Arsenal v. Liverpool: A Liverpool fan speaks

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Tomorrow’s match is a big one: Arsenal plays Liverpool at home (Monday at 3 p.m. in the States on NBCSN). Liverpool is a football club with tradition, tradition with a capital “T.” But Liverpool is also a team in transition, working across time to fill the giant gap left by the departure of Luis Suarez. Last season was a tough one, with many new players coming in that didn’t quite gel. This season, Liverpool deals with the retirement of spiritual leader Steven Gerrard and the departure of Raheem Sterling to Manchester City, while working on blending in key players acquired in the transfer market.

Although I’m an Arsenal fan, I follow football blogs of many types and in support of many teams. What strikes me in evaluating blogs is the large number devoted both to Arsenal and Liverpool. I can only surmise that being just a bit below the top tier produces angst, the kind of angst that encourages fans into an angst outlet, like writing.

One of the blogs I follow is a blog written by a 15-year-old young man about Liverpool, lauriesliverpoolblog. Laurie is an amazing writer, producing well-researched, well-written analysis devoted to Liverpool. Laurie has written season predictions for Liverpool that you absolutely must read. But first, I’ve asked Laurie to tell you a little bit about himself and what Liverpool means to him, and to share some predictions for the match.

WholeArsed: Laurie, tell us how you first became interested in Liverpool.

Laurie: Well, my interest in Liverpool is honestly fairly recent although I’ve certainly become extremely passionate about the club during my short tenure of supporting them. For as long as I can remember though, my older brother has always been a massive Reds’ fan and I cite him as my main influence for following the club He continuously attempted to get me into football and despite my initial reluctance, after witnessing the 2013 FA Cup final and a few other matches; I became increasingly enthusiastic and watched more and more footie. Surprisingly, when I primarily wanted a team to support, I tried to pick a newly promoted or underdog team (and unfortunately even considered Everton) but after my brother took me to a pub to watch a Liverpool vs Manchester United game back in 2013, that swayed me to choose Liverpool and I’m so glad I did as I managed to witness our outstanding 2013/14 season—which I remember fondly.

WholeArsed: What made you decide to start a Liverpool blog?

Laurie: Good question. Well, I have always been passionate about writing and (not being modest) excel at English at school so I thought that writing a blog would be the perfect way to express some of my thoughts about something I enjoy. An additional key inspiration was after reading other Liverpool blogs such as This Is Anfield, OurKop and Empire of the Kop and seeing that they often shared opposing sentiments to me, I felt that by writing a blog I could share my own opinion with fans of the club in an engaging form, while also improving my own writing skills as well.

WholeArsed: How old were you the first time you attended a match? Who did Liverpool play, and what was the outcome?

Laurie: Unfortunately, unlike other large European clubs, the ticket prices over here in the UK are extortionate for Premier League games and as a fairly recent fan, I have actually only managed to go to one Liverpool match. Luckily, I constantly check the ticket pages and upcoming matches on Liverpool’s website so I managed to find out about the Liverpool vs. Swindon Town pre-season friendly approximately two weeks before it happened so I managed to get tickets for that game for only a £1—which was a bargain! I was also extremely fortunate to witness Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke make their debuts for Liverpool and I’ll remember the game for a long time, especially for Benteke’s wonder volley and first goal for the club. Although it wasn’t the best game, we did end up winning 2-1 and the experience was great so you can’t really ask for much more.

WholeArsed: Do you have a favourite memory as a Liverpool supporter? Tell us about it.

Laurie: As I’ve only been following Liverpool for two years, there are only two seasons I have to properly remember: the 2013/14 season and the most recent one. Despite witnessing Liverpool being in the Champions League for the first time for five years, for the majority of last season they were mainly all negative recollections, especially the embarrassing defeat against Stoke at the Britannia on the final day. So obviously my finest memories are during the beginning of 2014, where we came so close to our first league title in twenty-five years, in particular our victory against Manchester City at Anfield (where we won 3-2) due to the fantastic atmosphere and its reminiscence of the Hillsborough tragedy seeing as it was the twenty fifth anniversary. The memories of that season will live for an especially lengthy period (well until we actually win the league title!) Additionally, even though I never witnessed it live, after seeing clips of our miraculous recovery against Milan in the Champions League final of 2005, I wish I’d have been able to observe it at the time and feel the emotion after coming back from a three goal deficit and eventually winning the most prestigious trophy in our sport.

WholeArsed: Who are your Liverpool heroes and why are they heroes to you?

Laurie: As I’ve been an avid Liverpool fan for two years, the understandable two heroes are clearly Luis Suarez and ‘Captain Fantastic’ Steven Gerrard. Suarez for his outstanding goal scoring abilities and work rate, always striving to win and help the team in any way possible. Despite his evident flaws and how he arguably masterminded his way out of the club, you still have to respect Suarez for his immense talents and for essentially single-handedly almost leading Liverpool to the title in his final season. Gerrard is another hero due to his commitment and dedication to the club—particularly when you consider that he had the chance to move to both Real Madrid and Chelsea in his career with the opportunity to win more trophies yet turned them down to stay with his boyhood club—which is truly admirable.

