Monday, April 7, 2008

Arsenal vs. Liverpool PREVIEW

I don't feel so good about the game tomorrow. Arsenal are going into one of if not the most difficult stadium to visit in the world, to play a team that manages to morph into a real contender when it comes to big Champions League ties, who have the world's best crunch time player and a forward that can score at any time, plus Liverpool have the advantage with the away goal they stole at Arsenal last Wednesday.

I also don't feel good about the meek way Arsenal have been scoring of late. They've needed headers off set pieces, not from open play, and not from the breaking down of other teams' defenses. Plus, they've had huge problems finishing off their nice moves.

On the other hand, Arsenal have without a doubt had the better of Liverpool in recent years, and they usually don't capitulate to pressure at the Kop.

If we break down the game a little further we'd find a really interesting matchup between two teams that have shown this season that they can both play stunningly beautiful soccer when they fancy, but that have been underwhelming for big chunks of the season. Liverpool's run of poor form came in the middle of the season, when their series of ties and losses knocked them out of League contention. But they've since recovered, thanks partly to the great form of Torres, but also to the return of Xavi Alonso.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are still fighting through their season's rough patch (which has been going for a good six weeks now). They've been racked by injuries and bad chemistry, and worst of all, it seems as though their inability to finish has infiltrated their collective psyche: now, when they miss a shot, the players don't look like it's only one miss, they look like it's indicative of some larger impotence. It's just like the end of last year--a psyche that Eduardo and others had shaken earlier this year. Ugh.

If we break it down even further we'd find a Liverpool team that is completely comfortable packing it in and holding out for a CL victory. What's more, now that they have Torres with Gerrard playing in behind him, they are even more dangerous on the break than 2005 or last year, when they made the CL finals.

The biggest problem, and I know I'm repeating myself, is that Arsenal can't score anymore. At least, they're not scoring convincingly. The worst part is that they're having difficulty scoring and breaking down teams when they're defensively set. This means that they're most dangerous on the break (indeed, they've always been) but we shouldn't expect Liverpool to be taking many risks and leaving themselves vulnerable to many counter attacks tomorrow.

If I had to point to key players, I'd point to Gerrard for Liverpool (DUH.) and Van Persie for Arsenal. I'll never forget Van Persie's first games for Arsenal. He came on a few games in the last ten minutes and scored the kinds of left foot rocket-goals that have become his staple. If Arsenal are to progress, it will be in part due to the Dutchman's left foot, AND AND AND AND AND his being fit, which I know is iffy at best.

So what can we predict?

We know that Liverpool picks up their game in the CL, but we've also seen how Arsenal can fight back this season. We've seen them perform best with their backs against the wall.

Still, the way they've failed to finish wide open chances in their recent run of ties has really made me skeptical of their attacking abilities. Even though they've shown they can score in the CL this year, even away in tough venues like the San Siro, I'm going to have to pick Liverpool to either keep the tie 1-1 or beat Arsenal in extra time/Pks.

I know it's hard to imagine Arsenal being held scoreless, so maybe it's more realistic to consider them being beaten in extra time/PKs. Just think of it this way: if you had to bet your life on Arsenal winning this game--knowing their recent troubles and injuries--would you? You know, I might--but it would only be out of loyalty.