At last, proper football returns after the latest international break with another of those season defining matches. Arsenal and Liverpool have played a number of significant fixtures down the years, and there may yet be one more to come, but for now it is all about the battle for Champions League places next season.
The lunchtime kick-off gives the Gunners an opportunity to take second place until at least Monday night when Manchester City visit Palace, a tricky place to go. It would also put us nine points clear of Liverpool with just seven matches remaining. Arsene was sounding upbeat ahead of the match.
“We have built a level of confidence and are conscious that if we do certain things well, then we can win games. It’s a big match because Liverpool are a good side and we have an opportunity to win another big game. Recently we have shown we can do that.”
The news from the infirmary at Shenley is quite remarkable. Although not everybody is available, the entire squad was in training again at the end of this week. The starting eleven therefore takes some guessing, and may be affected by how fit players have looked on return from international duty.
If I were a betting man (what? Oh!) I would expect to see David Ospina behind a back four of Hector Bellerin, Gabriel, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal. Francis Coquelin at the base of the midfield with Aaron Ramsey in box to box mode and Santi Cazorla/Mesut Ozil as twin playmakers alternating between centre and left flank. Alexis on the right and coming inside to support Olivier Giroud up top.
Liverpool arrive without the far from teenage, mutant Skrtel and Stevie G, talisman in chief. Larking around aside they are, like us, in a rich vein of form right now, if you discount their defeat by Manchester United last time out. They look favourites to get through the other FA Cup semi-final to possibly meet us for a fourth time in the FA’s showpiece.
Suspensions aside it is likely that those thought doubtful through injury may well be available after all, including Sturridge and Lallana, both unable to make England duty during the break. The man in the news this week, Sterling, is also fit to start, it would appear.
I have looked long and hard at the odds before deciding on the ‘holic pound for this one. Liverpool can be expected to pull out all the stops and play a high pressing game. I have to believe we will eventually find the quick one touch pass and move game to counter that and I am drawn by the 9/1 on offer from Paddy Power for a 2-0 home win. That would be a real marker, as Amy Lawrence made clear in her excellent look at our recent home performances against clubs considered to be rivals.
So there we are. I should thank Network Rail and First Great Western for making my trip to the match, and back. as long-winded and awkward as possible. Should I arrive in time for a pint or two I look forward to seeing some of you, and most certainly afterwards too.
Have a good one, ‘holics.