Saturday, 15 February 2014

Arsenal v Liverpool: FA Cup Preview

It's been a bad week so far for Arsenal, but they have a chance to regain some pride at home to Liverpool in the FA Cup this Sunday. The winners progress to the last eight and within sight of a Wembley final in May. The FA Cup was the last trophy Arsenal won when they beat United on penalties back in 2005 and it's still their best chance of a trophy this season.

It's also a chance to put last Saturday's abomination behind them against the team which humbled them 5-1 at Anfield. The display in that game just was not good enough from Arsenal and Liverpool won it because they wanted it more. They snapped into tackles and closed Arsenal down all over the pitch and the Arsenal players and Arsene Wenger could not find a way to counter them. Before Arsenal had time to draw breath they were 4-0 down after only 20 minutes and the game was over.

The last time Arsenal conceded so many goals in the first half of a Premier League game was in 2001 when United led them 5-1 at the break and went on to win 6-1. Arsenal were building a team then and came back the next season to win at United and win the domestic double too. This current Arsenal team isn't the finished article and it has to be hoped they are in the process of building for next season too, but they are in a position where the League and FA Cup are within their sights and they have a chance to shut up those who drone on about how many years it has been since they won a trophy.

They showed some resolve in their midweek 0-0 draw at home to United, but it was far from the convincing performance needed to rid the team and the fans of the doubts they have after last weekend. Rather than take the game to a relatively weak United team they hedged their bets and hoped to snatch a win in a game in which they were happy not to lose. They got a point but missed the opportunity to ascend to the top of the table with Chelsea drawing and City's game falling foul of the weather.

At the same time Liverpool were getting themselves back into the title race by twice coming from behind against bottom club Fulham to eventually win 3-2 with a last minute penalty. Liverpool don't have the Champions League distractions of the three clubs above them and still have to play at home to City and Chelsea before the season ends. If they can continue to score goals with ease they might just have a say in where the Premier League trophy ends up. 

Their only distraction from the league will be the FA Cup and they come to the Emirates on Sunday vying for a place in the last eight. The last time Arsenal hosted them was early last November and it was a one sided affair with Arsenal winning 2-0. It was a very different game to the one last Saturday and it's exactly the type of performance Arsenal need to put in this Sunday.

The main difference in personnel from that game will of course be the continued absence of Aaron Ramsey from the Arsenal team and he's a player who is sorely missed at the moment. Prior to his injury he was the best midfielder in the Premier League and his performances had been a big factor in propelling Arsenal to the top of the table. His injury setback in January was a big blow and it limited the team's attacking options in a big way. The team coped for the month of January but the signs were there as they struggled to put teams away at times and now they're feeling his absence even more.

To add to Arsenal's attacking woes Theo Walcott got injured in the third round of the FA Cup win over Spurs and won't be available for the rest of the season. His pace is a weapon Arsenal really need to have in their armoury and he will be missed as much as Ramsey. There was an opportunity during the January transfer window to add some attacking flair to the squad but it didn't happen and Arsenal will have to make do with the players that they have.

If they're going to beat Liverpool on Sunday they are going to have to find some attacking flair from somewhere. There's a team full of midfielders who are very comfortable in possession and seem content to pass the ball continuously without finding any penetration. Against the lesser teams they can wear them down and tire them out, but it's not so easy against the better teams. 

In Mesut Ozil Arsenal have a player who can open up any defence but with Walcott and Ramsey missing he has no outlets for his precise passing. It might be a little different if Arsenal had a centre forward with some genuine pace, but that's an asset Olivier Giroud simply doesn't possess. I don't like to knock Arsenal players and Giroud gives his all for the cause, but he just isn't good enough for a team with Arsenal's ambitions in my opinion. 

There's a very good chance the boss will change the team around against Liverpool with a Champions League game against Bayern Munich coming up on Wednesday night. Players such as Lukasz Fabianski, Carl Jenkinson, Mathieu Flamini, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lukas Podolski, Serge Gnabry, Nicklas Bendtner and Yaya Sonogo could all get a place in the team if he decides to shake things around or rest a few players. I think he will probably go for a bit of a mixture and bring a few of those players into the team. 

Now that Flamini has served his three game suspension for the red card against Southampton I imagine he will play and I would be surprised if Podolski, Chamberlain and Bendtner didn't start as well. I would be surprised if there are any defensive changes with the exception of Fabianski taking his place in goal for a cup game as usual. The defence were very poor against Liverpool last week, but they have been excellent at home with seven clean sheets in a row in all competitions and they could do with the chance to put the wrongs of last week right.

If Flamini, Podolski, Chamberlain and Bendtner do play it only leaves two other places in the team and it should be a choice of two out of four between Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Santi Cazorla. Much has been made of Wilshere being far from his best recently and giving the ball away too often in dangerous positions. He has huge potential but he still has a lot to learn and I have no doubt he will improve that aspect of his game in time. I'd be happy to see any combination of the four of them play, but I have a feeling Wilshere will get the day off.

With no midweek distractions coming up for Liverpool they can afford to put out their strongest team and that's the team which humbled Arsenal only a week ago. Liverpool have been far from impressive away from home and were a little fortunate to win at bottom club Fulham on Wednesday night. They made two terrible defensive errors for the Fulham goals and their defence is their weakest link in my opinion. That may sound strange coming from a fan whose team conceded five goals against Liverpool last week, but if Arsenal can get on the front foot they can score goals.

They cannot afford to come out tentatively and gradually play themselves into the game like they have done far too often recently. Arsenal are the home team and they need to show Liverpool what it's like to come and play on their home patch. This is Liverpool's best chance of a trophy this season and Arsenal's too and Arsenal have to play like they want to progress to the next round.

I think the players have it in them to put in a performance which can win the game and I really hope they can show that. I hope they're not affected by fear of defeat and can find the confidence to play their own game from the very start. As always I'm backing Arsenal to win and I can never imagine a time when I will consider anything else. Hopefully my faith in the team will be repaid with a performance to put some confidence back into the team for the home stretch this season. There's still an awful lot to play for this season and it's far too early to throw the towel in no matter how badly this week may have gone so far. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.


  1. I see the 5-1 as a crazy fluke more than anything else. Two set-piece goals set the stage for a disastrous 20 minutes. I hardly think Liverpool had that in mind and were just as astounded as we were. Let them think they now have the upper hand. I much prefer the underdog role, for what that label is worth. Let them saunter in thinking they have our number. All the better fo us to come in and smash them out of the cup.

    1. Well we did knock them out but we were a little lucky. I'll take a dodgy referee decision in our favour for a change any day though.