When 20 fixture lists were announced, all of you thronged the internet to see what the season calendar looks like for the club you support. Eyes lit up when we see two top clubs clash early on in the season. We rub our hands together in excitement, picture the game unfolding in our minds even before we are done reading the entire fixture list, recollect past encounters and the defining moments in those games and tell ourselves the result of this fixture even before we can bat an eyelid.
Safe to say, these would have been the approximate sequence of events playing in the minds of Arsenal and Liverpool fans. It’s Matchday-2 and we already have a big encounter on the cards. Arsenal have dealt with some huge blows in the transfer window and to make matters worse, have several players missing the game against Liverpool. Confidence is Arsenal’s trump card this season and Liverpool are arriving in London to test exactly that. Dalglish and Comolli have had a busy summer venturing into the transfer market for players who can be a part of the Red Revolution. A lot of money has been spent and a lot of quality players have been brought in to revive Liverpool and take them back to challenging for laurels.
As always, there is a war of words amongst Arsenal & Liverpool fans prior to the game. Two of our resident authors – Amlan Majumdar and Uday Telkar, got so involved that the “friendly banter” has parked itself at TheHardTackle platform. Amlan is a die-hard Arsenal follower, while Uday is a Liverpool red, through and through. Here is how the Rival Rendezvous panned out:
AM: Liverpool must be a bit disappointed with the result last weekend. Not the start they were looking for surely. What were your views regarding the match?
UT: Yes. A draw was not quite the result we were expecting. Kenny’s involvement of the new signings was mainly to experiment the most effective starting XI. 3 new midfielders is a lot to accommodate especially with the rest of them performing well from the second half of last season. However, it is just a matter of time before we see an effective, working combination.
AM: As a Liverpool fan, are you happy with your clubs transfer activities this summer? Liverpool has been one of the busiest clubs in the transfer market. Do you think the team has been strengthened well enough? Is there enough quality all over the pitch?
UT: I am extremely happy with our transfers. Enrique and Downing were the need of the hour while Henderson was brought in to take over the mantle after the likes of Meireles and Gerrard. Huge expectations from the lad I know but it will take some time for him to show his true colors. Adam was brought in mainly to give us the reach from defense to attack. Just like Alonso. Right now, he may not have the finesse of Xabi but he definitely has the talent to shine.
It was important for us to get a head start when the transfer window opened because of the pressing issues in the squad quality and depth. Suarez, Maxi, Meireles and Kuyt helped steady the ship last season but that was also indication that we cannot be over-dependent on these players, especially with age catching up on the latter three. So yes, I am happy with the squad strength. However, there are still a few more days to go before the window closes and I reckon we will bring in another defender to give ourselves a stronger backline. N’Gog needs to go and that looks imminent so another back-up striker could also be on the cards. But if it were upto me, I would bring in an academy product to provide back-up. They are a bunch of talented lads and it will be good for them to be a part of a full-fledged Liverpool squad.
AM: Some people have raised questions about the quality of players with respect to the price they have been bought for. Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing’s combined price is nearly £72 million; do you think that these players command such price tags? Or is it a result of Kenny Dalglish’s fetish for English players?
UT: The price tag in question is a highly subjective matter and one of the contributing factors is their potential. Carroll and Henderson still have a long way to go in their club and country careers and their performances will surely justify their price tag. Regarding wingers, it is highly difficult to find quality wingers in the market today and it is even harder to find those who suit the English game which is quite physical. Downing has performed well in the Premier League since his Middlesbrough days and at 27, still has the flair and fitness levels required to excel.
Dalglish does have a knack of picking up English players. He did it during his first stint as Liverpool manager and he is doing it again now. It all points to a working formula for him. And you can see that Comolli and the owners agree with him so he has the backing. Also, let’s not forget the possibility of a 6+5 homegrown rule in the picture. With the new look squad, we would be within the boundaries of this rule. So, it is all a carefully chalked out plan.
AM: Liverpool have a plethora of midfielders this season. Given that everyone is fit, what would be the best combination in the midfield for your team?
UT: I would definitely see Lucas, Adam, Gerrard in the centre of the park and Downing and Suarez up ahead on either flanks as the perfect combination for Liverpool. Suarez is anyway a floating striker and has a menacing presence. So, this combination would definitely work for Liverpool.
AM: What is your favorite Arsenal Vs Liverpool moment? Does Andrei Arshavin still haunt your dreams?
UT: Well, to be honest, my favourite moment was when Benayoun netted the fourth goal at Anfield couple of seasons back. It was an amazing feeling to see the crowd jump off their seats. It was a good game from both ends.
I will go ahead and speak for all Liverpool fans and say that Arshavin doesn’t haunt us anymore. He is a great player no doubt but we have the “arsenal” to tame him this time.
AM: Finally, considering the current crop of players, what are your expectations from Liverpool this season? The Merseysiders haven’t won the league since 1989 – 1990 season. How many more years do you think the Scousers will have to wait for the glory?
