What: English Premier League
Who: Liverpool vs Arsenal
When: Sunday 2nd September, 2012, at 13:30 UK Time
Where: Anfield, Liverpool, England

Rodgers’ Revolution Gathering Early Pace

It has been a mixed start to life at Liverpool for new manager Brendan Rodgers. Disappointing performances and results at home to Hearts in the Europa League and against West Brom were sandwiched by outplaying last year’s champions Manchester City.

There have been defensive errors in abundance and signs that life under Rodgers is going to take getting used to, but there is also evidence that the former Swansea manager’s ideas are already having a positive impact too. The short passing possession-based game he favours seemed to be bearing some fruit against Manchester City, and with Nuri Sahin, who could so easily have been lining up against Liverpool this weekend, joining Joe Allen in the centre of midfield, the Reds have a combination that has the potential to be as good as any midfield pairings in the Premier League.

Coming up against Arsenal at Anfield will be an excellent early test for Liverpool. On one hand they will take on a team who will likely enable them to play their brand of football with more ease than West Brom or Manchester City. The flip side is that is how Arsenal like to play too – and they have been playing this way for years. Rodgers though will be keen for his first Premier League victory sooner rather than later and at Anfield against a key rival would be the perfect place to do it.

Unfamiliar Problems for Arsenal

The start of the new Premier League season has been all too familiar for the North Londoners, who have been forced to watch Robin van Persie join Manchester United and another star man, Alex Song, depart for Barcelona. Routes to Catalonia and Manchester are becoming increasingly trodden by Arsene Wenger’s former charges these days. Theo Walcott so almost made the trip to Liverpool to join Arsenal’s opponents this week, but after a chat with the manager it seems that he will at least be staying – for now.

But on the pitch, Arsenal have experienced an entirely different problem from the one they usually face. For years the club’s supporters have been subjected to game after game of defensive mediocrity, bemoaning an inability to keep a clean sheet. But the Gunners have looked uncharacteristically solid this season, most surprisingly of all is that Wenger’s men have done this without key figures in Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny – the latter two should be back for this clash.

There is no hiding from the lack of potency up front in Arsenal’s opening two games, but there is also reason for optimism. Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski have both looked good at times and have shown already that they are extremely hard workers, unlike some of those they have replaced. Whilst the pair will be disappointed not to have found the back of the net yet, it should be remembered that this is a new look attack, which had its first two outings against two of the Premier League’s best and deepest defensive lines. A more expansive Liverpool, which Rodgers admits are still learning his methods, could be ideal opponents for Wenger’s charges.

Recent form

Liverpool 1-1 Hearts (30/08; Europa League)
Liverpool 2-2 Manchester City (26/08; Premier League)
Hearts 0-1 Liverpool (23/08; Europa League)

Stoke City 0-0 Arsenal (26/08; Premier League)
Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland (18/08; Premier League)
1.FC Koln 0-4 Arsenal (12/08; Friendly)

Key absences

Liverpool: Lucas Leiva

Arsenal: Jack Wilshere; Tomas Rosicky; Bacary Sagna; Wojciech Szczesny (doubt)

Players to watch

Liverpool – Luis Suarez: Suarez will have a particularly important role to play here if he starts more centrally than Fabio Borini, as was the case against Manchester City. The Uruguayan is capable of unlocking the tightest rearguards and his control in tight spaces could open up an Arsenal defence which looks harder to breach than usual. Suarez is also more than able, as he showed last weekend, to produce something extraordinary out of nothing. Of all the players on the pitch at Anfield, he is probably the one who can fashion a moment of genius.

Arsenal – Olivier Giroud: Giroud will be essential to Arsenal’s hopes of getting anything from Anfield. Out of possession, he can be relied on to hassle Liverpool’s centre back pairing, hoping to force the same kind of mistakes that have been seen earlier this season. Giroud is also an excellent finisher, whether in the air, with his back to goal or when the ball is put into his feet. He has wasted the few opportunities to have come his way in his first two Premier League games for Arsenal, but Liverpool will be more expansive and defend higher up the pitch. This will make it easier for Arsenal to create clear cut chances. The Frenchman is a good player in tight spaces too and in a game that could be especially tightly fought, his finishing ability will be vital if Arsenal are to take something back to London. 

Match Prediction

This game last year was won by Arsenal, although Liverpool largely dominated. Whoever wins this one, it is unlikely to follow the same pattern as last season’s match as the Kenny Dalglish team is rapidly dismantled by Rodgers.

Both will play with a similar philosophy, as their managers will demand. The big difference of course is that Arsenal have been playing this way for the last 15 years under Wenger, whilst Rodgers has barely had 15 weeks at Anfield. Expect Arsenal’s forwards, Podolski and Giroud in particular, to be ordered to press high and hassle Liverpool’s defenders, who have looked uncomfortable in possession at times during the start of the season.

This is a game which will likely see both teams enjoy periods of possession and it will come down to who can counter with the more precise passing to open up gaps in their opponent’s defence. It is unusual for an Arsenal side to go so long without scoring, even in the present circumstances and Liverpool should be an ideal opponent against which to break that run. Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal.

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