Abou Diaby makes everyone scream at their desks at work last Spring (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images).
On Sunday at 11 AM EDT, Arsenal will travel to Liverpool to play their first Premier League game of the year. It is a match that may not answer all of the questions about Arsenal that linger in supporter's minds like an odor one cannot quite place, but they will not mind.
The desire to see real football, to break out the scarves, to lose oneself in the occasion, should override (great article on ACLF by contributor Consolsbob) any fear or negativity in the supporters' minds. Questions do remain about the center of defense, the holding midfield player, and the goalkeepers, but the team must nonetheless focus on the task at hand, and that task is Liverpool.
Roy Hodgson has taken over as manager of the Reds after a great spell at Fulham, where he took the Cottagers to the Europa League final. The offseason at Anfield has been less about transfers and more about the players they have managed to hang onto: Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. Of course, Liverpool also got six million pounds from Chelsea for Yossi Benayoun, whom they will miss, but managed, on the other hand, to sign former Chelsea attacker Joe Cole on a free.
Liverpool finished seventh last year, which by their standards is not good enough. Many have written off their disappointing year to the players having lost faith in former manager Rafa Benitez, and it's true that many of the core players from Liverpool's better recent years are still in place. Torres and Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Jamie Carragher, and Pepe Reina form the core of the side, and presuming Torres and Gerrard stay healthy, it's a good one. Carragher has lost a good deal of pace as the years have gone on, as those who watched him at the World Cup can confirm, but he's still a solid Premier League center half.
Arsenal enter the match with a lot of lineup decisions already made for Arsène Wenger through injuries and lack of match fitness. Alex Song and Denilson are theoretically available for tomorrow, and Diaby has passed his fitness test. None of them have played at all in the preseason, but they are available if need be for the trip. Robin van Persie has not played yet either, and Cesc Fàbregas has played 45 minutes. It's impossible to know at the moment, but if one had to guess, seeing as how this is the opening fixture of the year in a hostile environment, it seems implausible that Wenger wouldn't want his captain to start. Then there is the goalkeeping question...
If one had to guess, the lineup Arsenal field tomorrow could look like this:
Without Song as a guarantee, the midfield picture becomes very murky. Nasri has been talked about as a more holding midfielder before, as has Diaby, and perhaps the combination of the two of them shielding the back four is the best option at Wenger's disposal at the moment. Cesc is less of a capable defender, although he is willing. Walcott has looked bright in preseason, if not stellar, and Arshavin at Anfield, well, he pretty much owns the stadium at this point. The bench will no doubt have Nordtveit on it for emergency purposes, Eboué (who could start in place of Walcott or perhaps even Diaby?), Wilshere, Denilson, perhaps Frimpong, perhaps Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, and perhaps van Persie. Wenger has held his cards pretty close to his chest, but it's hard to believe he would go to Anfield without van Persie on the bench as an option.
At the end of the day, the Premier League opening day is so exciting and happy-making, that most supporters just want to see enthusiastic play and a win. A draw at Anfield, of course, is also a respectable result. Either way, roll on the season.