Thursday, March 01, 2012

Liverpool Preview: A Detailed Report on Arsenal's Opponents on Saturday

Our difficult period of games continues this Saturday with a trip up to Anfield.

Let's try and work out what we can expect.

Arsenal's Recent Performances Against Liverpool

Games between the two teams have been relatively equal in recent years. Liverpool defeated us at the Emirates earlier this season, but both goals in their 2-0 victory only came after Frimpong had been sent off. Had it remained 11 vs. 11, the game might well have ended a draw.

Indeed, both games between the two clubs last season finished in a draw. Both also featured last minute drama. At Anfield, Pepe Reina knocked the ball into his own net at the death, after a header by Chamakh  (remember him?), while in London, Eboue gave away a penalty in the 108th minute of the game, after Arsenal themselves had scored a penalty in injury time. That 1-1 draw was a particularly sickening moment in one of the worst run-ins in recent Arsenal history.

The last time Arsenal won at Anfield was in December 2009, when Andrei Arshavin scored a stunning goal in a 2-1 victory. Prior to this result, you have to go back to the Invincibles season to find another Arsenal victory against the Scousers, when a Bobby Pires curler sealed the three points for us.

That we've only beaten Liverpool at Anfield twice since 2002 shows how hard it is to get a result on Merseyside.

Liverpool's Season so Far

Liverpool spent big in the summer with very mixed results. I'm not sure many people would agree that Stuart Downing is a £20m winger, nor that Jordan Henderson has really set Anfield alight.

Yes, they've won the Carling Cup - just. I'm not sure scraping a penalty shoot-out victory against a Championship side is too much to write home about, but they did knock out Manchester City in the semifinals of the competition, after the latter had eliminated us in the fifth round. And a trophy is ultimately a trophy.

However, their form in the league has been less than impressive. They currently lie in seventh place, and even if they win on Saturday they will not move up the table.

Liverpool's overall form needs a little bit of deciphering. They're unbeaten at home, but have only won four of their 12 games. Indeed, while they've lost 6 games away from Anfield, they've actually also won more away games than home games (6). Their problems are thus two fold - they lose too many games away from home, but they also don't win enough games at home. Draws with the likes of Stoke, Swansea, Blackburn and Sunderland at Anfield are not particularly impressive, and the only team in the top-half of the table they've beaten at home is Newcastle.

Liverpool's main problem this season has been a lack of goals. They've only scored 29 goals all season - by contrast we've scored 29 goals at the Emirates alone and another 24 away from home. When you consider all the money that Liverpool spent on Carroll and Suarez (more on him in a minute), they have to be disappointed with the amount of goals they've scored this season.

Liverpool's main strength is their defensive record. They've only conceded 23 goals in the league this year - the second best defensive record in the Premiership after Manchester City.

Yet, the story of Liverpool's season largely centres on one man: Louis Suarez. I don't really want to get into this too much, but, as someone who comes from an academic background, I tend to trust the opinions of expert witnesses with doctorates more than the speculative assertions of internet football fans. Call me crazy.

Anyway, whatever happened, Suarez was banned for eight games, and the whole incident has been hugely damaging for the club, with one PR debacle following another in recent months. However, as a player, Suarez may not have been missed as much as some have claimed, as I'll detail below.

Liverpool's Key Players

* Louis Suarez.

I admit to being quite disappointed to hear that Liverpool had signed him last January, although I think we may have dodged a bullet by not getting him in more ways than one. Aside from his very questionable character, a case could be made that Suarez is a bit overrated. He has only 6 goals and 1 assist in the Premier League this season  (Theo Walcott has 5 goals and 7 assists). Suarez also averages a fairly decent 1.9 key passes per game, but this is lower than RvP, Arteta and the frequently maligned Ramsey.

The main thing Suarez seems to do is take lots of shots on goal - an average of 4.3 per game. This is only slightly less than Rvp (4.5), but RvP has 23 goals this season. One can only conclude from this stat that Suarez is not very accurate or effective with his shooting. His pass completion rate is a fairly risible 77%, and the only other thing Suarez seems good at is dribbling. Suarez averages 1.9 successful dribbles per game - only the Ox (2.3) has a better average than this in the Arsenal squad.

So Suarez is a bit of a Dribbly McNoscore, in my opinion, and one could argue that the whole racism row has overshadowed the fact that he hasn't really played that well this season when you consider how much Liverpool paid for him. Now that I've said that, he'll probably bag a hat-trick on Saturday.

* Charlie Adam

Adam has actually been fairly decent since he joined Liverpool. He leads the team with 6 assists, and his 1.9 KP per game on average is as good as Suarez. He also leads the team in accurate long balls, and provides a reasonable amount of successful crosses. He is also joint top with Suarez for through balls (0.4 per game on average). In short, Adam has shown he can create chances and goals for Liverpool. Whether our midfield can stop him from picking his passes will be a key part of the battle on the weekend. I would suggest distracting him through strategically placed pies around the field.

* The Defence

I am consistently told that Agger and Skrtel are world-class central-defenders, but I really can't see it. I would genuinely prefer Koz, Verm and Mert. Similarly, I've found it strange that Pepe Reina's relatively frequent errors aren't given more attention in the media.

But, as a unit, the Liverpool defence has shown itself to be formidable this season. No one has scored more than one goal against Liverpool at Anfield in the league this year, and we will need RvP to be on absolute top-form to find a way through.

Update: It's been pointed out to me that Agger appears to have come off injured on Sunday and will be out of the game on Sunday. RvP vs. Carragher looks good for us.


Unlike last Sunday's goal-fest, this will be a very tight game. Liverpool will struggle for goals, but so will we, given the strength of Liverpool's defence. Both teams will be on a high after their victories last weekend, but there is always a chance that Liverpool might suffer a post-Carling Cup hangover.

So, and despite the fact that Liverpol are unbeaten at home so far this year, I think we can eek out a 1-0 win. But a more likely result is a 1-1 draw. That would be no disaster, given that Spurs have a tough match against Manchester United, and Chelsea travel to West Brom.

In short, I am quietly confident that we will still be in fourth place come Monday.


Anonymous said...

A decent summary, although you omitted to factor in Arsenal's abysmal away form this season. Wenger's current squad appear to be home heroes, away flops with their only notable away victory being at Stamford Bridge. Combining Pools woeful home form with Arsenals woeful away from, a draw is the most obvious prediction.

Anonymous said...

A decent summary, although you omitted to factor in Arsenal's abysmal away form this season. Wenger's current squad appear to be home heroes, away flops with their only notable away victory being at Stamford Bridge. Combining Pools woeful home form with Arsenals woeful away from, a draw is the most obvious prediction.

Russ C said...

Suarez movement will totally unsettle an Arsenal defence that looks most vulnerable when it is forced to defend.

Szy dodgy long distance shot stopping, which you have pointed to previously, will mean Suarez will score twice. 2 suarez goals will probably be one too many for Arsenal who I cant see breaching the Liverpool defence more than once.

I am really not very confident about this one and I think Suarez will be the difference between the teams.