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Fernando Torres vs. Luis Suarez: Which Forward saw the Best First Year at Liverpool?


Fernando Torres or Luis Suarez; which majestic forward had the most impressive opening 12 months after signing for Liverpool?

A No. 9 and a No. 7, both brought in with expectation and anticipation, and for massive fees well in excess of £20 million.

When the Spanish striker Torres arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 2007, he was a talented yet perhaps a little raw forward who thrived on open spaces behind defences where he could utilise his explosive pace to its full potential. Aged just 23, he had yet to develop completely in a tactical sense, though he would make huge strides to perfecting this within his first season.

Luis Suarez, for his part, arrived at Anfield shortly after his 24th birthday and though he had originally been targeted as a forward partner for Torres, never got the chance to play with him as Torres departed Liverpool the same day as Suarez signed. For his previous club Ajax, Suarez had been a prolific scorer in the defensively-weaker Dutch Eredivisie, though his position had altered between a true central forward and a wider support attacker.

Below we examine the main statistics and talking points from each player and also look at more detail into what they achieved during their first year with the club, along with how they were perceived.

*Technically Suarez has yet to finish an entire year with the club, having signed at the very end of January 2011, though since part of Torres’ own first year included two preseasons, it seems a reasonable enough comparison to try and judge who fared best at this point, especially since Suarez will take no further competitive part for Liverpool during what remains of his first year at the club.

As ever it would be interesting to hear your thoughts—leave your comments below and don’t forget to vote!

Fernando Torres

After signing in early July 2007, Torres joined Liverpool on a pre-season visit to Asia, getting around a month to settle into his new surroundings before making his competitive debut for Liverpool against Aston Villa in the first game of the new Premier League season.

‘Nando netted his first competitive Reds goal in his first home match, scoring against Chelsea at Anfield in a 1-1 draw. He followed this up with a home brace against Derby in September as well as netting his first Reds hat-trick in the same month, notching three goals in a League Cup tie against Reading, his first Liverpool goals away from Anfield.

At the end of November Torres scored his long-awaited first Champions League goals, scoring twice in a superb 4-1 rout of Porto to help put the Reds within a single victory of a place in the next round, despite only having taken a single point from their first three group games. However injuries had started to hit in this month and he missed a couple of games while recovering, including a frustrating 0-0 against Blackburn Rovers which saw a host of chances wasted.

A busy December saw a return of five goals from seven games as El Niño really started to get to grips with the English game. New Year strikes against Wigan and Middlesbrough took Torres’ total to a terrific 17 goals in his first 22 games in a Red jersey, despite the few knocks along the way he had taken which had seen him miss out on both Premier and Champions League matches.

Back-to-back Anfield Premier League hat-tricks in February and March against Middlesbrough and West Ham United saw ‘Nando surge past the 20-goal mark in his debut season, while he also netted against Newcastle United, Inter Milan, Reading and Merseyside rivals Everton made it a fantastic March. Two goals in the last two games of the Premier League season saw Fernando Torres finish on 24 league goals for the season—in doing so setting a new Premier League record for the highest number of goals for a foreign newcomer’s first season.

The campaign ended trophy-less after the Reds were knocked out of the Champions League in the semi-final by Chelsea, though a fourth-placed Premiership finish ensured there would be more European nights to follow the next season.

Torres ended his first campaign as Liverpool’s No. 9 with a hugely impressive 33 goals in 46 games, an average of 0.72 goals per game.

His all-round game had noticeably improved and his traits were becoming abundantly clear to fans and opposition players alike—those runs into the channels, the slowing up in possession before the burst of pace took him clear, the feint to shoot before turning inside when closing in on goal—but that didn’t appear to have made him any easier to stop.

‘Nando had achieved hero-worship status in his first year at Anfield after becoming the first player since the legendary Robbie Fowler in 1996-97 to reach the 30-goal mark in all competitions.

Injuries had been fleeting concerns at different points throughout the season, but this was largely attributed to his adjusting to the more physical demands of the Premier League, and the lack of a winter break that he was used to in Spain. In hindsight, perhaps those initial injuries are viewed now more as a sign of what was to come in the following seasons.

One other highly noticeable trait about Torres during his first campaign on Merseyside was how hard he was prepared to work for the benefit of the team. As much as another well-taken goal would lead to the Torres “bounce,” fans all over Anfield were encouraged and would applaud to see the No. 9 racing back to make a sliding tackle behind the half-way line, even if he had not originally lost the ball.

