duty. At the same time though, with Trent playing further forward, there might well be space for Martinelli to run into, something he’s very good at, and if the final ball can be a little better today when he gets into those areas, we could hurt them down that side.

When you add Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Kai Havertz to the mix, we have a lot of ways we could cause them problems, and I’m sure Arteta will be keen for his side to play with the kind of control we have most of the season. As he put it in his press conference yesterday:

Have the ball as far as possible from the goal and be dominant in the areas that you want to be dominant and that’s it.

Simple … on paper. Different on grass. And games against Liverpool often have a kind of chaos to them that is impossible to control, even with the best will in all your pre-game planning. A sideline argument, or a flashpoint on the pitch, as we’ve seen in the last couple of season. Beyond that, we’ve had some crazy games against them in recent years, some high scoring draws etc, but I did find it very interesting that the two managers were so different this week when talking about the atmosphere.

Klopp made some comments after their midweek win over West Ham about how much they need the fans, and it tells you something about how he views this Arsenal team. He knows this is the best one he’s faced in his time in England, and he’s looking for every possible marginal advantage he can get. If that means he takes a bit of stick for a mild rebuke of his own fans, he’s willing to do it, and I’m sure the crowd will be up for it today in response to what he said.

Arteta, meanwhile, did his utmost to play that sides of things down. We know he has spoken before about the atmosphere at Anfield, we know he tried that thing with the speakers at the training ground, but this time around when asked if it was about silencing the crowd, he said:

I think you have to play better than them and you will silence the crowd if you are dominant and better than them. The same as in any other ground, it’s no different I think.

Ultimately, while the noise from the stands might play a small part, it’s far more about which team executes their game-plan best, and makes the most of the opportunities in front of goal. This will be far more a technical and tactical battle than anything else.

It’s so difficult to predict what might happen later, but there’s no doubt in my mind this is an Arsenal team capable of going to Anfield and winning the game. We have the quality from back to front to do that, but we also have to recognise how strong they are – particularly in attacking areas. Maybe it’ll just take a moment of magic, someone like Saka or Martinelli finding a way to produce a goal or two that will gift-wrap three points and keep us top of the table for Christmas.

Fingers crossed.

Remember, you can join us for live blog coverage, and all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. You still have time to listen to our preview podcast on Patreon too.

For now, take it easy, and I’ll catch you later for the game.

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