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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal, 04.17.11

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Liverpool make their way to the Emirates to face Arsenal.

And the list of remaining fixtures gets depressingly shorter, with only six matches left on the books.

Along with the mid-May clash with Spurs, tomorrow's match in London is one of the last that sees Liverpool face an opponent in the top five, and it's the only one that puts Liverpool in a spot to have any sort of say on the title race. That say would involve losing so that Arsenal could come closer to nipping the title away from United, though, and there's less likelihood of that happening than Arsenal actually nipping the title away from United. But it's bound to be an interesting match, with Arsenal likely to play some of the more aesthetically pleasing football in league and Liverpool bound and determined to either be really good or absolute shit. I guess we hope for the former.

Arsenal have made a fairly decent go at United, although their form of late hasn't exactly indicated that this is the season they piece everything together. They managed a confident 3-1 victory at Bloomfield Road on Sunday, but that was their first league win since February 23rd. Granted, they've only played four league matches since then, with three draws (Sunderland, West Brom and Blackburn) precipitating the win over Blackpool. During that time they've also lost the final of the Carling Cup in the dying minutes, and been knocked out of the FA Cup and the Champions League. Difficult to say the least, but it says something that they're even in the conversation in that many competitions in March.

One of the most talked about personnel changes is the return of Jens Lehmann, who was a late choice to fill in between the posts against Blackpool and has provided cover for a relatively dire goalkeeping situation. The latest news has Wojciech Szczesny coming back into the fray, but regardless we can still enjoy jokes about fights with ballboys and peeing behind the goal. Lehmann's return was instigated by injury concerns for Almunia, Fabianski, and Szczesny, and there's plenty of concerns in the rest of the squad as well. The BBC has Bacary Sagna, Alex Song, Denilson, and Johan Djourou listed as doubtful, while Thomas Vermaelen is the lone confirmed absence. In the win over Blackpool, the starting eleven included Robin van Persie, Andre Arshavin, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Abou Diaby, and Jack Wilshere through the midfield and up top, in front of a back line of Sebastian Squillaci, Laurent Koscielny, Gael Clichy, and possibly Emmanuel Eboue.

Be sure to check out the Arsenal Offside for their perspective on things, as well as Noel and Martin's tête-à-tête on both sites: 10 Questions with the Liverpool Offside and Tea and Crumpets with the Arsenal Offside.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Aurelio
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Meireles
Carroll Suarez

---Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger, Martin Kelly, and Glen Johnson remain on the injured list, with only the latter pair expected to make another appearance this season. Thankfully there's no new names to add after Monday's match and the past week of training.

---Less than a week after thinking that John Flanagan was a late substitute at best and Fabio Aurelio wouldn't make it through the first twenty minutes, both seem likely to retain their places after terrific performances against Manchester City, with Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel back in the middle. So long as he was able to stay fit we knew that Aurelio was capable of making a positive impact, which means that, unfortunately, the only surprise was that he stayed fit. We knew far less about Flanagan, and still likely shouldn't anoint him the solution to Liverpool's defensive crisis, but I'm hopeful his composure remains.

---So the "Raul Meireles needs to play in the middle" diatribe will be put on hold, at least as long as Aurelio is fit and can provide enough cover for Meireles to push centrally. Dirk Kuyt did well to provide cover for Flanagan on the right side and will likely fill that role again (assuming Flanagan gets the start), and Lucas and Jay Spearing are probably the best bet to feature in the middle of the park. Spearing has been more hit than miss since covering for Steven Gerrard, and it seems like he and Lucas have started to form a better understanding, which is typically the case when you're not spending most of the match watching the ball fly over your head.

---Barring any fitness concerns, the front line is the same song and dance the rest of the way---Luis Suarez and Andy Caroll supported by Kuyt and Meireles from the midfield, with Meireles arriving late and Kuyt providing width. Suarez can do most of his own running and creates plenty of space, and Carroll proved yet again that he's plenty capable of posing a threat throughout the forward area. With Aurelio back for the time being, I'm guessing we see far fewer hit-and-hope balls from the back towards Carroll and more controlled, incisive crosses that actually play to his strengths.

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

Even for all the improvements under Kenny Dalglish, the most consistently frustrating thing about this Liverpool side is their inconsistencies. They played stretches of absolutely beautiful football on Monday against City, as they have at numerous other points throughout the season. They've also played abysmal football at time, and that's tended to come either on the heels of a very good performance, away from Anfield, or against opposition that's "more beatable" than the teams towards the top of the table. Arsenal obviously tick two of those boxes, and Liverpool will have to find a way to go against a frustrating trend.

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

I'm still on self-imposed probation due to a record somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-31. It's a miracle I'm still here.

Tomorrow's match is another one that nobody should have any trouble catching, with Sky Sports 1 carrying the match in England as part of their Super Sunday, and Fox Soccer Channel airing the match in the United States. That typically means that finding streams will be no problem, and we'll have links for those of you without cable service. Any news from late today or early tomorrow will appear in the matchday thread along with the team sheets, which are typically released an hour before kickoff.

Hope you all have a nice Saturday ahead of what could be a very entertaining (and hopefully very successful) Sunday.