24th August: Liverpool preview + Wenger on stationing Santi

Welcome back. As I touched on the other day, a win over Liverpool this evening is almost a must if we want to mount a serious title challenge this season, despite it being so early in the campaign.

After losing at home to West Ham on the opening day of the season, we have our first opportunity to get back to winning ways at Emirates Stadium, although if it keeps raining in London like it has these last few hours, both sets of players will need to be able to swim as well as they play football. It’s incessant.

Anyway, the weather should make for a slick surface and who doesn’t like a slick surface? Rain was always my favourite condition to play football in as a kid and it just feels like more goals are scored when it’s wet. In fact, someone should definitely look into the link between it p*ssing it down and the number of goals scored in a game…

But back to the actual fixture itself and promisingly, if form guides are your thing, we’ve won our last three meetings with Liverpool at Emirates Stadium, dating back to November 2013, when goals by Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey secured a two nil win in the Premier League.

We then beat them 2-1 in the FA Cup in February 2014, thanks to strikes by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski, before Steven Gerrard grabbed a consolation for the visitors from the penalty spot. And of course, the last time we entertained Brendan Rodgers’ men, we were three up by half time and ran out 4-1 winners.

So the omens are good but with Liverpool boasting a swathe of new players, I think they’re currently impossible to evaluate as a team. Christian Benteke will no doubt be hoping to inflict more damage on our defence than he managed whilst playing for Aston Villa in May’s FA Cup Final, and Roberto Firmino remains an unknown as a Premier League performer.

As far we’re concerned, I’d be surprised if Arsene Wenger makes any changes to the team that played well and beat Crystal Palace in our last game, particularly as Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Danny Welbeck remain side-lined through injury.

And the boss took time in his press conference on Friday to discuss his midfield options and explained the thinking behind playing Cazorla on the left of midfield on the opening day, with Ramsey stationed centrally:

It is tricky, because he (Cazorla) is an important player in the build-up of our game. He is naturally a guy who brings fluidity, and gets you out of tight situations. My thinking [putting him out wide] was more about physical power in the centre of the park, to win the ball back and be capable of winning challenges. Santi is a more technical player. And also to get him higher up, next to Ozil, to play through the lines, find those two, and combine in the final third. It worked sometimes, and sometimes not. The first goal in these games is vital. But anyway, against West Ham, I changed in the second half and brought Cazorla back to central midfield.

Whilst I completely understand the boss’ predicament and his reasoning for playing Ramsey centrally, especially seeing as though it worked pretty well against Chelsea in the Community Shield a few weeks ago, by my reckoning, we’re at our best with Cazorla in the middle, so hopefully he will be again tonight.

And Arsene also discussed our first two games of the season in a bit more detail, saying that we need to reproduce the type of performance we managed at Selhurst Park against Liverpool:

[We must] play at the level we played at Crystal Palace, with good pace. I think Liverpool will be a different game than West Ham. Against West Ham, we conceded a set-piece and after that another goal, just before half time. After that it was difficult. But if you look well, and you have to analyse the game well, against West Ham we didn’t give chances away. You play this game 20 times, you win it 19 because they had very, very, very few chances. Their goals came from our mistakes. That’s why we had to look at ourselves.

Hopefully that introspection will prove fruitful tonight and we won’t see Petr Cech coming for a ball and missing miserably, or Laurent Koscielny standing off an opponent who’s about to shoot at goal and simply hoping the effort’s not on target.

Because if we can remain solid in defence, I’d be very confident of Alexis Sanchez and co. doing the necessary at the other end of the pitch to grab us the win.


Til Tuesday.

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