Luis Suarez

In signing on deadline day of the January transfer window of 2011, Luis Suarez became the first major signing of the new owners NESV and immediately took over the vacant No. 7 jersey, made famous before him by the likes of Kevin Keegan and, coincidentally, his new boss—Kenny Dalglish.

The transfer was something of a drawn-out process, with initial reports of a bid from the Reds coming as far as three weeks prior to the conclusion of the deal, and by the end of it the Uruguayan was somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of Andy Carroll for a British transfer record.

Upon arrival, perhaps unlike Torres, Luis already had a great appreciation of space and how best to exploit it against different defenders, be it the brute-force kind or the more technical, balanced type. He would come across both in his opening months on Merseyside and flourish.

Suarez did not have long to wait to make his Liverpool debut, appearing off the bench against Stoke City at Anfield just after the hour mark. His immediate willingness to run at defenders with the ball got supporters excited straight away—and only a quarter of an hour after beginning life as a Red, Suarez got his first goal, taking on the ‘keeper and finding the net via a scruffy finish off the defender and near post.

After sitting out the next game (vs Chelsea) as an unused sub, Suarez made his first start two weeks after arriving in a 1-1 draw against Wigan Athletic, before creating the only Reds goal of the game in a 3-1 defeat to West Ham United.

Already it was hugely apparent that Liverpool had signed an immensely talented player capable of great things in and around the penalty box; in a very different way to Fernando Torres but every bit as dangerous. His skill on the ball and speed of turn was already causing Premier League defenders great problems, and though he had only scored once in his first three matches he had shown himself anything but afraid to shoot.

The following performance, against Manchester United at Anfield, was arguably the best individual display the Premier League witnessed during the 2010-11 season.

Suarez single-handedly tore United’s defence to shreds, occupying three and four players at once on numerous occasions, and coming out on top. His sublime run and close control on the left side of the area led to Dirk Kuyt opening the scoring, and the Dutchman would go on to complete his hat-trick after following in a Suarez free-kick which had been parried.

Three goals for Kuyt, but the entire watching world was in no doubt as to who the top performer was.

The assists were not Suarez’s first for the Reds, and he was proving himself a great all-round forward who’s trickery and agility would provide as many chances for his team-mates as himself.

Ineligible for Europa League matches as a result of his participation in Europe with former club Ajax, Suarez missed the double-header against Sporting Club Braga before notching his second goal for the Reds against Sunderland, with an audacious effort inside the near post after more bewildering skill on the touchline which was fast becoming a Suarez trademark.

Another trait, similar to Fernando Torres in fact after his arrival, was Suarez’s complete dedication to the cause, tracking back runners and harrying defenders, giving them no time on the ball to play their way out of defence.

While goals were not forthcoming for the forward in the following month, his performances continued to be of the highest order as he played a major part in wins over Manchester City and Birmingham.

Into the final month of the season and Luis scored twice in two games against Newcastle and Fulham, showing predatory instincts to notch in both cases, as Liverpool chased a Europa League spot, which was in the end out of reach after successive defeats to end the campaign.

With his country Uruguay in summer action with the Copa America, there was no great rest for the talismanic forward as he went all the way to Final glory with his nation, earning the Best Player accolade and scoring four goals along the path.

An extended and enforced break before the 2011-12 campaign got up and running meant Suarez played no part in the preseason preparations of the club, and there were concerns that Kenny Dalglish would have to nurse him through the early part of the season to prevent over-tiredness and injuries.

Three goals and a missed penalty in the first four games of the season allied any of those fears as Suarez continued his blistering and eventful form of the previous campaign and, naturally, fans rose El Pistolero onto a pedestal as the face of the latest Champions League-places charge.

The now-famous “I just can’t get enough” tune began to ring out with huge frequency every match from the Kop, at home or away fixtures, and was soon adopted and adapted by other teams’ fans for their own favourite players.

Early season link-up play between Suarez and a new forward signing, Craig Bellamy, gave fans plenty of hope that a fast-paced forward line would be the order of the day, after they seemed to gel instantly against Brighton in a tricky-looking League Cup tie.

Defeats to Spurs and Stoke brought out the frustrated side of Suarez as he was booked in both games, while substitutions of the player against Wolves and Brighton—both of whom he scored against—also drew frustrated reactions from an immensely competitive individual.