WholeArsed: Liverpool have had a few important departures recently (Sterling, Suarez, Stevie G.), but have also done some good transfer business this summer. How do you feel about the departures, and do you think the transfers are positive overall?  Do they plug the gaps and/or introduce new possibilities?

Laurie: As much as I hate Sterling for the way he manipulated his way out of the club and was only motivated by money, it would be unfair to say that his potential and pace will not be missed in the team. Admittedly, his loss is not major for the team although the departures of Suarez and Gerrard are obviously massive for the team and I just hope that their exits do not cause another period of transition for the team where we have a faltering season due to an influx of new signings. Generally, the signings improve the team all round and the squad certainly looks more balanced—with the bench also certainly stronger than the previous season. Milner is an admirable replacement for Gerrard and has a similar work ethic, Gomez and Clyne can be our full-backs for the foreseeable future, Firmino will contribute to the team in terms of creativity and goals and assists while Benteke will hopefully be the Suarez replacement we’ve needed and a man capable of carrying the team to further heights.

WholeArsed:  Which player do you wish Liverpool would sign and why?

Laurie: I could be idealistic and a romantic and suggest signings similar to the trash published in the Metro, where we are repeatedly linked with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette, Edinson Cavani, Karim Benzema, Mario Gotze and of course, the papers favourite, Marco Reus. Despite the fact that they would hugely improve our team and potentially finally catapult us to the title, they are simply unrealistic and with other teams like Barcelona, Chelsea, Real Madrid and PSG being after these players, who can offer much more money and European football so are a more lucrative option than Liverpool. Realistically, we need a top defensive midfielder, especially if Lucas leaves the club this summer (which has been rumoured lately). We have been constantly linked to Illaramendi of Real Madrid and especially with their signing of Mateo Kovacic (another former Reds target) he will get reduced game time and will barely feature so I firmly believe he would be the perfect choice to add some creativity and attacking motivation the team. Despite his shaky start, I still believe that Petr Cech would have been a great signing for us and would have added extra defensive stability to the team—so I believe you have made a fantastic signing there.

WholeArsed: Do you have a particular aspiration for Liverpool this season? What would you most like to see happen?

Laurie: Of course I’d love to say that our aspiration is to win the title, which purely won’t happen so the minimum expectation simply is to get into the top four and win either the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League. Despite the competition from the Gunners, Man United, Chelsea and of course, Man City (who are my favourites for the title this season). Considering that Rodgers is the only manager since 1950 not to have won a trophy after being in the job for three years, this is the season where he needs to prove that he deserves to be in the famed Anfield dugout and stand where Shankly and Dalglish once stood. Especially when you have managers like Klopp and Ancelotti out of a job, this is the season where Rodgers needs to at least win a trophy and show he deserves to remain at the club.

WholeArsed: Turning to tomorrow’s match against Arsenal, what do you think are the key matchups that will dictate the outcome of the game?

Laurie: This is of course a headline clash, where both sides need a win to push on and motivate them to better things this season. While Arsenal arguably need to win because they’ve already lost a game this season and need the momentum to challenge for the title while a draw is debatably still a good result for Liverpool. In terms of key matches in the game, Benteke will be up against Per Mertesacker and Coutinho may be hindered by Coquelin, who looks to be the long term choice at the heart of Wenger’s midfield. As Henderson is a major doubt for the game, Emre Can will likely slot in as his replacement and as he is slightly more defensive minded than Henderson, which is key in this fixture so he can combat Mesut Ozil, who will slot in a number 10. In my opinion though, the most vital matchup in the game will be between your star-man Alexis Sanchez (who I wish we signed as Suarez’ replacement to this day) and our new full-back Nathaniel Clyne. Even though Sanchez is still only partially fit, he can still be on form and deadly and on the right-wing, Clyne will have to be on the top of his game to stop Sanchez from cutting in and scoring.

WholeArsed: Do you think Brendan Rogers should undertake a particular strategy to produce a favorable outcome?

Laurie: I feel that the majority of this matchup will be played in the midfield, so in some respects I expect a slow, lethargic match—especially considering that recently all of our visits to the Emirates Stadium have involved dire performances—with our 4-1 loss to you last season reflecting this. Although we did manage to beat Stoke and Bournemouth using the 4-2-3-1 formation, the wins were extremely fortunate and in some respects unconvincing—with both Milner and Henderson looking outnumbered along with an evident lack of creativity in the team. With the way that Arsenal play, with trickery from Carzola and Sanchez and box-to-box play from Ramsey and Coquelin so if Rodgers chooses to play a 4-2-3-1 formation which may work against the lesser teams, Arsenal will be allowed to dominate the game. Instead, I personally feel that Rodgers should switch to a 4-3-3 diamond so that the midfield is balanced and Firmino and Coutinho can assist Benteke with a dynamic front line. However, I fully expect Rodgers to go with what barely worked against Stoke and Bournemouth and potentially pay the price for it.

WholeArsed: And last but not least, what is your prediction for the match?

Laurie: The match can either go two ways: it’ll be dull and lethargic and mainly played out in midfield or conversely a very open goal with around four goals. I hope for the latter and as a Reds fan, I’m going for a slightly optimistic score line which will suit us more than it will suit the Gunners—so I’m going for a 1-1 draw.

Please click here to read Laurie’s season analysis for Liverpool. You are in for a great read.

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