It is my birthday today but there are some presents loved ones can never buy!
Something will have to give tonight. Whoever loses will go another season without silverware. For us it will be a case of misplaced optimism and overly ambitious expectations together with needlessly shooting ourselves in the foot on, and off, the field. For Arsenal it will be a case of earlier dominance and excellence that, for one reason or another, they could not sustain.
Many say we will have the advantage tonight. Much has been talked about the Anfield crowd and Dirk Kuyt’s away goal, which makes a change from the penalty appeal! However this is only a small advantage and it by no means makes things easier for us. At least Arsenal, like they had when arriving in Milan, have a clear picture about what they need to do. It will be a relatively straightforward procedure to determine the game plan because of this. For us it is more complicated. There is the option of playing out for a 0-0 and hoping that we go through on away goals however, does anyone really believe this game will end goalless? As Nicolas Bendtner said in yesterday’s paper….
“I don’t think we do too many nil nils”.
The other option is to come out and attack, to ride forward on the waves of support and expectation. However, if we over do it we will be vulnerable to an Arsenal sucker punch or counter attack. They have also played at Anfield many times and will be used to the atmosphere? Even if we get a goal it won’t be a disaster for them, if they score, the tie is all square again.
May be we will get a helping hand from Saturday’s game which, barring a highly unlikely “double collapse” from Chelsea and The Mancs, signalled the end of Arsenals’ title hopes? People have suggested they looked tired and that psychologically Saturday’s result cannot have helped. Personally I think there is too much talk of these things. Arsenal are just as likely to snap out of it, realising that this game is all or nothing, and thrash the living s*** out of us!
On the playing side it goes without saying that we need to keep the ball more. As we are at home the emphasis will be on us to dictate play, something that didn’t happen when Arsenal last visited us and only occurred in very short spurts last week. Torres has scored the vast majority of his goals at home and was quiet last Wednesday, hopefully he will get more space as Arsenal chase the game? We also need to watch ourselves from set pieces. Both Arsenal goals, on Saturday and last week, were scored from such situations. Although we employ a zonal marking system for open play, perhaps for set pieces we should change things and go man to man?
Who will Rafa pick? Peter Crouch did his chances no harm on Saturday but I cannot believe Rafa will change the largely successful system of Torres upfront, Gerrard just behind and Babel and Kuyt either side. It’s a system that seems to suit, Crouch will be hard pushed to break it. At the back Finnan is fit so perhaps there is a case for bringing Carragher from right back into the centre at the expense of Skrtel or Hyypia? It’s a difficult choice for Rafa because they have done well.
Prediction? I might as well just flip a coin! The method used years ago to decide European ties that were all square. We now have another method. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that but I’ve a horrible feeling that it might. Failing that it will be by one goal, but in who’s favour?
Above all we need to be positive and believe in ourselves. It’s all too easy to get caught in the different permutations but ultimately it is simple. If we win we are through so that is what we should do, play to win.