Liverpool once again have to bounce back after a poor result.
You might get dizzy from all the bouncing back that Liverpool have had to do lately. They find themselves once again having to claw out of the dumpster that Oldham Athletic dumped them in on Sunday. This is one of those times you're delighted that there's another match three days later, whatever the fatigue might be. This taste is badly need in of a serious kind of mouthwash.
But sadly, the most recent rebound efforts were against Fulham, QPR, and Norwich. Arsenal are not Fulham, QPR, or Norwich. And two of those were at home, the QPR match could have been anywhere, because they didn't show up. This is at the Emirates, where Liverpool are yet to win. I know that's hard to believe, but it's the case.
The good news is that all of Reina, Enrique, and Johnson are set to return. With Agger rested on Sunday, we know what four-fifths of the defending unit will be. The question is whether Martin Skrtel's tour-de-idiot on Sunday will see him dropped in favor of Jamie Carragher. You can feel Arsene Wenger giggling at the thought of this. If Carragher starts, or if Arsene thinks he will, he could deploy Theo Walcott through the middle and his pace is going to be a real issue. If Wenger thinks Rodgers will start his first-choice pairing, then out will come the suddenly scorching Giroud. He's the physical presence that Liverpool have treated like Godzilla. Nothing about this makes me feel any better. My hunch is that Carragher is brought in to deal with Giroud, because he's scoring at a rate that Wenger simply can't leave out.
From there, it's pretty simple. I would be shocked if Rodgers makes the same mistake as he did at Old Trafford, so we'll see Lucas-Gerrard-Henderson. Also, considering that Diaby and Carzola ate the Liverpool midfield with Allen and Gerrard most advanced last time, Rodgers will want to avoid a repeat.
Up front? Probably not Borini-Suarez-Sturrdige. Borini probably moves to the bench with Downing coming in from the start. The ploy would be to make sure Suarez starts on the left because Bacary Sagna has been a rodeo clown for most of the year.
In fact, the Arsenal defense feels like something you can get at. Per Mertesacker is about as equipped to deal with the movement of Suarez and Sturridge as a sloth is for a footrace. They've only kept two clean sheets in their last nine league games.
It's keeping them out at the other end that's the issue. West Ham and Newcastle will testify to just how ruthless they can be. But they also completely shrank from City (though a red card helped) and Chelsea in the first half. Liverpool fall in the middle of that. Diaby has really been pulling the strings, Carzola is always scary, and while Wilshere isn't back to where he was before his legs turned into graham crackers, he's getting there. It's rare that I truly fear for Liverpool in midfield, but this is one of those times.
Walcott is in imperious form as well, whether he's coming in from the right or through the middle. I will never buy Lucas Podolski as an actual footballer despite what his scoring record for Germany is, so look for him to shove it up my ass once again.
Liverpool need to go right at Arsenal, and risk the pounding. I know what they can look like on the counter, but ceding possession and letting the Gunners find their rhythm early does nothing to shake what is still a fragile mindset at them. Get at them, create a couple chances early, maybe even try the rarely used tactic of an early goal, and there's always a decent chance they fade. Maybe.
These are the two toughest fixtures left for Liverpool. Chelsea, Spurs, West Brom, Everton all have to come to Anfield. There won't be a high level of fixture congestion now that we've gone FA Cup dumpster diving. But Liverpool have to get something from this, and likely a win. Three points means that a loss at City will be somewhat acceptable along with totally expected. A draw probably means the Reds wil have to get a draw at Eastlands to keep the league season having any meaning. Two losses, and that's going to be about it.