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Saturday, 12 December 2009

Liverpool v Arsenal: The ultimate starting XI

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When Liverpool met Arsenal in this fixture 20 years ago it was a title decider. This weekend some critics have labelled the game as meaningless. However, there has never been a meaningless game between these two sides and this is no different. Arsenal still have designs on a title challenge while Liverpool are desperate to kick-start their season and make sure they don’t lose any more ground in the battle for a top four finish.

Both Liverpool and Arsenal have their fair share of quality players but from those two squads just who would make it into the ultimate starting XI? I have opted to pick my team based on those players who, to the best of my knowledge, will be available for selection to play in a traditional 4-4-2 formation.


Fernando Torres will be pleased to know that at least one of his fellow countrymen will be joining him in this line-up but will it be Almunia, who has failed to realise his true potential, or Reina, who has conceded more goals this season than the likes of Stoke City, Birmingham City and Fulham? Like Jordan, Almunia has his knockers, but I think he is an OK keeper – not great, but good enough. However, Reina is a man you can depend on. Strong in the air, an excellent shot stopper and brave, Reina wins this battle comfortably.


Neither defence have really covered themselves in glory this season but I have been impressed with the Arsenal central partnership of Gallas and Vermaelen. They have struck up a good understanding, complement each other’s style well and pose good threats in the opposition’s half, so for me they have to be in my squad. Skrtel is strong but not the cleverest of defenders while Agger is arguably one of the most talented players in the league, but he doesn’t produce the goods as often as he should. Also Mr Liverpool, Jamie Carragher, who is normally so dependable, also misses out as he has had a nightmare season, although performances have picked up recently.

My left back by default really has to go Liverpool’s Aurelio. Gael Clichy would have been my preferred choice but the poor lad is out injured again. My second pick would have been his understudy Kieran Gibbs, but, again, he is currently unavailable through injury. Now of course I could plump for Insua but he still has a lot to learn about the English game so I think I would push the Brazilian** Aurelio back.

On the opposite flank I have to go with Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna. He has been a consistent performer since he arrived from Auxere in 2007. Sagna is up and down the wing like a whore’s knickers, strong in the tackle and very disciplined. Glen Johnson started the season on fire scoring goals for fun but his defensive qualities have been repeatedly been questioned. It was a tough call but Sagna just pips him.


I think my midfield four more or less picks itself. Cesc Fabregas and Steven Gerrard are obvious choices. Both players have engines like Ferraris, have the skill to unlock the meanest of defences, and have strikes more powerful than Royal Mail. Fabregas and Gerrard would walk into any team in the world.

However, to complement their attacking nature I must include a defensive midfielder. Thankfully in Javier Mascherano Liverpool have arguably the best in the business. The Argentina captain is highly regarded by everyone in the game and can snuff out danger in an instant. He is a great reader of the game, loves to get stuck in and does the simple things brilliantly. Arsenal’s Denilson is a great young player and it amazes me how he manages to play in that position given his tender age and frame, but Mascherano has bags of experience and wins it hands down.

Completing my midfield is Liverpool’s Yossi Benayoun. The former West Ham United ace is a vital member of the Liverpool team and has taken some of the pressure off Gerrard by providing a real creative spark in the last third. Benayoun is simply a magician on the pitch. He can produce things out of nothing and emerge from the tightest positions unscathed with the ball.


Well let’s cut to the chase, starting up front in my ultimate Liverpool and Arsenal team has to be Liverpool’s Fernando Torres and Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin. Torres is one of the best marksman in the world and his strike record at Anfield is immense. The Spanish ace has lightening pace, the ability to score with any part of his body and has developed a necessary nasty streak to his game. He is one of Liverpool’s most important players.

Lining up alongside him is Arshavin. The former Zenit St Petersburg star has been deployed on the left wing by Arsene Wenger for the majority of his time at the Emirates but following injuries to Robin Van Persie, Eduardo and Bendtner he was placed up top against Stoke City and revelled in the role. As strong as an ox, as tricky as an eel and as deadly as a cobra, Arshavin has been a revelation at Arsenal. I’m sure Arsenal and Liverpool fans will never forget his four-some performance at Anfield last season either.

So there you have it, my starting XI reads:












· Calling all Liverpool and Arsenal fans. What do you think of that team? Would you have placed Carragher in that team? Would Denilson oust Mascherano in midfield? Would Lucas even make it on to the bench? I’d love to hear your ultimate starting XIs?


** Thanks Beef and Mike for spotting that error.

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Colin Illingworth



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