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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Arsenal, 09.02.12

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With the dust still settling from the spectactularly underwhelming end to the transfer window, we can at least start to turn our attention to the football and Arsenal's visit to Anfield tomorrow. Neither side have started the season the way they'd have hoped, with chances gone begging and concerns about the quality of the personnel available. Liverpool's struggled in this fixture over the past few years, last winning in March of 2007, and will have to overcome a quick turnaround and any lingering negativity from yesterday to get the result.

Regardless of your feelings about the transfer window as a whole, it'd be hard to disagree with the notion that yesterday went about as poorly as one could have imagined. Reinforcements were promised and not delivered, and once again there's a fracture off the pitch for Liverpool. Where things go from here are a mystery, but already there's talk about changes in store for the backroom personnel--and Ian Ayre in particular--who let the club down. Terrific.

Tomorrow starts a stretch that isn't going to get any easier, although the presence of the international break will allow for some space between yet another dramatic day in Liverpool's troubled recent history and a busy few weeks. They'll have to hit the ground running once everyone's back together, with trips to Sunderland and Switzerland five days apart, a home date with Manchester United, and a League Cup visit to West Brom all within a ten day period. Whatever's on shaky ground now needs to be in the process of healing by then.

That Liverpool face kindred spirits tomorrow is small comfort; Arsenal saw their deadline day come and go with barely a rumor, and their start to the season has been more noteworthy for the chances missed than anything they've created on the positive end of things. They'll have last season to look to as a guide, though, as two points from two this season is already better than last year, when they drew the opener with Newcastle before losing to Liverpool and Manchester United. They rebounded nicely over the course of the season, and ended finishing comfortably in third. The principals are different, but Arsenal have consistently found a way.

There was--and to be fair, still is--a decent level of optimism about the talent Arsene Wenger did bring in over the summer, with Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla all joining up. The Spaniard has proven the pick of the bunch, with Podolski looking disinterested and ineffective, while Giroud hasn't been able to finish with the efficiency of the man he's tasked with replacing. Wenger will have Laurent Koscielny back tomorrow to boost a shaky defense, and Wojciech Szczesny could return after suffering a rib injury.

As for Liverpool:

Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Allen Şahin
Borini Suarez Sterling

Everyone's eligible at this point (I think), with Nuri Şahin and Oussama Assaidi registered and Daniel Agger back after serving his one-match suspension. There haven't been any fresh injury concerns for Brendan Rodgers other than Lucas, although there haven't been any updates about the fitness of Joe Cole, who's been missing since coming off almost immediately after coming on at West Brom.

With Agger and Jose Enrique back, I'm guessing that the first-choice back line from last season resumes service. Glen Johnson on the right, Martin Skrtel and Agger centrally, and Enrique at left back. Sebastian Coates was very good against Manchester City, but unless he displaces Skrtel it's hard to see him getting regular minutes in league. If Enrique's not fully fit, expect Johnson left and the unusually shaky Martin Kelly in at right back.

Lucas' absence means that Joe Allen is the deputized holding midfielder, and his displays in the past two matches indicate that he's equal to the task despite not having any sort of imposing physical presence. His success has mostly mirrored Lucas'--smart positioning, good use of the frame he does have, and a sharp burst in the tackle that allows him to nick possession away without needing the blood and thunder and fireworks. It's probably far too big an ask for Nuri Şahin to start, but I'll guess he does anyway, as I'm hopeful he'll see minutes alongside Allen with Steven Gerrard once again pushed further forward.

There are five options for the front three, and Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini seem to sure things to start. That leaves Raheem Sterling, Oussama Assaidi, and Adam Morgan for the final attacking selection, and with Sterling playing minimally against Hearts, he's my pick. Assaidi wouldn't be a huge surprise, although it seems more likely that his debut would come in a cameo role late to run at a defense that's not known for its stability.

Impossible as it might seem, Liverpool need to move on from yesterday's tumult, and quickly. Matters off the pitch have too frequently clouded what's happened on the pitch, and while we've often looked for distractions from poor performances, this isn't what we had in mind. There's no turning a blind eye to the boardroom failings, but we can and should find a way to support the product on the pitch, especially given that the man responsible for leading that charge has done nothing but try to push the club in a positive direction.

Tomorrow's an earlier start time, with kickoff set for 1:30PM BST/8:30AM EST. That makes for easy viewing again, with Sky Sports 1 airing the match in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel carrying coverage stateside. We'll have the team sheets in the matchday thread around an hour before kickoff, and the post itself will be up and running sometime late tonight/early tomorrow. As usual, if there's any ways to watch that you know of please let us know, and we'll share whatever we can.

Hope you're all enjoying the crippling hangover the yesterday wrought, and we'll see you around shortly.

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