Friday, 31 August 2012

Arsenal's Premier League Trip To Liverpool Previewed

Arsenal have started off the new Premier League season with two 0-0 draws against Sunderland and Stoke City. Both of those games were certainly winnable, and Arsenal dominated possession enough to have taken all three points on both occasions. Their defence looked very solid and was rarely troubled, but Arsenal have struggled in their attacking game.

With Robin van Persie packing his bags to join the "little boy" in him at Manchester United the goals will have to come from a different source this season. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud were bought to score those goals, but they haven't quite settled into the team yet. With new boy Santi Cazorla pulling the strings in midfield they should get plenty of chances this season.

Both Sunderland and Stoke sat back and defended in depth against Arsenal, and Arsenal found it hard to break them down. I would be very surprised if Liverpool were to adopt such an approach, and an open game could be just what Arsenal need. It will of course mean Arsenal's new found defensive strength will get a much sterner test too.

Arsenal tend to dominate possession against most teams, but Liverpool will be looking to reverse that trend at home. In this fixture last season Arsenal had a very fortunate win thanks to a van Persie brace, and a similar result would be a welcome boost on Sunday. Hopefully the goals will come and the two new strikers can break their ducks too.

The squad should be very similar to the one against Stoke last week, but Laurent Koscielny will be available for selection after recovering from his injury. Wojciech Szczesny will have a fitness test the day before the game to see if he can return to play in goal. Vito Mannone did all that was required of him last week when he filled in for Szczesny, but I have no doubt a fit Szczesny will regain his spot in the team.

It's a very important game for Arsenal, as the result will determine how their season has started before entering yet another international break. A win will leave them unbeaten on five points, but a defeat without scoring would be a very bad result. It would leave Arsenal with only two points and no goals from their opening three games, and it's not a scenario I want to really consider.

Last season started very badly too, but the team eventually got things together and managed to finish third in the Premier League. The current squad can only hope to match that finish at best really unless there is some inward movement of players on transfer deadline day. I usually write a season preview before each new season, but I have decided to wait until the window closes and the Arsenal squad is complete.

Maybe I'm being a little over optimistic in hoping a couple of top quality players can be signed, but I really hope they are. It would be a real boost for the rest of the squad to see some new players arrive, and there has to be money available to purchase them. Arsenal are roughly €15 in profit so far in this transfer window, and they made a huge profit on transfers last summer besides the reserves they had put aside for transfers.

I expect to see a very similar team to the one which played against Stoke, but I have a feeling Theo Walcott might play now that he is staying at the club. He hasn't signed a new contract despite having less than 12 months left on his current one, but Arsene Wenger is hopeful that something will be worked out. It's a precarious position for the club, and they seem to have no other choice than trusting Walcott.

I've never been his biggest fan, but he can be good on his day and against a team who play in a style which suits him. His departure after both van Persie and Alex Song had left to earn more money elsewhere would have been a blow for the club. When Wenger stated Walcott was not obsessed by money I felt it was to let the fans know that the two other high profile departures were.

Despite Koscielny being ready to return against Liverpool I don't think he will play, as Per Mertesacker has been an integral part of a very steady defence so far. Koscielny was Arsenal's best central defender last season, but he might have to wait for Mertesacker to play poorly or pick up a knock. Thomas Vermaelen must surely be guaranteed his place, as the new captain for the current season.

Neither Jack Wilshere or Bacary Sagna will be involved just yet, but Wenger hopes to see them both return to full training soon after the international break. Their additions to the squad will be a really big boost, and hopefully there will be no setbacks for either of them. In the absence of Sagna young Carl Jenkinson has looked impressive at right back.

The Arsenal defence will have to be at their best against Liverpool on Sunday to build a solid base for the team to attack. The coaching influence of Steve Bould has been  there for all to see in the first two games of the season, and now it's time for the influence of some attacking coaches to show.

The Arsenal midfield trio will be very important on the day, and their ability to keep possession will be crucial. The best way to take pressure off the defence is for the team to hold on to the ball as much as possible. I'm sure the two wide players will be called upon to put in a shift helping the midfield and defence too.

I'm sure Giroud will play the central striking role again, and hopefully he can find his touch in front of goal this time. He has looked very good helping the team out in his defensive duties, and he doesn't seem to have a problem with the physical aspect of English football. I think he's a much better prospect than Marouane Chamakh was when signed, and I'm hoping his first goal will come against Liverpool.

Arsenal have struggled at Anfield at times, but they are unbeaten there in the Premier League in the last five seasons. There have been two victories in that time, as well as three draws. The most memorable game for me was the 4-4 draw when Andrey Arshavin bagged all four goals for Arsenal.

Regular readers will know that I always predict a win for Arsenal, and this week is no different. I'm predicting a 2-1 win, but it certainly won't be an easy task. It would be great for Arsenal to send their players off to play for their countries with their first win of the season under their belts.

When the players come back they will be straight back into Premier League and Champions League action. Arsenal drew Schalke, Olympiakos and Montpellier in the Champions League yesterday, and they will play at home to Coventry in the next round of the Capital One Cup. With the transfer window closed the players can concentrate on the important matter of playing football and winning matches for Arsenal.

Here's a reminder of Arshavin's four goals against Liverpool.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow. 

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