A preview for any Premier League match normally involves looking at all the factors which may – or may not – affect the team, how they might shape up tactically, and what sort of mental state they are in.
This evening’s trip to Liverpool, however, is one of those rare matches in which I am struggling to think of a reason why Arsenal should come away with anything but a positive result.
Not necessarily a thumping win, but a positive result. I do include a draw in that description, by the way.
The Gunners come into this game on the back of a full 12-day break, with some players who didn’t feature in the win over Sutton enjoying even longer away – an unprecedented 17 days.
There is no excuse for fatigue, for weariness, or for an unfavourable fixture pile up. The squad has had, relatively speaking, an enormous amount of time in which to shape up and work on a game plan.
Tactically – if Arsene and his team have done their homework – the squad will have had eons to practise and ensure they have it right. Every player should know exactly where he needs to be at all times and in every scenario.
There can be no excuse for the sort of shoddy workmanship we saw in the match against Bayern, in which any semblance of a game plan evaporated the instant Laurent Koscielny left the pitch.
Any psychological weariness or malaise the team may have been suffering after a pretty underwhelming run of games should long have disappeared, minds should have refocused and energy levels restored.
Quite simply, they should be ready and raring to go, champing at the bit from the first whistle, and determined to rid themselves of the ‘bottlers’ tag that has long been affixed to them.
Players who may have been struggling with minor knocks and niggles are back into the fold, including Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, and Aaron Ramsey. Sanchez and Ozil, our world class talents, have also had time to rest and recoup. With the exception of Santi Cazorla, Arsene is spoiled for choice in terms of players available to choose.
It is a rare match indeed in which I haven’t had to hedge my expectation of a positive performance against injuries, poor form, or mental fragility. Tonight, there are no excuses to hide behind.
In many ways, this is a defining moment for Arsene and his future. If, with the squad he has available, and the time he has had to prepare, his team come up woefully short, there can be no excuse for him. He will surely have to start questioning his ability to do the job.
Of course, you can never rule out the possibility of refereeing high-jinx, but a solid, well-planned approach to the game should render that variable obsolete. It’s not a certainty, but a good, 90-minute performance is rarely spoiled by incompetent officiating.
Although any chance of winning the league title is all but gone, victory at Anfield tonight still carries with it huge import. If nothing else, we need to keep ahead of our rivals in the battle for a Champions League place and we have to keep the pressure on Chelsea, however futile it may seem.
So while I consider myself a realist and a rational sort of fan, who knows defeat and disappointment are a part of any season, I truly struggle to find any margin for error in tonight’s game. We simply have to get a result and we have to put in a performance that reflects the time we have had out of action.
Am I confident? With this Arsenal side, you can never be confident but the build-up to this match has suited the Gunners perfectly and they must make that pay.