.

ARSENAL

v

LIVERPOOL

The Emirates Stadium, North London

17 April, 2011; 8:30 pm, IST

***

Arsenal start their series of crunch games with none other than Liverpool. They are going to play perennial local rivals Spurs, then nemesis Bolton followed by the most important game of the season – Manchester United at home. The reverse fixture happened on the first day of the season, when Pepe Reina gifted a point to Arsenal while Joe Cole saw the dreaded color and had to leave the pitch. Koscielny too saw a second yellow and received marching order in the dying moments of the match.

This is a completely changed Liverpool side under Kenny Dalglish, swift-passing unit and with much more self-belief. They thumped Manchester City at home and are curiously close to the 4th place in the league. At one point of time, it looked to be a gargantuan task for them to finish that high up in the table. New signings Suarez and Carroll have both found their scoring boots and compete against each other for the opening slot till the end of the season.

Arsenal, on the other hand recorded their first win in all competitions in 38 days when they beat the Seasiders last weekend. The club is going through a tough time and boardroom activities have left a lot of inquisitive minds among the fans and club staff. In between all the amusing pandemonium, Arsene Wenger stares at the magnanimity of the task ahead of his team, even winning all matches won’t guarantee them a league title. Having said that, the Gunners have an impeccable record at home in their last seven outings, just a goal and six clean sheets to show for.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Arsenal

The team news for the home side is quite refreshing for Arsene Wenger, having got back most of his injured squad, some even before expected time, ‘a norm’ with Arsenal. Bacary Sagna and Almunia (both knee) are surely out for the fixture as Thomas Vermaelen has just made his way back to training. The Belgian would be needing some time before he can be match fit, according to the manager. Szczsney, Alex Song and Djourou are all back from their injuries, much before their expected time to arrival. While the Polish keeper is sure to start the game ahead of the German, Djourou and Song may not be risked by Arsene, as crucial matches await the Gunners even after they see off Liverpool.

'Those 4'. Liverpool fans can never forget.

Arsene, in his press conference, compared Bendtner to Carroll in terms of aerial ability and strength, but the Dane is most likely to occupy the bench and later be used as a winger if needed. Andrei Arshavin had a poor outing in his last game and is in danger of losing his starting spot to Theo Walcott, though the Russian has an impeccable shots on target-to-goals scored record against Liverpool – 6:5. Cesc and Wilshere will start in the middle of the field and would orchestrate proceedings like they always do. Diaby will fill in for Alex Song, high on confidence after having a fantastic outing at Bloomfield Road. Eboue will take up fullback responsibilities in the absence on Bacary Sagna, while Squillaci will continue in front of his keeper if Djourou is not risked by Wenger in this crucial encounter.

Probable Starting XI: Szczsney, Eboue, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy, Diaby, Wilshere, Cesc, Arshavin, Nasri, van Persie

Probable starting line-ups

Liverpool

After a moral-boosting win over City, Liverpool are on a high at this moment, even though they are without their influential skipper, Steven Gerrard. To add cherry to the cake, both their new signings have found scoring boots, Carroll having recently scored two while Suarez already causing some havoc with his nifty footwork. Arsenal have their hand-full with these two to be employed together in the absence of Gerrard. Teenager Flanagan had an exceptional debut against City and will continue with his fullback responsibilities in the absence of Glen Johnson, as Carragher will shift inside into his normal center back position. Fabio Aurelio will continue at left fullback after coming back from a lengthy spell outside.

Dirk Kuyt and Meireles have had a lot of great games under their new manager and they will be the creative focal point in the middle of the park in the absence of their talismanic leader. Lucas will play deep in front of his defence, but will burst forward if required.

Carroll has already inflicted some damage to Arsenal this season.

Arsene on Dalglish’s return to ‘managing duties’ –

It was strange to see him back because for a while he was Director of Football at Liverpool so it looked like he had decided not to come back into the game, but certainly Liverpool has a special meaning for him and that is why he decided to come back.

Probable Starting XI: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Aurelio, Flanagan, Kuyt, Lucas, Spearing, Meireles, Suarez, Carroll

TheHardTackle’s PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

Robin van Persie (Arsenal)

Being one of the best finishers in England, Van Persie is perhaps Arsenal’s most precious asset and is often the difference between an Arsenal defeat and an Arsenal win. There is a strong correlation between the number of matches Arsenal win and the games Van Persie plays in.

Luis Suarez (Liverpool)

The man is already making a name for himself at Liverpool. Seen running around with great enthusiasm and flying past defenders with pace and guile, Suarez is definitely a man to watch at the Emirates.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Arsenal 2 – 1 Liverpool

With a title still to win, Arsenal will go all out to secure three points and their recent success in this fixture is likely to continue. Although things could be different with a more positive Liverpool visiting the Emirates in comparison to previous teams, Arsenal will win narrowly.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST