Arsenal are always interesting, always entertaining, but what Liverpool will confront tomorrow is an Arsenal unrecognizable to most. Through some injuries, through some sales, through some suspensions, the ones following out that big stupid dinosaur onto the pitch are certainly not going to be the ones you would have predicted a month ago.
In the past, it has been folly to doubt Arsene Wenger, though that rarely opened trophy case of late tells its own story (we haven't got one since 2006, so we won't talk too loud). The man always seemed a step ahead. He sold Patrick Viera, and we wondered why. He had Cesc Fabregas ready to go. He pulled the trigger on Thierry Henry, and Robin Van Persie was ready to pick up the strings. But in a Premier League that has seen some serious upheaval in the way things work with the Russian Dance Party that is Chelsea, The Golden Sandbox of Manchester City, and Man United's ability to compete with both of them financially, Wenger's ways of team-building may simply be outdated. It's admirable, yes, to always try and do it through your system while not sending your club to the financial panthers, but can it work? Liverpool's owners don't seem to think so, and they don't have the bankroll that an Emirates Stadium would provide. Neither do Spurs. Has it all passed Arsene by? It was clear Fabregas was going all summer, so why wait so late when a replacement is going to be that much harder to find? Same goes for Samir Nasri. Maybe Wenger knows who he wants, and will chuck this season in waiting for that player to be more available. I don't know. But this seems just a little to clever for his own good.
Anyway, as for the match tomorrow, stick with me here because it might take a while to list the Arsenal players who won't be there. Fabregas is clearly not playing because Xavi's lawn needs to be mowed. WIth Nasri on the verge of a move to City, he's out as well. Gervinho (Rick James, biatch!) is suspended for caressing Joey Barton's face -- which must feel like dead snakeskin, or possibly live snakeskin. Either way, asshole snakeskin. Also, Alex Song is suspended or using Barton's heel as a gas pedal. Then we get to the injuries. Jonathan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs, Abou Diaby, and Jack Wilshere all miss out. That's two defenders and two midfielders for those scoring at home. And if you are, good for you!
So how will the Gunners line up? This is a tricky one. The one that ended the Champions League qualifier with Udinese, not started was Szczesny-Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna-Frimbong, Song, Walcott, Ramsey-Gervinho, Chamakh.
We know Song and Gervinho are gone. Rosicky kind of limped off, and is also about 85 years old. I'm guessing that's the backline that Arsenal will put out there, with that Jenkinson character ready to be tested early and often by Stewart Downing, or hardly bothered by Jordan Henderson. In midfield, Frimbong takes over the holding role from song, with Ramsey, Walcott, Rosicky/Arshavin/both ahead of him. Van Persie rides alone up top, as Chamakh hasn't been any good since the weather got cold last season.
As for Liverpool, Glen Johnson is the only injury doubt, and he still may play. After Flanagan's...abstract display, let's say, against Sunderland, smart money is on Martin Kelly slotting in at left-back. Also, being away from home and this still being Arsenal, or some weird form of it, I wouldn't be shocked to see Kuyt come in for Henderson, protecting whatever right back is on display. From there, I'm guessing everything is the same.
There will never be a better chance to win at Ashburton Grove. But that doesn't mean it will be easy. Arsenal have this thing about them where they'll still come up with a goal if you're not careful. Van Persie is still a large, large threat, especially considering we're all not ready to trust Carragher or the whole backline yet. Walcott still has pace and can get into goal-scoring areas, but if your fullback has something of a pulse and something of any sort of brain activity, you can generally take him out. Arshavin or Rosicky are still capable of moments of magic, but they're getting fewer and farther in between. In the center of the park, unproven would be the word of the day, as we've never seen Frimbong, and Ramsey has yet to really make his mark on the big stage.
And with all the uncertainty flying around Arsenal these days, Liverpool shouldn't wait around to let them find their feet. You wouldn't normally do this, but this is the time to go at them. Get them on their heels early, it took Udinese far too long. Once they did, it was a shooting gallery at their end. If Liverpool score first and the uneasiness starts to spread, you're more than halfway there.