Saturday March 3rd, 7:45am ET
For Arsenal, everything is very confusing. At first the news was that everyone who had played in internationals this week had returned unscathed, and everything was great. Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen had both had slight issues - RvP playing only 45 minutes against England after a groin issue in training the previous day, Vermaelen still sore after getting Spitfired by Scott Parker - but were said to be fine. Then stuff changed. Now, this is what the manager has to say (via Arseblog):
We have a problem with Vermaelen that we have to assess. Van Persie has a groin problem. I don’t know their chances of playing.
So...yeah. I honestly don't know what's going on here. If I had to guess, I would say that Arsene Wenger is just being particularly cautious with two of his key players, and that if they could play for country on Wednesday they ought to be able to play for us on Saturday. Both trained with the team today, and that is typically a good sign.
In central midfield things are murky as well. There were claims earlier that Tomas Rosicky, conquering hero of the North London Derby, had essentially played himself out in that game and suffered an injury. Now, according to the manager, though he has a groin issue he thinks Rosicky will play. Also, some guy called Abou Diaby is going to be available. I hear he's a midfielder, but honestly I don't know much about him.
The other big selection drama involves the wings. It's expected (by me, at least) that particularly after his storming second half brace, Theo Walcott will have his usual spot on the right. The question is whether Yossi Benayoun's comprehensively good game (well, honestly I thought he took a while to get going, but you know what I mean) will earn him the same honor against (one of) his former team(s). I would not be surprised at all to see him start, though I also would not be surprised to see Gervinho start. I lean toward starting with the Ivorian and if needed, making a change at halftime to the Israeli captain. I'm not leaning strongly toward that, though. I would not start Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as I feel like experience will outweigh his toolbox of skills, at least at the start. He would be a useful impact sub.
On the other side, it looks like Daniel Agger is out, and Steven Gerrard is still unlikely to play. Liverpool have conceded 10 goals at home in the Premier League and the second fewest goals in the league altogether, so an injury to one of their starting center backs can only help Arsenal (as much as one hates to see injuries happen). Gerrard is obviously also a big loss for the Reds, though it may be lessened by the questions surrounding Arsenal's midfield. This much is clear, though - Liverpool will not be playing with their first choice XI, though at this point few teams are.
Sagna - Vermaelen - Koscielny - Gibbs
Song - Arteta
Walcott - van Persie - Gervinho
Obviously this is dependent on fitness of several players, but if training photos mean anything (do they?) I think this is a likely XI. And the one I would pick, were I Arsene Wenger. Which I'm not, so if the team has little bit drop in second half, that's not on me, okay?!
Prediction: The Michael Thomas Golden Ball is brought out to midfield just before the game, to focus both sides on the prize at stake. It is beautiful. The match goes into halftime 0-0, but just after halftime Kieran Gibbs floats a free kick into the box, to be met by the head of van Persie. Much of the rest of the match consists of Liverpool trying to erase the deficit, but late in stoppage time Szczesny plays the ball to Bacary Sagna, and van Persie receives a long ball and flicks to a charging Rosicky, who scores at the death to seal the game. He then flops around like a fish, for some reason.