It’s really glorious isn’t it, how quickly things change in football? How well a team is being regarded can be gauged by the kind of players they’re being linked with. In the summer, Liverpool were linked with everyone from Arturo Vidal to Edinson Cavani, and seemed on the verge of signing Alexis Sanchez. Now, Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph has been linked. To add insult to injury, certain media houses went as far as to tout him as a replacement for Steven Gerrard. Seriously.
Will Mario & Mignolet ever find their way back?
Mario ‘Why-always-me’ Balotelli is suspended for this game thanks to a poorly thought out Instagram post. Rickie Lambert’s aerial threat will mean little when he’s being marked by the towering Per Mertesacker, so it is highly likely that Rodgers will continue to field Raheem Sterling as the veritable tip of the spear. There is of course Fabio Borini, but right about now the Italian’s probably busy downloading The Godfather trilogy onto his iPad for when he’s warming the bench on Sunday. He’s not the only one who’s been given the cold shoulder by Rodgers, with Simon Mignolet benched over the past two games. It’s an odd strategy, and it’s unclear whether Rodgers is trying to teach Mignolet a lesson, or simply imploring owners FSG to buy him a new keeper. As if playing Brad Jones is the catalyst that’ll get them going in the January window.
Sterling’s pace critical up top
Sterling failed to score 3 very good chances to score at Old Trafford last week, but buried two in the back of the net against Bournemouth in the League Cup. Against Arsenal, he’ll have to score whatever chances he gets, as their defence is better than both Bournemouth’s and United’s. On the plus side, his application up front has made it clear why Liverpool have struggled all season: lack of a pacey forward. It also shows just how poor Liverpool’s transfer strategy has been, with Lambert and Balotelli both clearly lacking the zip in their run that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge provided. Perhaps if Loic Remy had been signed as was originally planned, Liverpool might have been in a better state.
Lucas has to shield the 3- Man defense
With Arsene Wenger likely to field Olivier Giroud up front with Danny Welbeck & Alexis Sanchez out wide, Rodgers will have incentive to stick to the 3 man back-line he has used in the last two games. With Dejan Lovren suffering a groin injury, Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure should start. He will have to pick his wing-backs with care though. Jordan Henderson has always been diligent towards his defensive duties when played on the right, but both Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic are somewhat less than reliable. What Rodgers wouldn’t give to have Jon Flanagan available right about now.
With Arsenal having an incredibly strong midfield, especially from an attacking perspective, it’s important that Rodgers start with Lucas Leiva shielding the back-line. No Liverpool fan wants to see the defence that has conceded 22 goals in 16 games being left exposed against Sanchez, Cazorla and Welbeck.
Best chance for Wenger to claim a big win
While there’s a lot of talk about Brendan Rodgers needing a big win to counteract the negativity surrounding this season, Arsene Wenger also needs a high profile scalp to satiate the Arsenal boo-boys. Sitting 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, Arsenal haven’t beaten any of their big rivals, with draws against Man City and Tottenham, and losses to Chelsea and Man United. A win over Liverpool could get the full Gooners support behind him again.
And now is probably the best time to be going to Anfield. Beating a Championship side aside, Liverpool are truly down in the dumps right now. The ease with which Antonio Valencia regularly ran past Joe Allen and Alberto Moreno will make Wenger wish he had Theo Walcott available to play down the right flank, but the Englishman has just returned to training and Wenger wouldn’t risk playing him prematurely.
Cazorla to Help Create Overloads
Rather, the primary strategy might be to play Santi Cazorla right behind Olivier Giroud, and have him drift out wide to overload the center half and wing-back on that flank. With Sakho and Markovic already having their hands full with Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy, Cazorla’s movement could easily have the back-line twisted out of shape. Welbeck and Keiran Gibbs could effect a similar strategy on the left flank. With Olivier Giroud leading the line, they’ll also have a big target to aim for.
Liverpool have regularly looked completely out of sorts when defending against set-pieces and crosses into the box. Olivier Giroud is just the man to exploit this weakness. Not only because of is he over 6’3” (roughly the same height as Martin Skrtel), but he also has an excellent jump, as he again demonstrated against Newcastle last week. He also reminded fans how clinical a finisher he can be, with a silky finish to complete his brace against the Tyneside club.