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Dutchmen, Young Guns, Profits, Szczesny, Injuries, Reyes, Internationals + Liverpool Preview & Lineups

Liverpool vs Arsenal, Anfield, Premier League

Kickoff – 12:45 GMT (18:15 IST), 3rd March 2012

Another weekend, and with it comes another ‘cup tie’. This weekend, it gets bigger. Yes, bigger, because this time we are playing a club, bestowed with success throughout its history, added to by last week’s Carling Cup victory; unlike last week, where we had to show Spu*s, where they stand in the scheme of things.

The Liverpool game could be one of the major games of our season. It comes at a very delicate time. With just 12 games left in the season, Arsenal will have to find atleast 10 wins if they want to make sure of that 4th spot. Chelsea are breathing down our necks, and separate us only by virtue of head-to-head. Liverpool, themselves, boosted by their Carling Cup triumph, will look to push on. They are 7 points behind us, with a game in hand, of course. Newcastle have defied all odds and remain in contention too.

The match could be a cagey affair though. Liverpool have struggled to score goals this season, and suspension to their best striker, who missed a total of 9 games due to bans, hasn’t helped either. With it, coinciding was the form (rather the lack of it) of Andy Carroll. The bulky striker has scored just 3 times in 23 league appearances. Add to that, long term injuries for Gerrard and Lucas, two vital players for Liverpool. To compound the frustration, Liverpool have been unlucky at times. They have hit the goalpost highest number of times, this Premier League campaign, and this has resulted in failure to convert draws to wins, at home. Kenny Dalglish has managed his resources remarkably well this campaign, ensuring progress in cup competitions.

Liverpool’s defence, however has been stifling. They have played a consistent back 4 of Johnson, Skrtel, Agger and Enrique, and are a well-drilled unit, having conceded only 23 goals in 25 games. Arsenal on the other hand have conceded 37 goals, in 26 games, and have used an entire 11 at their back. These include Sagna, Jenkinson, Djourou, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Squillaci, Santos, Gibbs, Miquel and Coquelin. Funny, ain’t it?

While Arsenal have managed to bang in 53 goals, Liverpool have managed a paltry 29. The game will be a combined result of two battles. One is an attack which can’t score against a defence which can’t stop conceding, and the other is an attack which can’t stop scoring, against a defence that rarely concedes. Seems like we have a cracker jacker of a game on our hands.

Meanwhile, Arsenal chairman Peter Hill Wood has paid a tribute to the clubs two premier strikers, Thierry Henry and Robin van Persie.

It was a special moment to have Henry back with us for his statue unveiling. This was only surpassed by that winning goal against Leeds United on his return to action in an Arsenal shirt during his loan period with the Club. It was a truly memorable football moment from an outstanding Arsenal servant.

I would like to recognise another outstanding Arsenal servant, our captain Robin van Persie.He has been in tremendous form and has scored many spectacular and valuable goals.In addition, he has proved to be an exceptional leader of the team and I am delighted by his contribution on and off the pitch.

Riding high on the Spurs win, van Persie has been subject of interest among the football world, regarding his contract. While clubs like AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid look to price away Arsenal’s most prized asset, the Dutchman has gone out to say he is fully committed to the Arsenal cause.

There have been a lot of stories, generally contradictory ones, about my contract situation recently so I’d like to make it clear,There’s nothing complicated or sinister – the club and I have both agreed to speak at the end of the season and see how things stand. The boss, Ivan Gazidis and I are all comfortable with it.I need all my focus to be on football – on captaining this team, improving every day, doing extra work on the training pitch and preparing for the very busy schedule of fixtures we have.

I have been there for eight years and I’m proud. At the end of the season I will it down with the trainer and the president. Then we make a cup of coffee all together.I am a true Gunner. I love this club and that’s no secret. We will soon talk about many things. I do quite often with the trainer anyway. Only later on is the president there.

Arsenal fans will certainly hope so. RVP staying at Arsenal could hinge on whether the club manages to qualify for next year’s Champions League. Actually, a lot of things hinge in it. It could affect our transfer kitty, which means the likes of Podolski and Gotze, certainly won’t be arriving at the Emirates. We wouldn’t be able to attract too many good players, either. Our best players, more importantly, van Persie, could be on their way out in search of a Champions League club.

