Gunner Thoughts

Liverpool Prep for Arsenal + Holding to Play?

Liverpool rest to prepare for Arsenal and Rob Holding approaches being a lock. Will Arteta change things up or stick with Rob?

Arsenal’s big matchup with Liverpool is drawing near, which means that many people took the time to direct their eyes toward Liverpool’s midweek matchup versus Chelsea on Tuesday.

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, their matchup with Liverpool is coming up which meant their eyes were directed toward the match against Chelsea… which was a dreadful watch. True to recent form, these two ‘titans of the Premier League’ conspired to put on a horrid show. This 0-0 draw makes four consecutive scoreless draws between the pair.

It was a slapstick comedy affair between two clubs that have seemingly all but literally cashed in on the season and called it a year. Chelsea players that were setting out to show the world that it was Graham Potter’s fault they were so poor… suggested quite the opposite — no surprise to myself.

If this performance wasn’t bad enough, Chelsea look even more hysterically adrift as news broke of their intentions to bring Frank Lampard BACK for the remainder of the season.

I mean, put a nail in it and just agree to 3-0 losses the rest of the way out over that embarrassment. Could you imagine if Arsenal sacked Arteta a year ago and rehired Unai Emery? We can only hope he somehow wins a few games — not versus Arsenal — and convinces Boehly to give him a shot next season.

On the other side of the pitch, Liverpool, a team that by all rights has an outward shot at achieving Champions League qualification, seemed to have nothing to offer their fans. Sadly, wasting an evening watching this match was the second most annoying aspect as an Arsenal fan. Most annoying came in the form of Liverpool’s lineup.

It would seem that Klopp made the decision to put all their eggs in the ‘stop Arsenal from contextualizing our single title achievement’ basket as he selected a lineup with rotations you’d expect from an early League Cup match. Virgil van Dijk was ill and absent and Klopp also rested Salah, Alexander-Arnold, Robertson, and Gakpo.

Although this group came in late in the match, little drama was injected into the affair. The defense looked poor, the midfield looked lackluster and, in a vacuum, their 8th place standing in the table started to feel suspiciously like overachieving. However, if there is one likelihood that almost feels like a certainty, it’s that this group will look like an entirely different team when they step onto the turf at Anfield.

Premier League Table filtered for Away Fixtures. Sources: FotMob

As a team, they have been average at best, but at home, they boast an absolutely remarkable record. With 9 wins, 3 draws, 1 loss (Leeds in October), Liverpool have scored 34 goals and only conceded 9. As the image above shows, their record at home is far more in line with where many assumed the squad would compete at this season.

If there are two aspects for Arsenal fans to really cling onto it would be:

  1. Arsenal boasts the best Away record in the league: 11 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses
  2. In February, the world watched a Real Madrid team go down early at Anfield and simply put their foot on the gas and blow past Liverpool emphatically.

That won’t make it easy, by any means, but after watching Martinelli torment Alexander-Arnold and Saka pour in two goals earlier in the season, there should be a level of belief that Arsenal can compose themselves in hostile territory.

The match will be less a test of their quality— something they have proved out already across 29 matches —more one of their growth in the maturity department. As difficult as it is to remember, when the whistle blows, it’s not the name on the outside of the stadium that’s squaring off with them, nor the fans beyond the stanchions, but the eleven men across from them.

Rob Holding a lock?

For a few weeks now, Arsenal fans have waited with bated breath and poured through news clippings and Arteta interviews, to get clarity around William Saliba’s injury… it hasn’t come.

The club has stated their desire to find ways to help him manage the lower back injury through the end of the season, but suggestions have emerged this week that Saliba has yet to take the field for training since his injury, even going as far as stating he now remains a serious doubt for Sunday.

As a player that has established himself entirely this season, no one would argue that Saliba needs extensive training to bring comfort in a Sunday selection. But lower backs are tricky and if he’s incapable of training, one imagines the pain that comes with making athletic movements is too much. Or, simply, he can’t do them with any level of comfort required to preform at this level.

Not that the parallels are like-for-like, but as someone who has slipped a disk and attempted to play Sunday League, I can tell you the discomfort with even getting in any degree of an athletic, defensive stance or striking a ball is incredibly painful.

Athletes across the spectrum of sport have had their careers derailed with reoccurring lower back problems that plague them frequently after initial issues. Arsenal will be incredibly aware that they have to do everything they can to prevent that being the case for this 21-year-old star prospect.

In the meantime, it would appear that Rob Holding is likely to get another call to the starting lineup. When news broke that Saliba seemed a serious doubt, it was met with concern, but less panic surrounding Rob Holding. Perhaps it is the fact that he has strung together two decent showings in the back that gives Arsenal fans a bit of faith.

The situation leaves fans in limbo as they wonder which ‘Rob’ we will get. At his ceiling of play, he is more than capable of locking down and physically dominating the best of attackers. At his floor, he can get too tight to attackers, commit silly fouls, find himself sent off, or simply outclassed. He is a back up reason. And back ups, back up because they bring a lower level of quality and are often too inconsistent to count upon.

Strapped for choices, Arteta finds himself between a rock and a hard place. If he doesn’t want to put his faith in Holding, he could slide Ben White central and opt for a different right back. The cost of that could be removing Partey from the midfield in a game that Arsenal’s superior central play will want to be at their best to suffocate Liverpool’s.

For me, that’s a risky option to test this match.

Unless William Saliba make quite the turnaround in the next few days, and we catch a glimpse of news that he is training, Arsenal’s best option is Rob Holding. One plan I could see Arteta turning to is the one used versus Manchester City in the FA Cup.

Arteta clearly let Holding off the leash to try and physically impose himself and put off Erling Haaland. Rob essentially did this, got tight, and only adjusted his game once being booked. Arteta was then quick to make the switch and get him off, in that situation for Saliba. Perhaps Arteta could look to use Rob Holding in this fashion, with a bit more leash, and be ready to make the Ben White switch. We know Arteta likes to pack the game with technical players, and he has faith in Jorginho’s ability.

Could he be tempted to squelch any degree of Liverpool control at Anfield by deploying a midfield three, in possession, of Zinchenko, Jorginho, and Partey?

Not out of the question, but certainly in Arsenal’s best interest to have Holding calmly collect a third quality game.

Leaving it there for the day.

If you didn’t read, earlier this week I considered another difficult choice Arteta will have to make for Sunday – the attacking front.

Four players with cases to play, only three can be selected, who will Arteta use up front?

Gameweek 29 is in the books after West Ham get dominated and Manchester United beat Brentford. David Moyes could find himself on the chopping block very fast as West Ham are now level in points with the relegation zone.

The end of this season is poised for drama on both ends, plus the top four race. Lots to be excited about, and plenty to shit your pants over! Enjoy the day.

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