We've had almost two weeks to get ready for Saturday's contest at Emirates Stadium between third-place Arsenal and fifth-place Liverpool. You'd think with all that time and the tedium of the interlull that a wealth of interesting, intelligent analysis would have emerged.
out not to be the case. The best almost anyone can muster is "This is
the Top-Four Decider."
Actually, even that's off base.
this weekend, there will be seven matches left on Arsenal's and
Liverpool's schedules. That's 14 opportunities for something
unpredictable. Add Man United, Spurs, Southampton, and even Man City to
the mix, and the possibilities multiply.
Yet the probabilities
suggest that Arsenal are already in a strong position to qualify for the
Champions League, possibly the strongest they've been in a number of
seasons. Most respectable models are pointing to a 95 percent or better
probability of a top-four finish, which a victory on Saturday would
enhance. Arsenal's form is also the envy of the Premier League: 33
points from the last 39 and eight consecutive wins at home.
early 2015 darlings of the media and the league's form team, have
dipped. They looked pedestrian in their last outing against Manchester
United and languid in their fortunate 1-0 win at Swansea.
As "How Arsenal Can Attack Liverpool's 3-4-3"
points out, those matches offer Arsenal some guidance for exploiting
Liverpool's weak spots. Pressure on the three central defenders, shorn
of the suspended linchpin Martin Skrtel, and emphasis on the space left
by too aggressive wingback play would be advantageous moves for Arsenal.
will also take pointers from its successful trip to Old Trafford in the
FA Cup, when rather than standing off Manchester United as they did in
visits to other top opponents this season, the Gunners pressed through
the midfield and forward line. This caused Manchester United's three
central defenders and wingbacks considerable difficulty, and Danny
Welbeck's winner was a result.
Welbeck seems like the ideal player
on the right side to execute the preferred pressing tactic, but his
knee injury on England duty creates an obvious lineup question. In
truth, there's a question even without his tweaked knee. Will it be
Welbeck or Aaron Ramsey in the starting XI? You have to think the other
midfield and forward positions are spoken for by Santi Cazorla, Mesut
Özil, Alexis, and Olivier Giroud. With Francis Coquelin in the holding
midfield role, that leaves one spot for either Welbeck or Ramsey.
Arsène Wenger's decision will likely come down to Welbeck's fitness and
his assessment of Liverpool's soft spot. If midfield pressure and
energy seem more troubling to Liverpool, then the manager will go with
Ramsey; if the weakness is defensive and on the flanks, Welbeck will
probably be preferred. He'll also consider Arsenal's right back
candidates from the returning Mathieu Debuchy, Hector Bellerin, and
Calum Chambers and how best to support that choice defensively.
is the kind of selection decision the manager will face as the season
moves toward its close. All the club's senior players have been in
training in recent days, giving Wenger the rare luxury of personnel
options. With no midweek fixtures to drive squad rotation, the manager
can choose his league and FA Cup lineups based on form, chemistry, and
the opposition. That's another strength that Arsenal can call upon, one
that could be telling between now and late May.