Dennis Bergkamp showered praises on his compatriot, and the successor to his throne.

He has been playing in a role which is very difficult,I think it’s easier for a guy like Robin or me to play behind the striker, and feed the main striker and sometimes get the space to do your own thing. But basically he is the one up front who has to make a difference, which puts a lot of pressure on him, but it seems like he can deal with it. It seems he can make the difference time after time and in my opinion that describes a great player. It’s fantastic how he has developed himself, and players like that deserve trophies. So I honestly hope that comes soon, because his character and style of play is fantastic.

As soon as he trained with us you could see his potential,He seemed free, he played with a lot of freedom. You could see immediately he was a very talented player.I got to know him a bit, obviously with us both being Dutch, so I tried to help him with a few things. You could really tell that he’s a good person, a good lad, and totally the opposite to the stories that were coming out of Holland at the time about him. They said he was a difficult character, wouldn’t listen to experienced players and so on, but he was a great example of a player making the right move at the right time. He joined a settled team with a lot of big players, and from day one he respected those players and listened to them, and I think that helped him a lot.

Meanwhile, another Dutchman contradicted another Dutchman’s statement. Recently, AC Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel came out and said van Persie would be perfect for AC Milan. However, his AC Milan team mate Clarence Seedorf, feels van Persie should stay put.

A player must not leave a club because one is not in the Champions League. There must be other reasons. Van Persie gives Arsenal a lot, but he must not forget that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger in particular, have given him a lot, they have been waiting for him and given him time to show his true potential. If Van Persie leaves, it should certainly not be because they will not participate in the CL.

Moving on to the transfer rumour mill, the Lukas Podolski story seems to be getting bigger and bigger everyday. The German tabloid Bild published that the 26 year old German striker has already signed a pre-contract agreement with the Gunners, and will definitely sign in the summer. To what extent, these are true, I have no idea. But, being an Arsenal fan for so many years, I wouldn’t believe in it unless it is on the Arsenal website. Meanwhile, rumours suggest that Fiorentina have offered Marouanne Chamakh an escape route, and will place a £6 million bid for him in the summer. That is actually great, if we could get so much for a flop, whom we had acquired on a free transfer.

While we are about the subject of strikers, RVP has heaped praise on reserve striker Benik Afobe.

I was delighted to see Benik Afobe back in the Reserves on Tuesday night, scoring against Norwich. Six months is a long time out at his age, especially when he did really well with the first team over pre-season making fast progress. He’s returned impressively though – I watched him in training ten days ago while I was doing my warm down and he looked really strong and quick, a proper English striker who holds the ball up well and works very hard.When you’re young you just want to be playing, improving your game and making your career, and he was denied that for a long time. To come back as he’s doing is tremendous – he’s a fantastic lad, a really good character to have in the squad and a player I genuinely rate, so I’m really proud of him,He absolutely loves his football and treats it very seriously. That’s the main thing for a young footballer – if you really love the game like he does then you will make it, and he has everything to become a great player.

The future seems bright for Arsenal, with young talent like Szczesny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Frimpong, Wilshere, Afobe, Lansbury, Miyaichi and Oxlade-Chamberlain coming close to the first team.

And while, we are still about strikers and talented players, Emmanuel Frimpong, who is out with a long term injury, spoke fondly of his time on loan at Wolves. He also praised striker Steven Fletcher.

I think Steven Fletcher is a good player, I told him to come to Arsenal!Stephen Ward at left-back isn’t bad either. They’ve got decent players, and the thing about them is that everyone works so hard. They base everything around work – people there even told me they haven’t got the ability of some of the teams in the Premier League and need to make up for that by working hard and I think that’s the right attitude.As a footballer you sometimes have to make decisions, and I think going to Wolves was probably the best thing I could have done.They may not have been doing too well, but the manager [recently departed Mick McCarthy] was very good to me – I think it’s very important to go to a manager who likes you, and he showed belief in me.He put me in the team, and I’m just happy that I was able to do him proud on the pitch. I had a great time, and if I come back from injury and need some games then I’d be happy to go back there.

Moving on, the club has announced the interim financial results, which boasts of a healthy profit, owing to player sales. Following are some of the main features of the announcement.

