The weather outside is frightful. No, really, we’re supposed to have one of those “once in a decade” ice storms that basically knock out all power and clog the roads. Different than the normal weather “predictions” which tend to be wildly inaccurate in this part of the world, I fear we have some real mess coming up starting tonight and heading into tomorrow.
Obviously, my local readers are the only ones effected by this news, but it’s important enough that I thought I’d mention it straight away because it means that many of us might not be able to watch the match tomorrow. If we lose power tonight, my first priority will be to keep the girls warm and then to head up to Doyle’s for the match.
If we don’t lose power, well, then I’ll see you locals at Doyle’s! So, let’s pray to whatever gods you believe in that the weather gives us a lamb rather than a lion tonight.
Ahead of the match, Arsenal have some good news, some bad news, and some funny news.
As I was scanning the news feeds this morning I had this ominous feeling. That sort of feeling you get when the phone rings in the middle of the night. So, right away I went to the Arsenal.com match preview and sure enough: Howard Webb is refereeing the match. Evidently he’s become the go-to referee for any big match involving Arsenal, having already overseen Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man U. You know, the match where he gave an incredible 6 minutes of extra time and every Ronaldo dive was greeted with a free kick while Scholes’ fouls were unpunished?
If it was just once, I wouldn’t be worried, but last season Webb oversaw an amazing 3 of Arsenal’s 5 losses, giving away an incredible 2 penalties against Arsenal and carried the ignominy of being the referee who most penalized Arsenal with yellow cards. An Arsenal team that was at the top of the “Fair play” league and by pretty much every standard imaginable are one of the least fouling teams to ever take the pitch.
I know, he’s a police officer, blah, blah. I’m not saying that he’s on the take, but just that for some reason, he oversees some of the most contentious Arsenal matches (the worst was the Carling Cup final against Chelsea) and statistically he tends to call the matches against Arsenal. That said, with the 2-1 win over Man U this year maybe Arsenal have figured out how to play with him on the pitch and we’ll see a turnaround. We can hope.
In team news, Arsenal will have the services of Samir Nasri while Liverpool will be without their talisman Fernando Torres. This should be great news for Arsenal as without Torres, Liverpool have struggled to get goals but I’m ambivalent about the announcement; Liverpool have Robbie Keane available despite his very public fall out with Benitez. Plus, Dirk Kuyt gets a lot of stick from Liverpool supporters but I think he’s their most dangerous player. He’s got pace, a decent footballing mind, and a workrate unmatched by anyone in the EPL.
Make no mistake, Liverpool will be very happy to use Xabi Alonso and Mascherano to funnel Arsenal into the middle of the pitch, allow them to play intricate passes. Then, when Arsenal inevitably cough the ball up, find an outlet and get an open goal.
Former Spud Robbie Keane would be ecstatic to score a goal on the break against Arsenal and he’s got the craft to do it too. So, while it should be great news to see Torres off the team sheet, I’m not getting too giddy.
As for Nasri, this is good news. Struggling with the physical nature of the Premiership he’s missed several games now with niggling injuries but he’s also been there in several crucial games and scored some really great goals. There’s no doubt of this player’s importance because when Nasri is out (and with Theo on long term injury) Arsenal are forced to use 4 central midfielders across the middle of the pitch and this is most directly responsible for Arsenal’s overly central, overly intricate, toothless ball-hold-ery. He he, ball-hold-ery. I swear that Arsenal would be happier if they could play with another couple of balls and an extra set of feet.
Given all that, I’d bet that the story of tomorrow’s match goes like this: Nasri scores and Webb awards a penalty for a Robbie Keane dive which Gerrard converts. A 1-1 draw and no movement in the table for Arsenal.
Speaking of dives, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Arsene Wenger’s “dive” accusation against Babel in the Champions League match last season. Well, it was a dive, true, but I wonder why he mentions it? I highly doubt it will change Webb’s mind to our favor and might make him even more likely to call against us. Moreover, comments like this tend to focus the commentators on “whinging Wenger” and then they get to point out time and again thatArsenal get these kinds of calls too — like the offside that went against Chelsea.
Whatver happens, what remains clear is that Wenger is no Fergie when it comes to pre-game manipulation. I mean come on, if Fergie had a ref with such an obvious bias he’d have a go at the ref, not Ryan Babel.
Ok, that’s about it for today. I’ve got to go get some wood in case all hell breaks loose over here. I’ll see you at Doyle’s if possible — let’s hope for a good match tomorrow and UP THE ARSE!