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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal, 02.10.10

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Don't worry, I'm actually much better looking and have better hair. No offense, stock photo guy.

Things only get tougher for both sides Wednesday at the Emirates.

If you'd have told me three weeks ago that Liverpool would be playing Arsenal with a chance to move within two points of third place, I'd have pissed my pants and forgot who I was for about half an hour or so. Just like when Catherine revs up the microwave.

But it really was an absurd possibility at that time, and yet now here we are. Arsenal are at a ridiculous point in their fixture list---United, Chelsea, and now (in a low whisper) a resurgent Liverpool. For awhile it looked like Liverpool would be the soft spot in that run, but after the past couple of weeks the match has suddenly taken on an importance I couldn't have predicted. And it's not as though things have been easy on Liverpool---the Merseyside derby, trip to the Emirates, then City at home in another big match in the race for the fourth spot. Needless to say, things have become slightly intriguing.

So it calls for a little different approach---bringing together the peaks of my optimism and the depths of my despair. Witness.

Good Ed says:

Liverpool are sweeping into the Emirates on what is arguably their best run of form this season. Unbeaten in their last seven, keepers of clean sheets in their last four, winners of back-to-back matches for only the third time this season. If you want a true launching point, the Merseyside Derby was it---scrapping a 1-0 win after playing with 10 men for the majority of the match, beating an Everton side that looked to be peaking, silencing the doubters in the race for the fourth spot.

The club is nearly fully fit, missing only Yossi Benayoun, Glen Johnson and Fernando Torres, and we've started to see the side play an inspired brand of football. After struggles with form and fitness, Steven Gerrard looks to be back to his fighting best. The doubts about Javier Mascherano's commitment to the cause have been roundly assuaged, with the Argentine chalking up a run of rampaging performances in defensive midfield (and right back). The backline has stabilized after early season worries, led by the emergence of the Greek and boosted by the return of Daniel Agger from injury.

In attack Liverpool have done just enough to scrap goals in the past two games, with Dirk Kuyt filling in admirably up top. Everything tells you he should fail as the lone striker, but he's inspired a side that struggled to find goals for much of the season. As mentioned, Gerrard is on the up, and the wing play of Albert Riera and Maxi Rodriguez provides a diversity that Liverpool desperately needed. And his playing time has been irregular, but Alberto Aquilani is coming good, providing a taste of something different in central midfield.

On the whole, it's too much for Arsenal to deal with, particularly when it comes to intangibles. After failing to string together positive results, Liverpool are finally riding high and full of confidence. They've started to right the wrongs in a previously dismal campaign, and a trip to the Emirates is just another bump in the road in this mogul hill of a season. This Liverpool side has a short memory, which they'll need going into London. It's got to come up Liverpool tomorrow.

To cap things, I am a much better blogger than Martin. My insights cannot be matched, my wit on another level, my vocabulary without equal. Plus I can tell by his writing that I am more handsome. Everything is the best.

Evil Ed says:

Liverpool have already lost to Arsenal twice this season---a pair of 2-1 victories for the Gunners in the Carling Cup and in League. While you could argue that neither were dominating wins, they were wins nonetheless, and the Carling Cup victory extended a remarkable streak of home matches without a loss for Arsenal against Liverpool. The last time Liverpool beat Arsenal at their home stadium, it was not the Emirates. It was Highbury, it was the 2000-2001 season, and it was a Michael Owen brace that saw the Reds advance in the FA Cup. Liverpool haven't beaten Arsenal at their ground in league since the 1999-2000 season, when Titi Camara scored an 18th minute winner. He's not with the club anymore.

Ten years is a long time, and this year's Liverpool don't look like the team to change history for the better. You could argue that the teams are headed in different directions, but that argument would be erroneous, because Liverpool have started so many new seasons we might as well be in 2021. Arsenal are too pacy, too skilled, too Arshaviny for this Liverpool side. Wenger has a knack for getting his Arsenal squads ready for Liverpool, save for that Champions League aberration at Anfield in 2008. Tactically Wenger is the proven stud in the Premier League, and Benitez has yet to figure him out.

Liverpool are walking into the Emirates at the worst possible time. Sure, they beat Everton, but they've been atrocious away from Anfield, and Arsenal are desperate to get back in front of their home crowd after a tough loss at Stamford Bridge. Backs to the wall, the Gunners are primed to turn in a massive performance. They've started to get the squad back to full fitness, and Cesc Fabregas has the ability to slice apart a slow Liverpool back line. Andriy Arshavin continues to haunt the dreams of the Liverpool defenders, and Alex Song was dominant in the match at Anfield. Man-for-man, they're better than Liverpool in all but a few positions. And now they're getting Marouane Chamakh. Double turds.

To cap things, Martin is a better blogger than I. His insights cannot be matched, his wit on another level, his vocabulary without equal. Plus I can tell by his writing that he is more handsome. Everything is the worst.

Verdict:

I smell draw, although in the loosest sense of the word I'd love a 1-0 win on the strength of a Dirk Kuyt knee-struck winner. Good Ed makes decent points, Evil Ed has his moments, both are devilishly handsome (pun INTENDED), but in the end there's little between the sides. They're almost meeting in the middle here--Liverpool earning some hard-fought wins but not doing a ton of convincing, Arsenal losing to United rather poorly but turning in a good performance in the 2-0 loss to Chelsea. These matches are notoriously tough to call, with only 4 goals separating the sides in their last 8 meetings, two coming in the aforementioned 4-2 Liverpool victory in the Champions League---which came after a 1-1 draw and wasn't settled until the death.

I think it's a great test for both sides---if Liverpool can get the three points, it's further validation that they're on their way to being, if not entirely, back. If Arsenal can pull it off, it'll soften the blow of two consecutive losses and silence the critics that have shifted their focus from Liverpool, at least for the time being. It'd be great to see these two sides at truly full strength, but I still don't think we'll be disappointed come tomorrow.

Except for me. I will definitely be disappointed, not by the match, but by the cruel reality of life, which will first slap me in the face with freezing Midwest winter and then prevent me from catching any of the match. I'll post a matchday thread and recap if I get a chance to see the entire thing, or half-cooked reflections based on hearsay and conjecture if I don't. But I wouldn't want anyone to miss out on the devastating insight I've strung together on this site---I mean, did you see me compare Milan Jovanovic's agent to Drew Rosenhaus the other day? Trans-Atlantic Metaphorical SWISH!!!

Check back tomorrow, or check Martin out over at Arsenal Offside.