I think I've finally progressed from aggressively disappointed to passively annoyed at Wednesday's result, and while that's not exactly dreamland, it's movement in some sort of direction. I still think Liverpool should have gone on to win the match after leading 2-0 with an hour gone, but I'm able to at least acknowledge that Arsenal did just as much, if not more, in contributing to the draw as Liverpool did. Of course, if Liverpool go up 2-0 tomorrow and end up drawing or worse, a caps-locked stream of profanities in the matchday thread is probably the last you'll hear from me.
I don't know that many could match the type of enthusiasm that Brendan Rodgers had in the post-match interview, and while I wasn't in any mood for it, portions of what he had to say were well-placed. Liverpool have begun to put something fairly coherent together, albeit in fits and starts, and with a moderately successful January transfer window in the rear-view mirror--along with the fact that the trip to City is their last away fixture against a side in the top 12--the club can start to look forward in earnest.
There's the small matter of facing the current title-holders at their home ground to get through, though, and while the gap between City and Manchester United at the top has widen, there's still enough talent in Roberto Mancini's squad to make the run-in interesting. Their draw at QPR interrupted a string of four consecutive wins, which they'd accomplished on the heels of a Boxing Day loss at Sunderland.
Liverpool might be facing them at the best possible time, as the quality of the squad is reduced significantly because of injury and international duty. Yaya and Kolo Toure are at the African Cup of Nations, and Vincent Kompany, Maicon, and Micah Richards--whom many of you might have heard is much, much better than Glen Johnson--are all out through injury. Matija Nastasic might be able to start in defense but is a doubt, and if he isn't ready, Mancini will have to shift Javi Garcia from an already lightweight central midfield into the back line. The rest of the quality's available even if the depth isn't, as Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Eden Dzeko, and David Silva are all available in attack, and Joleon Lescott, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, and Joe Hart should all start in defense.
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Borini Suarez Henderson
With all but Martin Kelly apparently fit and ready to go, Brendan Rodgers will have a handful of decisions to make, none of which seem too terribly difficult. The only absence aside from Kelly is new signing Philippe Coutinho, who's not expected to be in a matchday squad until West Brom visits Anfield nine days from now.
So, the decisions--does Glen Johnson slide over to right-back now that Jose Enrique's played meaningful minutes back from injury? Will Martin Skrtel reclaim his spot in central defense? Does Jordan Henderson and/or Lucas retain a spot in the Liverpool midfield? And who, if anyone, displaces Stewart Downing alongside Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez up top?
At the back it seems that Enrique is ready to go, and while Andre Wisdom was solid yet again at the Emirates on Wednesday, Liverpool's best back line right now is one that probably doesn't include him. Johnson and Enrique (if on form) are one of the better fullback pairings in the league, and so long as the latter's fit, he's fought his way back into the eleven after a difficult fall. Most interesting will be whether or not Rodgers opts to leave Jamie Carragher with Daniel Agger centrally; Skrtel doesn't seem to have a claim after Carragher has produced two good performances on the trot, but it might come down to the fitness rather than form, as two matches in four days could prove too much for a player that's featured irregularly until the past few weeks.
No changes appear to be needed in the midfield, and while I'm not calling for it, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucas given a rest in favor of Joe Allen. The Brazilian's been mostly steady over the past few weeks, but he's still clearly working his way back to the player that dominated opposing midfields for most of 2010 and 2011. If he does drop out it'll likely be Joe Allen coming in, as neither of Steven Gerrard nor Jordan Henderson should be on the bench.
One of the more confounding decisions on Wednesday was leaving Stewart Downing on rather than bringing Fabio Borini or Raheem Sterling into the fold--the one thing Downing did consistently well was cover for Wisdom, but I'm not so sure that he's any better at tracking back or actually pressuring the opposition than Sterling or Borini. Leaving the latter pair on the bench gives Rodgers a couple of players that have a chance to make an impact of some sort late in a match, but he'll actually have to use them to find out. For now I'll hope that Borini rounds off the front four, as his movement could cause some major problems for what'll possibly be a makeshift City back line.
Kickoff tomorrow is set for 4:00PM GMT/11:00AM EST, with live coverage in the US on Fox Soccer Channel and in the UK on Sky Sports 1. With transfer bullshittery out of the way we're back to fairly normal, uninterrupted service, which means open thread and matchday post at the usual(ish) times. Team sheets will run an hour or so before the start time, and we'll be around here and on Twitter for much of the time from now until then.
Hope you'll join us for what's sure to be a much calmer affair than Wednesday. Or not that at all.