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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal

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Twenty-four hours away from the day we've all been waiting for.

With the Premier League season officially underway (City and Spurs just finished a 0-0 draw at the time of writing), that expectancy has been ramped up.

I started yesterday's post by talking about how excited I was for the Premier League season to get going, so I think it's only fair to focus on Liverpool in that regard. I've basically been looking forward to tomorrow since that 0-0 draw at the KC Stadium in May---a match to forget in a season to forget, and the only way both were going to be washed away was by starting anew. The only problem was that three months, uncertainty about players staying, and continued boardroom instability stood in the way.

So now that the three months has passed, and ignoring that there's still uncertainty about players staying and instability in the boardroom, it's safe to say that I have an unhealthy amount of emotion tied up in tomorrow's match. I'm aware that there's 37 matches after tomorrow, but there's nothing worse than waiting for Liverpool to start to turn things around when they're not actually playing.

And it's fitting that their first home opener in years comes against big-time competition. Arsenal come to Anfield with their own set of high expectations, and while they'll be missing a few of their regular first-teamers, they have every right to arrive expecting all three points. Liverpool haven't beaten the London club in league play in over three years---that Peter Crouch hat-trick we saw in the post from the other day was the last victory in league for the Reds.

So even without a few of their best players, they've got a shout to cause Liverpool some major problems. They'll have Andrey Arshavin, scorer of five goals in his last two trips to Anfield; they'll have Theo Walcott, whose pace has blistered Liverpool on more than one occasion; they'll have Marouane Chamakh, the once-Liverpool target that has a chance to be one of the top additions to any Premier League side; and they'll have Thomas Vermaelen, last year's new-boy that turned into one of the best defenders in the league.

But they'll also have a whole heap of trouble between the sticks---either way you cut it, Arsenal are desperately in need of a new goalkeeper. I can't remember any blunders against Liverpool specifically, but the performances of Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski last season were worrying at best for Arsenal supporters. The rumored Mark Schwarzer deal either fell apart or couldn't get pushed through quickly enough, so it'll be one of the above two in goal, and that's got to be an advantage for Liverpool.

And even though I don't think it's going to make a world of difference, I think the missing names for Arsenal also give Liverpool a slight edge. There's doubt around Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, and Nicklas Bendtner, Alex Song, Johan Djourou, and Aaron Ramsey are all ruled out. That means there's going to be a few areas of either inexperience or vulnerability in Arsenal's starting eleven, and Liverpool will have to find a way to exploit it. Then again, Arsenal haven't made things easy for Liverpool in the past few seasons, so maybe it's a trap.

On the Liverpool side of things, I'm going to answer the questions that I posed yesterday:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Kuyt Gerrard Lucas Jovanovic
Cole
Ngog

A couple of notes:

---I think it's too early for Fernando Torres to start, but we might get a late cameo depending on the circumstances. I wouldn't be shocked if he doesn't feature, although the latest reports have been optimistic. Even if it is the most important match ever in history, I don't know that risking his long-term fitness is worth it.

---The talk of Christian Poulsen going straight into the side is a bit premature for me. I think he's probably somewhat lacking in match fitness and still getting used to his surroundings, and throwing him into a starting eleven on matchday one at Anfield doesn't seem to be Roy Hodgson's style.

---The back line, for right now, is as strong as Liverpool gets. We have to wait to see how things pan out up front, but we know that Liverpool can beast people at the back. Pepe Reina's the focus, but from Johnson to Aurelio I think Liverpool can match up with anyone.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

For me, it's got to be Liverpool's ability to stay within themselves. It's almost unfair to task them with this on the first day of the season, but I think if they get sucked in and try to do too much too quick, they'll get absolutely scorched. There's so much that conspires against them in this regard---it's the first day of the season, they're at home, they want to get things moving in the right direction, they played sexy football against Rabotnicki.

But Arsenal, with or without the names mentioned above, can absolutely punish Liverpool if they get caught up in it all. There's the pace of the forward men, the skill in distribution, and more than enough ability to finish. Liverpool have to play steady---not boring, but solid and assured of how they can win the match. It won't be by matching Arsenal's style or bombing forward, and that's fine. If Liverpool are able to control themselves and the flow of the match, I think we'll be more than pleased.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

I'm atrocious at predicting scorelines---partly because I'm deathly afraid of jinxing anything, and partly because I try to avoid it at all costs.

So with trembling fingers and a nauseous stomach, I say it's 2-1 Liverpool. No clue who, no clue how, but I truly think Liverpool start the season off with a bang and get themselves back on track after a dismal 2009-2010.

Take care all, I'm back tomorrow with a matchday post bright and early---enjoy the rest of the matches today, and we'll be ready to go tomorrow.