PGL: Is it just me does every game feel massive for us at the moment? Anway, with Liverpool rolling into the Emirates today our young, injury hit side will be looking for another perform like those we saw at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge. This week I’ve been in touch with Matt about their season so far and today’s clash. PGL: Liverpool look the real deal this year in terms of a title push, what’s changed for you this season?
Matt: We may look the real deal in terms of league position but in terms of performance, we’re not. But that’s what’s changed – we’re now winning without playing well, which we haven’t done in recent years. Some added quality, resilience and ‘the right mentality’ as Rafa calls it, have made the squad the strongest we’ve had for a long, long time. PGL: What’s going on with Robbie Keane? Do you think he’s just not good enough for a big four side or is it a confidence/tactical issue? Matt: It’s a strange one for sure. I personally think he’s being harshly treated. Benitez signed him, it’s not like he inherited him, so, just why did he sign him and for what role did he see Keane playing in? Obviously he was seen as a partner for Torres, playing deeper in a 442 formation but recently Rafa has changed back to 4231 and Keane cannot play the lone forward role – nor can Kuyt but that’s another matter – which isn’t Keane’s fault. PGL: People once labeled the Gunners over reliant on Henry. Could the same accusation be made of your side with Gerrard (especially after seeing his brace V Hull)? Matt: It could also be said of United and Ronaldo and various other teams. The thing with Gerrard is, he’s not been playing his best so far this season, but still he’s our top scorer and taking all the plaudits. Once Torres is back fit it takes some of the reliance on him away. PGL: Xabi Alonso is a player Arsenal seemed very interested in over the summer. With his form being so good so far this season, do you think Benitez missing out on Barry may have been a positive? Matt: Xabi has arguably been our best and most consistent performer so far this season and has definitely improved on the last year or two previous. In the summer I strongly felt if we wanted to improve the squad then we should add Barry, not deduct Alonso and replace with Barry and I’m thoroughly pleased it didn’t happen – especially at that price! It has been suggested that Barry was being pin-pointed for left midfield though, allowing Mascherano and Gerrard to occupy the middle, and so Alonso leaving would have been purely to finance Barry. Instead we got Riera for a bit cheaper and he looks good so far. PGL: Benitez has been in hospital this week, do you think his absence from the training ground will effect your side? Matt: Last season this might have affected us more when we lost our then-assistant, Pako Ayesteran. But the return of Sammy Lee this summer has had more of an impact than has been detailed. He’s added that link between manager and players which Pako provided before, and having him around means things should run fine in Rafa’s absence. I’m sure Rafa will still be heavily invovled in tactical work and much preparation will have been done already in terms of analysis of you. PGL: Our current crop of injuries mean we’re lacking width and a bit of pace down the flanks. How will Benitez try to use this to Liverpool’s advantage? Matt: Probably by playing with 5 across the middle with Gerrard behind the forward. Riera will probably occupy the left side and I’d love to see Babel start on the right but I fear Benayoun will get the nod and thus waste the opportunity to expose your lack of pace. Hopefully Aurelio will be back for us at left back, otherwise even Eboue could destroy Dossena down our left! PGL: Your side look solid right now, strong all over the pitch, if you were in charge of the Arsenal on Sunday, are there any areas you would be looking at to exploit in the Liverpool eleven? Matt: One thing Hull did well was exploit our biggest weakness – Dossena, or at least until an injury changed their line-up. Putting pressure on Reina too as often his accurate kicking is a weapon we use effectively to build attacks. Without Torres we are much less likely to get success through the middle using pace up front, Kuyt and Keane both struggle to beat a defender or get in behind. PGL: And finally, what’s your prediction for the game? Matt: Score draw. Probably 1-1. PGL: As I said the other day, I can’t see Keane playing so it will probably be Gerrard in behind Kuyt. Gallas will need to be on top form, picking up the second ball and closing down Gerrards late runs. JD has to start beside him. I’m pro-Eboue starting today. He’s is the best crosser of the ball at the club and if he can get in behind Dossena I think Ade can cause them problems. That said I’m going to agree with Matt on this one and go for the 1-1.