Group profit before tax was £49.5 million (2010 – loss of £6.1 million).

Profit on sale of player registrations amounted to £63.0 million (2010 – £4.0 million).

£74.7 million of investment in new players and extended contracts pushed amortisation charges up to £17.3 million (2010 – £10.1 million).

The resulting profit from player trading was £46.1 million (2010 – loss of £5.9 million).

Turnover from football rose to £113.5 million (2010 – £97.6 million) with increases from match-day (4 additional games played) and commercial income streams.

Operating profits (before depreciation and player trading) from football increased to £15.2 million (2010 – £9.4 million).

Period of minimal activity, as expected, in the property business with turnover of £3.2 million (2010 – £22.5 million) and operating profits of £0.5 million (2010 – £3.3 million).

Group has no short-term debt and continues to have a solid financial platform from cash reserves of £115.2 million (2010 – £110.4 million).

I am not very sure what these mean, as to if the manager will have all of it at his disposal, should he decide to splash the cash on reinforcements. It will be interesting to see.

Going back to the Spurs reaction then, one enduring image is that of our young Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny performing a somersault and hugging a ball boy during the match. He is gonna be a legend!He was full of praise for Arsenal’s frontline.

It is comparable to that of beating Barcelona. “It is a great feeling, probably one of the best I have ever had. Every single goal felt better than the previous one and I was celebrating quite energetically. But I loved it. It is the first time I have beaten Spurs and it is just great.

Theo scored two goals, which is all you can ask for,They were both very good. He has come under a little bit of stick for his finishing but he took those two very well and we are very pleased for him. He’s a very good lad and he is probably one of the best trainers in the dressing room.  He works very hard every day, scores a lot of goals in training and just needs to get the goals in games. But we are very pleased for him and we hope he can do it all over again in the games from now.

He’s not bad is he?(RVP) He only scored one goal today though, which is really disappointing for him! We are used to him scoring a hat-trick.But he set up a couple and he was great. He worked very hard defensively, headed a few balls away when we defended corners and scored a fantastic goal.That’s what he is all about – he is the best player in the Premier League and we are very pleased to have him.

After what we have done, we believe we can challenge Tottenham. We have the momentum. Will there be psychological effects for them? As an Arsenal fan, I hope so. I said ages ago that we can’t realistically win the Premier League any more but now, my main ambition is to finish above Tottenham.You can see that we are not any worse than them and when we have the momentum and are on the front foot, we are very dangerous. I hope we can use that to our advantage and get the momentum to start challenging.

Per Mertesacker, who is nursing an injury, and watched the game from the sidelines, too was full of praise.

As you can imagine, the Champions League game was torture. And on Sunday it didn’t look good for half an hour or so. But then I thought: wow, that’s some cool club – they are turning it around!I almost felt like in the old days, when I followed Arsenal from a distance and felt like a fan: “This is a great club!” I am really proud of being part of a team that is capable of putting in a performance like that.I’m already looking forward to being back in London next week (to watch the Milan second-leg), because it is annoying – especially in your first season – to be away from the team on account of an injury. You want to spend as much time as possible with your new team-mates.

On his own injury, the Big F*cking German had this to say.

I can report that all’s going pretty well for me, to be more precise: for my ankle. I was able to put aside the crutches relatively quicklyI’m able to walk rather normally thanks to a custom-made boot and a splint that prevents the ankle from twisting. The condition has become more and more stable by the day, so I’m quite light on my feet.The ankle is still swollen, but since I’m walking daily more and more fluid is being, so to speak, “lymph drained”. I’m really happy about that.It’s only when we get to the phase of placing load on the foot that we’ll be able to see what we’re looking at, in terms of the length of the lay-off.

Speaking of injuries, Johan Djourou has suffered a muscle tear on his right thigh, and could be out of action for a month. My first reaction was, this is great news. But then, I realised that another injury to a centre-back and we will have Sebastien Squillaci strutting about there. That ain’t a pretty sight. I would certainly hope Ignasi Miquel to be next choice centre back. Wenger recently told Djourou will be fit for the Milan game.

