Old friends reunite at the Emirates, with Kenny Dalglish's side looking to take all three points from Arsenal at their home ground for the first time since the twenty pixels that make up Titi Camara's body gave Liverpool the win at Highbury in the 1999-2000 season. Any points against Arsenal have been hard to come by, but this fixture has been an absolute beast.
But if there's any time for Liverpool to enter feeling confident, this would be it---much of the summer months have been devoted to Arsenal-related drama, with Cesc Fabregas again dragging out a Barcedrama, Samir Nasri declaring his interest in moving elsewhere, and Arsene Wenger coming under fire for staying relatively static in the midst of everything swirling around him. There's a sense that much more is desired from the Arsenal boss, who's stood firm on his principles despite growing criticism.
To assume that Liverpool can waltz in and take advantage of all this would be foolish, of course; they're still Arsenal, and their squad still has a tremendous amount of talent regardless of who will or won't be available. They're still capable of playing one of the more attractive brands of football in Europe, even with the end product at times evading their grasp. And, even with a healthy contingent ruled out for tomorrow, they've got a decade's worth of results to lean back on.
The contingent referred to above is lengthy, with the BBC reporting injuries for Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou, Tomas Rosicky, Armand Traore, Jack Wilshere, and Abou Diaby. We can add Alex Song and Gervinho to that list, both of whom picked up three-match bans from incidents in last Saturday's 0-0 draw with Newcastle. Song's was retroactive, as league officials spotted his blatant stamp on Joey Barton's leg. Barton was also explicitly involved in Gervinho's sending off, which drew plenty of attention to both parties, but disciplinary action only taken towards the Arsenal summer signing.
The injuries and suspensions leave Wenger with a limited selection tomorrow, although reports today have Wenger announcing that Samir Nasri is in the squad and available to play. Fellow wantaway Nicklas Bendtner is also still with the club but less likely to feature, as Wenger can call on Robin van Persie, Marouane Chamakh, Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin, and potentially Nasri to spearhead their attack. There's not as many options in midfield, with Aaron Ramsey and Emmanuel Frimpong expected (read: spotted in green training jerseys, thanks to commenter SJGumby over at Arsenal Offside) to play centrally. Thomas Vermaelen will lead the squad defensively alongside either Sebastian Squillaci or Lorent Koscielny, with Bacary Sagna and no clear-cut choice at left back in front of Wojciech Szczęsny in goal.
As for Liverpool:
Who starts for Liverpool?
Kelly Carragher Agger Enrique
Kuyt Suarez Downing
---I mentioned it in the news and notes post earlier, but worth repeating that at current, the only injuries in the squad are the longer-term ones for Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson. That apparently means that Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio are back among the picking, which gives Kenny Dalglish a few more choices to make than he had last week.
---One of the easy choices for most is bringing Martin Kelly into the squad for Jon Flanagan, despite the fact that Flanagan was lights-out at the Emirates last season. I think the potential for piling-on is too high after the youngster's struggles against Sunderland, which shouldn't be a reason to omit him on its own, but with Kelly available I think that's what we'll get. And unless there's a late fitness check, I'm guessing the other three are the same as last week, with Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger partnering centrally and José Enrique at left back.
---Midfield is again the least clear, although you'd figure that Dirk Kuyt will replace Jordan Henderson on the right. Again, the easy pick is for Dalglish to stick with Lucas and Charlie Adam deeper in midfield, with a more advanced line of Kuyt, Luis Suarez, and Stewart Downing. Having Kuyt in the lineup provides more cover for whoever features at right-back, which then frees Downing up to do a bit more moving forward. And as usual, I'm looking for ways to include Raul Meireles and hoping to see him the eleven. Edit: Forgot to include Alberto Aquilani in the mix until Red2Death mentioned him in the comments---think he'd be well suited for a match like tomorrow's, and seeing him in the squad would be welcomed. Or most likely he's being sold as we speak.
---There's been a good amount of buzz around Andy Carroll throughout the preseason and last weekend---he was mostly excellent during the first half, but his performance declined markedly once he turned into a hoofing target. As others have noted, it's less about his effectiveness and more about those flinging it forward, so if they can manage to move the ball forward without bypassing most of the midfield, Carroll's much more likely to have an impact. Both Downing and Enrique have talked about the luxury of having him up front, but in the second half last week, it might as well have been Carragher praising his presence.
What's the most important factor for the Reds?
Away form was, for the first half of last season, absolutely horrific. A solitary win at Bolton in the dying minutes was all they could muster until late January, when they finally started to string together quality performances both home and away. There's really no better test for the squad than away to Arsenal---Liverpool have managed to put together match-winning performances at the home grounds of most of the rest of the Premier League, but as mentioned above, travelling first to Highbury and then the Emirates has been a monumental task. Worrying that the second half performance against Sunderland closely mirrored Liverpool's displays from the early part of last year; if that's the case tomorrow, it could be a long afternoon regardless of how rough things have been for Arsene Wenger and company.
Early kickoff tomorrow, but at least the only challenge to watching will be your raging hangover---Sky Sports will carry coverage in the UK, while ESPN2 and ESPN3.com will have the match live stateside. As usual, let us know where the match is televised wherever you're at and we'll be sure to run it along with less legal ways of watching in the matchday thread. Seeing as I'm in a time zone that demands a foolishly early wake-up, team sheets will run around half an hour before kickoff. Feel free to use the gap between the time they're released and the time I run them to talk about how much more committed you are than I, and then punch yourself in the face for being an elitist.
See you back here first thing tomorrow, where the expletives are sure to flow freely.