October brought a very mixed bag for Suarez. A first Merseyside derby for the Uruguayan saw him fouled by Jack Rodwell, who was harshly sent off, despite it still being a foul, and the beginnings of a media portrayal that Suarez dived at every opportunity.

While he was certainly used to going to ground when defenders were in close attendance behind him, Suarez was targeted thereafter at every opportunity by mind-numbing, parrot-like pundits who, instead of examining what was actually happening, chose to merely voice the popular opinion of the day.

The same fixture against Everton brought another goal and a 2-0 win, before controversy was sparked in a match against rivals Manchester United.

A 1-1 draw in the match itself after Suarez had again terrorised the Red Devils backline was put in the shade after allegations of racist comments were made by United defender Patrice Evra. After much delay Suarez was eventually charged with the same offence by the FA, and a drawn-out decision making process was begun, which would not conclude until late December.

Norwich City were the next visitors and after a 1-1 draw was all Liverpool could take against another promoted side, questions were asked of Suarez’s finishing prowess; to this point he had notched five goals for the season from one of the highest numbers of shots out of any player in the Premier League, and the feeling from some quarters was that Suarez—and Liverpool in general—were not being clinical enough. Those questions were temporarily put to bed as, in the very next game, Suarez scored twice away to Stoke in the League Cup with very different goals to drag Liverpool from a losing point to victory, the first being a quite spectacular piece of skill and finishing.

Suarez encountered a barren run of form in goal-scoring terms during November as he failed to score in any of the four games, though performances in general were still pleasing. Luis’ skill and movement made him a real thorn in defenders’ sides and always made him the go-to man for the Reds’ attack.

Six games without a goal came to an end at home to QPR in December, though it looked for a while as though it would be a case of the same old story as Suarez spurned chances to put Liverpool ahead before heading the only goal of the game in the second half, his eighth of the season in all competitions.

Liverpool saw out 2011 unbeaten from that point on, but Suarez did not score again and missed the final match against Newcastle due to suspension for a post-match incident against Fulham.

Having been served with an eight-match ban and £40,000 fine by the FA’s panel for the incident involving Patrice Evra, prior to the first match of 2012 Suarez and Liverpool decided not to appeal the ‘guilty’ verdict, despite continuing to deny the allegation entirely. As a result, Suarez will play no further part in Liverpool’s season until Feb. 6th at the earliest—which would mark one year and four days since his Reds goalscoring debut.

His current Liverpool records stands at 12 goals in 34 appearances, 0.35 goals per game—half the rate that Torres scored at, though were it not for the six occasions he has struck the woodwork during this term, it could be considerably higher.

Have your say below on who you think was the best during the opening twelve months with Liverpool and why—and don’t forget to vote!

Liverpool Reborn Under Kenny Dalglish: What a Difference a Year Makes


As referee Lee Probert called time on the game at Anfield on Saturday, Liverpoolmoved back to the top of the—admittedly ridiculously early—Premier League table for the first time since the late title charge in May 2009.

The Reds, now under the stewardship of Kenny Dalglish, clinched a convincing 3-1 win over Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, showing signs of some sumptuous play all over the field during the entire 90 minutes, a throwback to the very best of the action seen under King Kenny the first time around.

An opening day draw against Sunderland, a win against top-four rivals Arsenal and a hammering of the much-praised side of Owen Coyle have given Liverpool their best start to a season since 1994, when the club won all of their first three matches.

Contrast that to last season when, after the same number of games at the end of August, the Reds—”guided” by Roy Hodgson—had drawn with the Gunners, were heavily beaten against Manchester City and laboured to a barely-deserved 1-0 home win over West Brom, leaving them in an uninspiring 13th place, with a minus-two goal difference. Liverpool’s current goal difference is four in credit—last season, it took until February for the statistic to stop being a negative figure.

Even this early on in the season a year ago, Liverpool were already showing signs of not being all-well, as a static looking system was being put in place with ill-fitting personnel; not to mention the transfer shenanigans which saw Christian Poulsen come in to the club to all-round misgivings and Paul Konchesky arrive to downright dismay.

At the same time, midfield enforcer Javier Mascherano was refusing to play against Manchester City in an attempt to force through a move to Barcelona, which he managed shortly afterwards.

Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina were persuaded to stay for another season, supposedly, with the insertion of release fee clauses in their contracts, but it was far from pretty viewing on the pitch, and few could have imagined that Hodgson was the man to turn things around, even at that early stage.

Indeed, it was to be another half a dozen league matches and almost two full months before Hodgson would guide the Reds to another victory, during which time the likes of Sunderland, Northampton and Blackpool all visited Anfield and left without being beaten, or even particularly troubled at times.

On the 17th October, Liverpool were soundly beaten by local rivals Everton, a result which left the Reds in the utterly embarrassing position of 19th in the Premier League, only off the bottom on goal difference. The sounds of discontent were audible on the club forums, in the stands and in every pub and social gathering place up and down the country where Kopites could be found.

The malaise continued for another two months before enough was enough; Hodgson was dismissed after an abysmal defeat at Ewood Park left Liverpool back in 13th, only four points above the drop zone and a massive 20 points behind the league leaders Manchester City after little more than half the season.

Then, in came Kenny Dalglish.

The turnaround was not, as some would like to imagine, immediate. It took until Dalglish’s fourth match in charge to record his first victory, but from then on, it was almost plain sailing until the end of the season. No doubt helped by a perceived lack of pressure on the club, as it was almost impossible to qualify for European competition, the team played with a freedom and attacking intent which was refreshing to the point of being shocking after the turgid, unimaginative and linear nonsense which was given by the same set of players under the previous manager.

The big test, everybody said, would come in the summer and during the new campaign.

Could Dalglish bring in the right players, spend money wisely and mould another Liverpool team to grace Anfield and bring pleasure to the fans?

It’s three games into the season.

We’ll make no judgements at this point on what Kenny and Liverpool can or cannot achieve this season, but if the start is anything to go by, then Liverpool have a great chance of at least breaking their way back into the top four; surely the main aim of everyone in the club for this term and something which seemed impossible to imagine this time a year ago.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Liverpool—generally seen as the six challengers to battle it out between themselves for the top four places.

Given the transfer market activity and start to the season that both Manchester teams have had, it seems fair to accept they will both be in the running for honours come the end of the season, while Chelsea, given their array of attacking talent, should definitely be up there even with a new manager.

North London? We’ve seen today what work both teams have on to get themselves going, but neither can be ruled out.

But early on in the season, and Liverpool already have a significant lead on both teams: six points ahead of Arsenal and seven ahead of Tottenham, albeit they have a game in hand.

Though it may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things at this stage, we have heard season after season how Liverpool are playing catch-up with the top sides from early on in the season—this time, it is the other way round, and it can only benefit the team from Merseyside.

Liverpool have seven points after three games; last season, it took NINE league matches to reach the same tally despite playing five matches at home in that time, including two newly promoted sides.

Whether the good start can be maintained and players can give performances to compare with that of Saturday over the entire season remains to be seen.

But for what he’s already done in his short time back at the club, and especially when compared to what came before him, Kenny Dalglish deserves every ounce of leeway, respect and backing that supporters can give him in terms of team selections, transfers and tactics.

Liverpool are in the top four already, only a month into the new Premier League season.

If in nine months’ time, they are still there, Dalglish will have completed one of the most impressive turnarounds in fortune that the Premier League will have seen in years—and Liverpool can begin planning again on how best to compete with the very best in Europe.

Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard: Which Position Best Suits Both Player and Team?


Three games into the new 2011-12 season and Kenny Dalglish has fielded eight midfielders already—nine if you count Dirk Kuyt—as Liverpool’s new-bought squad depth shows early signs of paying dividends, allowing for several changes in personnel and tactics without sacrificing strength, balance or quality.

But someone has been missing off the list of midfielders who have had game time already—and I don’t mean Christian Poulsen.

Liverpool club captain Steven Gerrard, out of action since early March after having groin operations and suffering a setback because of infection, should now be just a matter of weeks away from making a competitive return to wearing the Red shirt.

Already in light training and integrating with the squad, Gerrard will be taking a keen interest on both new signings and first team veterans; sizing up who is having a good impact and who needs to step up to the mark.

Looking, perhaps, to see where he will fit back into the team.

Throughout his career Gerrard has played in almost every position for Liverpool except in goal—I think centre back might be missing from the list too, but that’s about it.

But which position brings out the best in Steven Gerrard?

And, more importantly, will that position also best benefit the team?