Meanwhile, Andre Santos nears to first team action, after a long term injury, which he sustained in the dead rubber Champions League game against Olympiakos. Wenger told,

He is doing good, he is not far as well – two weeks away from returning to the group. It is a bit ahead of time and he works with a fantastic attitude. He is unbelievably focused, motivated every day and he is a credit to himself. It is a joy to see how hard he works and sets himself targets. In two weeks we will assess how well he is doing in training.

Moving forward, the club has announced it will play Manchester City in Beijing, more specifically the ‘Bird’s Nest’, the beautiful arena built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, on July 27th in preparation for the new season. It will certainly set tone for the season. Ivan Gazidis had this to say.

Further to our hugely successful visit to Hangzhou in 2011, everyone at Arsenal is extremely excited to once again be visiting China this year.We enjoy huge support in Asia and by playing a match in Beijing, we will once again be bringing the Club close to our loyal fans in China. The players and staff had an amazing time in China last year and we are all looking forward to visiting this great country again in July.The match against Manchester City is sure to be an exciting spectacle, with many great players from both sides playing in front of thousands of supporters in the wonderful ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium. It is also fitting that two English clubs are playing each other on the opening day of the London 2012 Olympics, in the stadium which hosted the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

This friendly, along with further friendlies in Hong Kong and Nigeria are to replace the Emirates Cup, which has been cancelled owing to police shortages in the English capital during the Olympics.

Spanish striker Jose Antonio Reyes recently spoke to the Arsenal magazine, and reminisced fondly his time in North London.

I have nothing but positive and happy memories of that time,I follow their matches whenever I have time and I always hope the best for them. At the time I joined it was really exciting, one of those experiences where you pinch yourself to make sure it’s actually happening to you. It was a big step to take at that time but my family and girlfriend supported me a lot.I felt happy and flattered about Arsenal’s interest, and I left Spain to go and win titles with them, which I achieved – but it was a big leap.I have to say that everybody was very, very helpful, and not just the players and the staff at the Club. I found the people in England to be very kind.I did not realise it so much at the time but after the job was done I started to realise that I, we, were part of football history and that we had written ourselves into the history books,I think all of us who were part of it treasure that particular season. The intensity of the emotions was incredible. At times like that, you feel proud and self-confident. You feel you are doing a good job. You feel happy, you feel strong. And you feel you took the right step in your career.

Reyes made a huge impact when he came to Arsenal in early 2004. After a reasonably good year, his form dipped, and he never really fulfilled his potential. He soon moved to Real Madrid on loan, scoring 2 goals in the final game of the season in 2007, to hand Real the Spanish League. He has since played for Atletico Madrid and Benfica.

Internationals, then. Overhyped and overrated England took on Netherlands at Wembley and ended losing 3-2, thanks to a masterclass from Arjen Robben. Arsenal fans, for sure, were more concerned about the fitness of Robin van Persie, and there must have been a collective sigh of relief when he was bought off at half-time. News had percolated before the match that van Persie had walked off with a slight problem 10 minutes before the end of a light training session. But, then, he played, and Dutch coach Bert van Maarwijk bought him off at half-time.

After the weekend, Arsene Wenger stated that both Tomas, and Thomas hare injured, and are big doubts for the Liverpool clash. However, Vermaelen played 90 minutes against Greece, for Belgium. Which mean, he is fit, but exhausted. Rosicky didn’t feature for Czech Republic against Republic of Ireland. And there was no mention about him in the press conference, which is slightly puzzling.

Moving on, on loan Arsenal midfielder Henri Lansbury scored a brace for England U-21’s, one of which was an absolute screamer. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, too got on the scoresheet. Elsewhere, Gervinho, Alex Song, Park Chu-Young, Szczesny,Benayoun etc. all were away on international duties. Szczesny kept out Cristiano Ronaldo and Co., while Ukraine beat Benayoun’s Israel 3-2. Andrei Arshavin, too scored for Russia in a 2-0 win over Denmark. Chamakh featured in Morocco’s 2-0 win over Burkina Faso.

Meanwhile, Yossi Benayoun recently revealed he is frustrated at the lack of opportunities at Arsenal, where he has fallen down the pecking order below Rosicky, Arteta and Ramsey.

