Arsenal and Liverpool fight for 3rd place

It’s a measure of how inconsistent Arsenal and Liverpool are (or how consistent Chelsea and Manchester United are) that less than 1/3rd of the season has gone by and already both Arsenal and Liverpool are being counted out of the Premiership title race.

Nothing big to report that you havent already heard – Rosicky is out, Liverpool are on a winning run and Arsenal have somewhat of a confidence because of a lack of wins at Ashburton Grove, although Adebayour’s header against Everton in midweek would have helped. The goals from Henry have dried up somewhat and that will worry Wenger, although with the Gunners there is enough class that to underestimate them would be foolish at best.

Tactics? Wenger’s men will stick to their guns (no pun intended), play their slick passing game and hope to beat Liverpool’s defence on movement and positioning. They’ll need Henry to make the right runs (and not get stuck on the left or outside the box trying to retrieve the ball) and they’ll need the other striker – van Persie or Adebayour – to mix it up with Liverpool’s back four and distract them. It’s not an ideal strategy but if you’re hellbent on playing cute without getting physical, one of Arsenal’s players will have to do something special, and that’s got to be Henry.

What would really suck is if Arsenal went into this game with a 4-5-1 or a 4-4-1-1 – they need to play 4-4-2 to get the best out of Henry, unless they’re willing to stick him far out on the left and buy a new centre-forward who can trouble defences on his own.

Walcott should play a role – I’d vote for him to start on the left – Liverpool are not the fastest side in defence and the kid needs more than 20 minutes to really have an impact on the game.

Vieira will be missed – Wenger would have watched United vs Liverpool and seen how even Fletcher was rattling their players. Who can do the same for Arsenal?

Liverpool wont miss Sissoko that much – Gerrard’s return to the centre and Pennant on the right means that Liverpool can now afford to play an attacking 4-4-2 that may actually help them get a goal away from home. If they go in with the same type of 4-5-1 (laughingly called a 4-3-3) that they used against United, they’re in for a thrashing.

I’ve always held Benitez as a master tactician, but lately his over-cautious nature has meant that his team has been too inconsistent to challenge for the title. The effects of his rotation policy will be seen over the next 3-4 months as a glut of fixtures will take an extraordinary toll on players.

Media Coverage

The preview has been surprisingly low-key for this game, but that can be attributed to Wenger’s self-imposed silence and the unjustified focus on referees and spats. There are three articles of note that I want to point out though.

Myles at Arsenal News Review – off-key today, but he’s quite realistic about the supposed crowd problem that Henry referred to earlier. He also thinks that Arsenal will come in 3rd and Liverpool below them. That it really, not a very good piece, which is surprising as this is a major game and you would have expect Myles to be sober 🙂

Amy Lawrence at the Guardian – she says that Arsenal lack a siege mentality, which is possibly one of the most ironic things I’ve heard. The way I see it, Arsenal have one of two things – a siege mentality gone wrong or an arrogance and self-victimization that is just pathetic. When a team keeps complaining about the style of other teams, complaining about other managers, and basically complaining after every game about missed opportunities and ‘agendas’ against them (instead of looking at where they went wrong), it’s definitely an ‘us vs them’ mindset, and if that’s not ‘siege mentality’ then I don’t know what is.

What Amy gets spot on is that Arsenal lack the fight that comes out of such a mentality. Fair enough. But it’s still there Amy, and it’s Wenger’s doing.

Jon Brodkin talks about new stadiums and how some teams take a lot of time settling in – that’s fine, but it really sucks as an excuse. If Arsenal were playing bad you’d blame the new stadium. But they’re just not scoring, and if you are creating 60 chances in a week the problem’s not the stadium, the problem is in the dressing room, in the players’ minds and on the training pitch.

Arsenal take on Liverpool at the Emirates in 4 hours – if they win, they’ll take 3rd spot. If they lose, Liverpool will pip them for 6th place.

Like Tottenham and Liverpool a few games back, you don’t expect these giants to mucking about mid-table, but that’s how it is, and if anything it tells you how tough the Premiership has become in the last three years.

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