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Game of the weekend obviously has to be down at Anfield, where a buoyant Arsenal visit Liverpool. As a Liverpool fan this article is going to leave a bitter taste in the mouth, but here goes.
Against Besiktas, the performance for Liverpool wasn’t really good enough. Although we are creating chances, we are not putting them away, more or less the same story with the Everton game last week. The main culprit is Andrei Voronin. He missed countless chances at Goddison last week and in Istanbul he missed one glorious chance in the first half.
Now Benitez has spent big this summer, especially in the scoring department. Fernando Torres is injured, so he’s dodged the bullet for now at least. The other main threat who he invested in was Ryan Babel, who has been extremely disappointing thus far. He had a good game up north against Sunderland, and since then whenever he has played he hasn’t looked £12m at all.
I think the main problem is that Rafa is looking to convert him-unsuccessfully-to a left winger. He’s more of a Luis Garcia really, he likes running around in the gap between defence and attack and creating and taking chances when the occasion takes him. I would think that Yossi Benayoun will take his place on the left of midfield.
One plus for Liverpool is the probability that Fernando Torres will be fit. I would expect him to play up front on Sunday with Dirk Kuyt. Another ‘plus’ is the return of Xabi Alonso, who could return to the side after injury. His form hasn’t been good at all this season, and hopefully the lay-off has done him so good. I would expect him to bench-warm on Sunday though and I would imagine Javier Mascherano will continue to deputise.
Key Player: I’m going to go with Javier Mascherano, purely because of the man who will be playing against him, Cesc Fabregas. Mascherano needs to keep Cesc quiet, end of. If he fails, then Liverpool will have their work cut out. If he succeeds, we will then be able to push on and we will then be looking for another top drawer performance from Steven Gerrard, who was different class in Istanbul last Wednesday and didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Probable Team: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Pennant, Gerrard, Mascherano, Benayoun, Torres, Kuyt
In contrast, Arsenal are playing top quality football. What else do we expect? They have always played the best football in the EPL and they are continuing to do so. The 7-0 drubbing of Slavia midweek must have given Benitez food for thought, even if the standard of opposition was poor. If not then the form of Cesc Fabregas in midfield all season must be playing on Benitez’s mind.
Fabregas has been back with a bang this season, no doubt about it. He’s scoring goals, he’s passing the pall brilliantly, he’s got skill, and he seems the complete package. As a playmaker this season there has been none better, and I think comparisons to Riccy Kaka are justified on his performances thus far. If he’s on form on Sunday, that means that Javier Mascherano will have to produce an epic game to keep him quiet.
Equally impressive has been the form of Emmanuel Adebayor. I’ve always likened him to Drogba for his build, but now I can liken them for ability and style. Both rangy, both quick, both strong, both can head, both can finish, both have got skill.
The interesting thing would be if Theo Walcott partners him once again at Anfield. On the basis of Wednesday, I would back him to retain his place. This would probably complete an unchanged line-up from Wednesday.
Key Player: Francesc Fabregas. If he continues his form, then the temperamental goalkeeping of Pepe Reina will be tested, the command of Hyypia in the box will be tested, the anticipation of Carragher will be tested. In short, it could be a long afternoon if you’re going to be stood in the Kop.
Probable Team: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue, Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb, Walcott, Adebayor
To Sum Up…
I think that this is going to be quite an open game to be honest. Liverpool will go hunting for the early kill, as they usually do at home. Arsenal will invite the pressure and welcome it. I think that their form is far superior to Liverpool’s at the moment though, and their players are playing the better football. So I would give this one to Arsenal…but only just.
Prediction: Liverpool 1 — 2 Arsenal