We take a look here at where Gerrard could fit back into the side, whose place he is most likely to take and how he will set about lifting the rest of the players to higher performance levels.

Position: Central Midfield

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Charlie Adam

Gerrard is traditionally “seen” as a central midfielder, though in truth has only started around a third of his total career matches in this position.

Though early on in his Reds’ career he was a great box-to-box player with his range of passing, shooting, tackling and physical levels, Gerrard has gradually moved further forward as he has gotten older and never really—either through lack of training/game time or of aptitude—developed the necessary skills to be a true top-class central midfielder such as positioning in the defensive third and being able to track late opposition runs from deep.

He’s certainly more than capable of holding his own in the position as all the above traits still more than apply, but is sure to need a full-on defensive midfielder alongside him such as Lucas Leiva.

He can be a great threat for the Reds from deep positions, but against good opponents must remain wary of his defensive responsibilities if he is to regularly play this position. For this reason in a true 4:4:2 I remain sceptical of Gerrard’s worth in central midfield; with nobody else to link up play between midfield and defence he would be straining to get forward to fulfil that role, which at the same time would leave his partner in the middle open to counter attacks and overloading.

Position: Right Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

With Stewart Downing having seemingly sewn up one spot of any attacking quartet, and with Luis Suarez likely to have another one at every available chance, Henderson and Kuyt have, in the early part of the season, looked in more or less direct competition with each other for a starting berth.

Both played against Arsenal but once Gerrard comes back it will likely be one or the other—at the most.

Gerrard enjoyed his most prolific spell in a Liverpool shirt when playing from the right side of the midfield and, while not his preferred choice of position, he can still offer certain attributes which will prove valuable to others in the team.

From a wide position in a 4:2:3:1 he will have ample time to roam infield, leaving the likes of Martin Kelly or Glen Johnson to overlap into the spaces he leaves, while his delivery from the channels has always been exemplary, something which would no doubt appeal to whoever starts up front for the Reds.

However, is this the position which makes the best use of him? Gerrard does not have the trickery or acceleration to beat players on the flank; he is fast but not lightning fast in tight spaces and uses power and audacity to beat opponents in the middle of the park. From a wide position Gerrard finds himself on the margins of the game at times and, becoming frustrated, looks to come infield more often than Dalglish might like, narrowing the game considerably.

In a 4:4:2 this would become more problematic as he could conceivably leave his right-back behind him without any adequate cover.

Many people would prefer to put Gerrard out wide to allow as many other strong attackers from the squad into the team as possible—but personally speaking, I’m not one of them.

Position: Left Wing

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1, 4:4:2

Player Most Likely to Replace: Dirk Kuyt/Jordan Henderson

Playing from the opposite flank, Gerrard is still likely to take either Kuyt or Henderson’s place as Downing would simply switch to the right, allowing both players to cut in on their favoured foot.

Gerrard has played this role occasionally for both club and country, but again the obvious tendency is to drift infield as he will naturally face that direction to be able to receive the ball to his right foot.

Cutting in from the left Gerrard would pose a severe threat to any opposition goal, but it is unlikely we will see too much of him in this position.

Position: Second Striker

Suitable Formations: 4:2:3:1 and variations

Player Most Likely to Replace: Jordan Henderson/Raul Meireles/Andy Carroll

A natural goal threat, Gerrard excels at getting beyond the striker and providing excellent support in and around the penalty box. A good finisher and aggressive in attacking positions, Gerrard almost looks like a centre forward at times.

He does have a tendency to neglect his back-tracking duties when playing this role and can leave the team a little weak in midfield at times, but the obvious benefits he brings to the team when in this role are huge.

Whether Kuyt, Carroll or Suarez are playing as the striker, Gerrard can link well with all of them and allow others to come into the game with his range of passing and willingness to get involved in combination plays.

He suffered in this role during the poor 2009-10 season as a result of lack of service to himself and Fernando Torres; a huge burden of play will fall on the shoulders of Charlie Adam should Gerrard play this position with regularity.

Personal Preference:

I have little doubt; I prefer to see Gerrard centrally.

An advanced role is where I hope to see him most—dead centre in a 4:2:3:1 is the ideal position for Steven Gerrard and, assuming the supply line to him remains open, where he is most devastating.