To play 88 minutes, especially in a derby, is a great pleasure. I enjoyed every minute of it, but I still don’t know what will be next week because at Arsenal you are at the top and the competition is tough.The bottom line is that I’m not playing enough games. I haven’t been given enough opportunities.

I scored the winner at Aston Villa and made a goal in the next game. But for some reason I didn’t get opportunities after that, even though the team had a string of disappointing results. But I still believe in myself and that I will play much more.My inclination at the moment is to sign for a mid-table team and play another two or three years.

I do like Benayoun as a player. Not just because he scored against Spu*s in 2006, whilst in a West Ham shirt, to hand us 4th place, and a place in the Champions League. He is quite a talented player, and has good experience in the Premier League, having played for West Ham, Liverpool and Chelsea. He is a good passer of the ball, and as last week suggested, he can stamp his authority in midfield. Unfortunately, his Arsenal stint has come at the wrong time in his career. He is 32, and hence the reason behind him saying that he would want to turn up for a mid-table team. I think an Everton, Newcastle or Aston Villa would suit the Israeli perfectly.

Team news, then. Speaking in his pre-match conference, Wenger revealed that 3 important players will have scans ahead of the game, but he is expecting them to be fit. They are Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Thomas Vermaelen.

I do not know if they will play, Personally I think international friendlies are becoming more difficult to accept. It’s difficult to understand that our players had to go away when injured, it’s disrespectful to the players.

It could spark another country vs club debate. Clubs lose their best players to injury in meaningless friendlies. It has happened in the past to Arsenal at a worrying rate. Players have aggravated their injuries by playing unrequired international games in the midst of a hectic domestic schedule.

If all goes well, it would be interesting to see how the midfield shapes up. Whether Benayoun will keep his place, after impressing in the Spu*s game, or whether Wenger will decide to deploy wingers, namely Chamberlain and Gervinho. One should also remember that Alex Song and Gervinho will be returning from long trips to Africa. Moreover, Gervinho returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, just a couple of weeks back, and him flying back for the friendly, goes to show how poorly framed the fixtures are. I would expect Wenger to rest Benayoun and give a start to Chamberlain. It would mean we could be susceptible to losing a central midfield battle to Liverpool. One player returning for Arsenal is Abou Diaby, and he will be expected to feature in next week’s league game against Newcastle.

Liverpool, meanwhile, are sweating on the fitness of Steven Gerrard. After playing the full 120 minutes in an absorbing League Cup final, Gerrard injured himself in the meaningless friendly. Daniel Agger is out for a month after he cracked a rib in the League Cup Final, which means a fresh Jamie Carragher will start. Liverpool have a host of options in midfield, namely the defensive-minded Jay Spearing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam. Stewart Downing is expected to start after putting in a fine display in the Carling Cup final, which earned him the Man of the Match award. They also have the option of the industrious Dirk Kuyt. Up front, Craig Bellamy has looked lively. Andy Carroll’s performances seem to be improving gradually, while Suarez still seems a bit affected by the racism scandal. I would expect Dalglish to keep faith in Suarez and Carroll, again.

Here is how I think the two teams could line up.

As you can see Liverpool’s midfield does look slightly imbalanced. Spearing or Henderson should take up the defensive midfielder’s role. Gerrard will gradually drift towards the centre, to support Adam, while Downing will run the left flank. Bellamy or Kuyt are other options on the flanks or in strike, depending on Dalglish’s decision to go with one or two marksmen. All in all, we are set for an enthralling midfield battle.

A lot hinges on this game, regarding who will finish 4th. If Arsenal win, they will move to within 4 points of 3rd place Spurs, who play on Sunday against Manchester United. With Chelsea playing away at West Brom, and Newcastle at home in their derby against Sunderland, Liverpool could move up to 4 points of Chelsea and Arsenal, with a game in hand.

That’s it for this week. Enjoy the game!

Jai Arsenal 🙂

About supreetkini

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I would like to introduce myself starting with my favourite quote "I don't know whether life is sh*t cos Arsenal is sh*t or the other way round" - Nick Hornby, author, Fever Pitch. Since I started supporting Arsenal, every mood of mine, every bit of my behavior is a reflection of Arsenal's form! Well, that's enough a description to tell you how much I love the Gunners! :D I have my own Arsenal blog, blazingcannons.wordpress.com

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