Arsenal — Liverpool (FA Cup)
Arsenal host Liverpool for the FA Cup fixture on Sunday, just a week after being hammered by the Reds in Liverpool. The Gunners have been slow leaving the blocks and Brendan Rodgers’s men fully exploited that in the first 20 minutes of the game. The defence in particular were still trying to grasp what hit them.
Surely Arsène Wenger and his men would like to take this next FA Cup clash as a pay-back moment for that humiliating 5-1 at Anfield just six days ago. But they have bigger fish to fry. In 72 hours they will host Champions League Winners Bayern Munich. Quite frankly, given the Gunners later performances, nobody expects them to go through to the next round. The League standings have been suffering with the poor moment in form, they are now still number two in the table but that is mainly due to the postponed Manchester City game.
Tuesday was Classic night at the Emirates, Arsenal against old rivals Manchester United but it was not a night to remember. United has been going through stuff this season and the Londoners seem to have come to that disappointing time of the year when the simply break. The best performers on the pitch were probably the two keepers, at 23 Szczesny and De Gea are world class players, the type that maintain focus, effectiveness and step up when needed even if everyone else is falling apart. From the get-go the Gunners were too preoccupied in maintaining a clean sheet, after what happen on the weekend. They looked tired, mentally and physically, and have long stopped doing the tiki-taka. It was a hard-working, very physical game for Oliver Giroud, I grant him that. But a striker in a drought is a sad thing to watch. A team like Arsenal, that for the first time in many a year had a real chance to win the Premier League had to buy a decent forward alternative, they just had to! Clearly they could afford it. And now that stubbornness can cost them not only the title but maybe even the top-four position. It is clearly a possibility with Liverpool and Spurs on the rise and Wenger’s next fixtures stretch.
Fortunately for Wenger Mathieu Flamini is back from suspension, at least one good news. The Frenchman and Aaron Ramsey’s absence have maimed Arsenal’s game. Santi Cazorla is a last minute casualty to illness.
Probable line-up: Fabiansky — Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal — Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain — Gnabri, Rosicky, Podolsky — Bentner.
Mid-week League action brought the Reds to Fulham and they have Sasha Riether for the late penalty over Daniel Sturridge that landed them the 3 points. In their defence they did work for it. Even after two embarrassing defensive failures that cost them as many goals against Brendan Rodgers’ side kept going forward and it is that mentality and strength that can make a difference in the long run. The defence, however, is the weakest link, a liability compromising the “chihuahuas”.
Liverpool’s top goal this season is to finish in the top four. A season away from European football is more than enough, anything above that would be a glorious bonus. Ironically it will be an advantage in this final run of the season, not having extra fixtures to add to the pile. Rodgers admitted the starting XI would be similar to the one facing Fulham, his only doubt being Glen Johnson’s fitness. He also claimed to have an eye in the FA Cup and that the Reds would go in full force with the possibility of silverware in mind.
Probable line-up: Mignolet — Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Cissokho — Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson — Sterling, Sturridge, Suárez.
Both Arsenal and Liverpool are yet to concede a goal in the competition this season.