Against weaker opposition or at home where Liverpool intends on going for more goals, a central midfield role is certainly not out of the question assuming, as mentioned previously, Lucas or someone similar is in there as well.

A front four of Downing, Gerrard, Suarez and Carroll certainly appeals to me—as would swapping in any of Kuyt, Meireles or (when in form) Maxi or Henderson for any of those players.

One thing is for sure: wherever he ends up playing, Steven Gerrard will remain one of the most important and best players lining up in Red each week.

Karl Matchett offers live Premier League text commentary; next match: Chelsea vs. Norwich City (Saturday 27th August, 3pm UK/10am ET) plus updates of every Saturday match.
Also live text commentary and analysis of Tottenham Hotspur vs. Manchester City (Sunday 28th August, 1:30pm UK/8:30am ET).
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Arsenal vs Liverpool: Five Key Battles for Saturday’s Big Premier League Match


Arsenal and Liverpool will do battle this weekend on Saturday in the first of the big clashes in this season’s Premier League. Last season these two teams fought out an exciting battle that culminated in two late penalties—the second of which came in the 98th minute, an equaliser from Dirk Kuyt after Robin van Persie scored a few minutes earlier—and a 1-1 draw.

Since then, both sides have had something of an eventful summer, for differing reasons.

While Liverpool have embarked on a spending spree to bring in the likes of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique; Arsenal have seen their captain, Cesc Fabregas, depart for Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri is likely to follow suit in exiting forManchester City, the landing point of Gael Clichy.

Forward Gervinho has been brought in, but will be suspended for the match on Saturday, as will midfielder Alex Song. Defenders Johan Djourou and Keiran Gibbs departed the mid-week fixture injured, leaving the Gunners with a real shortage at the back.

Liverpool, for their part, will be missing right-back Glen Johnson and long-term absentee Steven Gerrard, but everybody else has recovered from their knocks and Dalglish has an almost full squad to choose from.

Here we take a look at the five key battles on the pitch that will have a big say on the outcome of the game.

 

1: Andy Carroll vs. Laurent Koscielny

After a difficult start to his career where he was sent off on his Arsenal debut (against Liverpool, ironically), Laurent Koscielny proved to be a decent acquisition for the Gunners. He excelled in leading the defence to press high up the pitch, something which could not be said for fellow centre-back signing Squillaci.

However, he is not dominant aerially and is also prone to standing off physical players—something Andy Carroll took full advantage of when playing against the Frenchman for old club Newcastle.

Recovering from injury last season when the Reds took on Arsenal, he did not have the impact he would have liked. Expect something very different this time around as Liverpool will look to press the advantage of having the powerful threat of Carroll to hold the ball up.

With any set pieces, Carroll is likely to try to attach himself near to Koscielny in an attempt to beat him in the air.

 

2: Aaron Ramsey vs. Lucas Leiva

Following the departure of Cesc Fabregas, the suspension of Alex Song and the likely absence of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey is likely to be the focal central midfielder for the Gunners again.

Possessing a good range of passing and an energetic style of play, Ramsey is more than just a promising midfielder at this stage. He is far more likely than either Wilshere or Cesc to get involved in play inside the opposition penalty area and try to score as well as contribute to the link-up play for which the Gunners have become renowned.

For this reason above all others, Lucas Leiva will be a key player for Liverpool against Arsenal; he is the one player capable of tracking opponents’ runs through midfield, is a good tackler and is an expert at positioning himself well to pick up second-balls.

 

3: Arsenal Left-Back vs. Liverpool Right Midfield

Probably the one area for either team which could be filled by different people at this point; most of the starting eleven for Arsenal and Liverpool could probably be predicted but the left-back slot for the Gunners and the right side of Liverpool’s midfield/attack is very much up for grabs.

Following Clichy’s departure Keiran Gibbs stepped up last weekend to start the season at left-back but suffered an injury against Udinesein mid-week, leading to Thomas Vermaelen switching to that position from the centre. However after Djourou was almost immediately replaced after himself replacing Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson came on for his Arsenal debut after joining the club from Charlton in the summer. The youngster is a highly rated prospect but is untested in the Premier League until now and Arsene Wenger needs to decide if he is to be risked in such a big game. Of course, Liverpool faced a similar situation last season in this fixture and came up trumps after Jack Robinson replaced Fabio Aurelio to such good effect.

Armand Traore is the other left back on the Arsenal books at present.

