Liverpool v Arsenal preview: Will Benitez go for it?

Benitez can't get out of his own way with the media, can he do it on the team sheet?

Arsenal journey to Anfield to face Liverpool in the Premier League’s only Sunday match up and a critical game for both sides. Liverpool are under siege after a poor first half of the season was underlined by their meek Champions League exit on Wednesday. They are, however, getting healthy at just the right time.

Arsenal, on the other hand, are ravaged by injuries and could be forced to play without a recognized striker. Despite all the goals they’ve scored this season, no front man is a problem for a team that has struggled to find goals since Robin Van Persie went down. The big question for me, though, will be whether the under-fire Benitez stays conservative or goes for it. Aquilani anyone?

Former Liverpool player and manager Graeme Souness ripped the Reds as being on the verge of a “meltdown” and almost manager Jurgen Klinsmann echoed those remarks after the loss to Fiorentina consigned the squad to the Europa league (I won my Champions League group stage pool though – because I rule!). Benitez fired back noting the rather poor records both men had as managers. But even if he was correct in pointing out that the two don’t really have much room to criticize him, by giving the story more oxygen, Benitez can’t seem to get out of his own way with the media.

But in Liverpool’s favor, it looks like they will have their full compliment of players available for the first time all season. We have yet to see Torres, Gerrard, and Aquilani on the field at the same time this season. But after Aquilani came through 76 minutes on Wednesday (and looked class too) and Torres was pronounced fit, Benitez can for the first time put out the side he constructed to challenge for the title. The question is, will he do it?

We know Benitez favors two holding midfielders to anchor a 4-2-3-1 formation. Aquilani doesn’t really fit the holding midfield roll as he’s much more of a straight up attacking player. If there was ever a time to just go for it, this is it. The cautious way hasn’t really worked out that well, the season needs a boost, and Arsenal aren’t exactly tearing it up.

The Gunners come to Anfield not having scored away from home since Van Persie succumbed to and ankle injury on international duty. They’re also without Bendtner, Clichy, Rosicky, Eboue, Gibbs and Djourou, and Eduardo and Diaby are doubts. Watching the likes of Fabregas, Arshavin, Nasri, and Denilson pass it around is wonderful to watch. Problem is, that’s all they’ve been doing. Arsenal desperately miss that player who is thinking only about scoring goals – without it, they lack a cutting edge and find it difficult to turn their beautiful possession into clear cut scoring chances.

With Arsenal’s front six moving freely around the pitch, it’s difficult to pick out individual matchups. But it is clear that the Gunners will rely on Fabregas more than they would like and if Mascherano can lock him down, it could be a long afternoon for the Gunners. That’s tough to do though, because Fabregas is just as likely to pop up on the left flank as he in the center circle or the six-yard box. But if Mascherano can keepFabregas from running the game in the middle, it will probably be a long afternoon for Arsenal.

The game, though, may be decided well before those two square off. I’ll be looking at the team sheets to see if Benitez trusts the team he built and puts Aquilani in the from the start, or if he retreats into a shell and goes with Lucas instead. Can he get out of his own way on the team sheet?

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One Response

  1. […] I have said here, here, and here, I have never understood why Lucas has been favored over Aquilani. By any measure, […]

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