Monday, April 20, 2009

The Match Pricks Derby: New faces in new places

It goes without saying that this version of The Match Pricks Derby is quite different than the one we witnessed in December, but it's fun to go over some of the changes since Liverpool and Arsenal last met.

First up, clearly, is the presence of Andrei Arshavin in North London. The little Russian has helped transform what, at the time of his move, was a bit of a stagnant Arsenal side that was looking for some steam after Cesc Fabregas hurt his knee against Liverpool at the Emirates. The hard-luck loss to Chelsea on Saturday in the Cup semifinal notwithstanding, Arsenal are rolling in the League. Undefeated in all Premier League matches since a little bit before Arshavin's transfer, I believe. Colin could tell you more about the details, but to even the most casual observer, Arsenal is in fine form.

Now, Arsenal has experienced more than their fair share of injuries in recent weeks. Van Persie and Adebayor are out tomorrow (see below), and Gallas, Clichy and Almunia also will be missing at Anfield. But Arshavin and the rest of the side are clearly a different Arsenal than at the inaugural Match Pricks Derby.

Liverpool, too, are quite different. While there is no significant new addition to the side, two players have stepped up their performances to drag Liverpool back into the title race against all odds: Yossi Benayoun and Fabio Aurelio. While Aurelio's free kicks have him dreaming of becoming the next Roberto Carlos for his native Brazil, it's Benayoun who's really shined. The Israeli captain has been nothing short of phenomenal since the calendar turned to 2009. He has warmed my heart repeatedly with last-minute heroics, snatching 3 points at Craven Cottage a couple weeks back and, of course, crossing perfectly for Torres to complete the desperate comeback at Fratton Park a couple months ago.

The biggest difference, in some ways, for Liverpool since the first match is their goalscorer from that fixture is gone. Let's just look back on that for a second:

Believe me, we were all surprised at how that sucker went in. It was a fantastic goal, and the only truly great moment Keane had for Liverpool during his six months at the club. It earned the Reds a draw. Whatever, I'll take it. Will Liverpool miss him tomorrow? Hmmm ...

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