It’s hard to know how to call this match. On one hand Liverpool are coming off back-to-back victories including a ten-man derby win. On the other Arsenal definitely have something to prove after Manchester United and Chelsea have patently exposed the holes in their armor. They’ll see us as a big team they can beat (because they’ve already done it this season). We’ll see them as a chance to prove we’re back on track after our struggles with form and results. For us it’s a chance to close the gap on a top four rival. For them these are three points they can’t afford to drop as they strive to keep in sight of United and Chelsea.
Really, with the way things have gone this season and with our eternal lack of depth brought on by constant medical problems (and now Aquilani’s not even in the squad because of illness), I shouldn’t get my hopes up for this one. But I honestly think we can beat Arsenal tomorrow. And I don’t think I’m just telling myself this to calm the nerves going into the match.
Liverpool’s biggest problem apart from the injuries has been our mentality. When the side is fired up we can still produce the wins without Torres and Benayoun. When we’re in a slump, it shows. Painfully. When we faced Arsenal at Anfield in December we were still accepting our dismissal from the Champions League. We’d recently drawn with Lyon, Birmingham, Manchester City and Blackburn. In the previous match we lost to Fiorentina. That match didn’t matter since we were already out of that race, but still. The first half against Arsenal showed promise, but we let a blatantly missed penalty call and a second-half own goal get in our heads and we collapsed to the Gunners on our home turf.
This time can be different. Aside from the draw with Wolves, we’ve been putting some good wins away. We beat Tottenham without three of our best finishers (Torres, Gerrard, Benayoun). And in our last two fixtures, we beat Bolton and Everton with the inimitable Dirk Kuyt leading both charges.
Now, I’m not excited that our already shallow squad loses both the ailing Aquilani and the suspended Kyrgiacos for this outing. But Soto has cover from Agger and Skrtel and I’m not sure I would have started Aquilani anyway. I want to see the man in full form as much as anybody, but my new take on the recovering Italian is this: if I spend my savings on a flashy second-hand sports car and the engine starts wheezing, I’m not going to tear around town in it until I get the thing fixed. Our most expensive summer signing came to us broken. Fine. We can’t push him into full 90 first-team football until we’re sure he’s back to a hundred percent.
And as much as I’d expect Dirk Kuyt to once again make the difference in an important match, this is the game for Steven Gerrard to switch on to his full devastating self and carry us to victory. It’s a role he knows well. Don’t worry, Stevie, Torres will be back sooner than later and the two of you can fine your firing rhythm anew. But for now, for old time’s sake, how about one of those long-range heat-sinking missiles from open play? Drop some opposing jaws. Shut up the home crowd. Get your teammates alight.
Arsenal have plenty of attack but their defense has been showing its cracks. If they get the chance to keep us on the back foot, they’ll keep us there and we won’t have enough shots at goal. But if we can contain their scariest players (Fabregas, Arshavin) and absorb the attacks, we can catch them on a break and put a couple goals past Señor Almunia. Maybe this comes from the necessary bravado a fan needs going into such a fixtures, but I believe it anyway.