For Liverpool, the right midfielder could be seen as a key player regardless of who is picked for Arsenal at left back; Jenkinson’s inexperience, Vermaelen being out of his primary position or Traore’s relative lack of game time for the Gunners recently could all mean that the Reds have an opportunity to exploit that area of the pitch.

Jordan Henderson started on the right against Sunderland on the opening day but was replaced around the hour mark by regular right-sider Dirk Kuyt. Henderson obviously offers good delivery and stamina on that side of the pitch but is certain to drift inside to a more central position too, while Kuyt will offer perhaps a little more width and better service in terms of getting into the Arsenal box to link up with the front men.

A third option—one which is perhaps likely to be seen at some point during the game even if not from the beginning—is to stick Stewart Downing out on the right flank and let him run at the Arsenal left-back as often as possible, cutting inside onto his favoured left foot.

 

4: Robin van Persie vs. Pepe Reina

As always, Arsenal’s main goal threat is highly likely to come in the form of newly-installed official skipper Robin van Persie.

Last season he beat Reina from the penalty spot while in the reverse fixture Reina spilled an apparently straight-forward catch into his own net.

On his day van Persie is a world-beater and his strike rate in the second half of last season was one of the few bright spots for the Gunners as their season collapsed around them. Regardless of who is paired at centre back for Liverpool—Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger should be again after the latter recovered from a knock—it is likely that the Dutchman will get at least one opportunity on goal and it is then that Pepe Reina will be called upon.

As consistent and excellent a performer as can be found between the sticks in the Premier League, Reina is hugely important for Liverpool and is adept in his shot-stopping as he is in his organisation of the defence.

Thwarting van Persie for ninety minutes will go a long way towards helping Liverpool to three big points.

 

5: Jose Enrique vs. Theo Walcott

Liverpool’s newest recruit, Spanish left-back Jose Enrique, started against Sunderland last week just hours after signing from Newcastle United and put in an encouraging performance on his debut.

On Saturday he is likely to start again and will come up against Theo Walcott who should come into the starting eleven in place of the suspended Gervinho.

Walcott will of course offer a whole load of pace and will look to get forward and into the area at every opportunity, something which Jose Enrique will have to try to turn on its head to have his best impact for the club.

If Liverpool can have possession and Jose Enrique can get forward himself Walcott will be forced backwards to cover and be kept away from goal, something which will benefit Liverpool immensely.

Another advantage that Jose Enrique should offer Liverpool is his great pace which should nullify that of even Walcott who will usually use that attribute above all others to gain an edge over his opponents.

 

Predicting the Outcome:

You have to go all the way back to 1999-2000 season and a Titi Camara winner for the last time Liverpool managed to beat Arsenal on their home ground in the league—Highbury, as it was then—but the Reds will surely feel they have a massive chance to put an end to that run this weekend.

Arsenal are weakened through suspension, injury and having sold or nearly sold two key players; some fans are far from giving their unconditional support to a manager they feel has failed to strengthen the team in key areas and the Gunners are really going to come under scrutiny this season—rightly or wrongly, its going to happen—every time they fail to win a game, mainly as they are seen as the ‘easiest’ team to knock out of the top four spots.

Liverpool on the other hand are by-and-large happy with their summer dealings and in full backing of their manager and will take a decent travelling support to the Emirates Stadium.

They also have one other wild-card who wasn’t mentioned in the key battles: Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan magician will look to move in and out of spaces between Arsenal’s midfield and defence and it is here that the absence of Alex Song will be felt most keenly for Arsenal.

Despite all their apparent weaknesses however, Arsenal are never an easy fixture and if they start well and get into their passing game without Liverpool pressing them quickly they have the pace, movement and fire-power in Rosicky, van Persie, Walcott and Arshavin to really test the Liverpool defence who will still be getting put together one piece at time; Kelly and Flanagan will likely battle it out for the right back spot and Glen Johnson has yet to return.

It is sure to be an eventful game and will throw up some fascinating tactical battles all over the pitch—but I am firmly backing Liverpool to end an eleven-and-a-half year winless streak and take all three points.

 

If you can’t watch the match this weekend you can follow my live text commentary and analysis of the Premier League game between Arsenal and Liverpool this weekend, along with every other Premiership fixture on that day, on Bleacher Report. Become my fan now to easily find the commentary on Saturday from 12:30pm UK / 7:30am ET.