UT: Well you never really rise up till you hit rock-bottom, isn’t it? Hodgson and his antics was the last sign of trouble coming our way but from here on, it is only going to be an upward curve. There is immense faith in the owners and the new staff at Anfield. The Academy is also manifesting into a great talent pool so it is all a sign of good times to come. However, the main aim right now is to perform better and build upon our performances with consistency. It will happen soon and we will get back on our perch!
Now Uday decides to go on the counter and begins with his set of questions for Amlan:
UT: I will not start with the most obvious question. First thing that I would like to know is, without Nasri, Cesc, Eboue, Song , Wilshere, Traore, Diaby & Gervinho, how are you expecting Wenger to approach the Liverpool game in terms of attack?
AM: Arsenal have a long list of suspended/injured players at the moment. The depth of the squad will be tested in the next few games, with some big fixtures coming up.
To be honest, the options available to Arsene for the Liverpool game is very limited. Emmanuel Frimpong should be in the starting eleven replacing Alex Song. Ramsey and Rosicky will pull the strings from the midfield. Theo Walcott, Van Persie and Arshavin will be the front three. Arsenal will be dependent upon Van Persie to deliver the goods for them.
UT: A lot of venom has been spewed over Arsenal’s lack luster backline. If Wenger doesn’t sign a defender by Saturday, how much do you think it will affect Arsenal’s game?
AM: Interestingly, Arsenal have kept two clean sheets in the first two games of the season! Having said that, stats do hide a lot of things. Arsenal defense was anything but solid in the match against Udinese. We were lucky not to concede in that match.
Earlier, we accepted the fact that Arsenal will concede, but we also knew that we will score more than we concede most of the times. Since Fabregas and Nasri’s (imminent) departure from the team, question about our creativity has also been raised. So, now it has become even more important to shore up our defense.
Cahill, Samba, Jagielka, Scott Dann and Mertesacker have all been linked with Arsenal this season. We sincerely hope Wenger signs atleast one of them before the window closes.
UT: Do you think Cesc’s departure has come at the wrong time for the club? After another trophy-less season, it seemed that Arsenal would spend big to bring in experienced and established players but instead we are seeing a reversal; and a domino-effect at that. How much has this shaken the stability at the club? [This was the obvious question]
AM: Cesc had to leave, he had made up his mind. There is no way he could have played for Arsenal this season. My only concern is, how much time does Arsene Wenger has to invest the money earned from this transfer.
It goes without saying that the fans are disappointed with the team’s transfer activities so far. Much has been promised, but very few has been delivered. Players will begin to question the ambitions of the club. If you are looking to mount a title challenge every year, you need to keep improving as a team. Arsenal have failed to hold on to their key players and the replacements that have come in haven’t set the world on fire either.
Stability is a very ‘relative’ word. Arsenal does have financial stability, in fact its one of the best in Europe. The club’s ‘big four’ status is on unstable ground. It seems that both these stabilities are inversely proportional to each other.
UT: Do you see Wenger’s philosophy of grooming and working with youth till the highest levels of competition now fading away? A part of you somewhere must be missing the dream team of Henry, Viera, Pires, Bergkamp and the like. Isn’t it?
AM: I am a strong believer in Wenger’s philosophy of youth. When I look at the ridiculous amount of money being wasted on over-rated players around, I feel proud about what Wenger has achieved by grooming players from the Academy. The only problem is retaining these players. The problem with Arsenal has been that, young players have left the club whenever they looked like achieving something. That will change when we will start winning trophies again.
Yea, we do miss the ‘invincible’ team, but then who wouldn’t miss a team like that. The whole football fraternity misses that team. It seems the club has never come out of the ‘re-building’ phase since that team left.
UT: Wenger recently quoted he is ready to shell out even 40 million if he finds the right players. Does this mean that he is unable to find players that fit into the squad ethos? Is it possible that there is no one out there meant for Arsenal FC?
AM: Wenger is very careful while bringing in new recruits. Despite huge pressure from the fans, he won’t buy a player just for the sake of it. Not every footballer in the world can fit into the Arsenal team. Arsenal plays a different brand of football, not every player can fit into its system. Price tags don’t matter when you are an Arsenal player. Just see how much Henry and Viera cost Arsenal and you will know where I am coming from. Juan Mata is one such player, who can fit into this side seamlessly. Now its about getting the player, which again depends on number of variables.
UT: Past encounters between Arsenal and Liverpool have been action-packed and really close. Honestly speaking, what is your prediction for the game on Saturday?
AM: Arsenal vs Liverpool is one of the most anticipated fixtures in the EPL calendar. These two teams have served up number of fascinating encounters.
Arsenal haven’t lost to Liverpool at their home ground since 2000/2001 season. I don’t see that trend changing over here. Though it is a much-weakened Arsenal team, I expect them to be strong at home. I think the scoreboard at the end of the match will read like this – Arsenal 2 : 1 Liverpool.
Well, Amlan and Uday are still locked in conversation and will be, till Saturday evening. However, we felt it would be good to end this Rendezvous here. Let’s hope we have a cracker of an encounter lined up this Saturday!
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