Cast your minds back to Sunday 7 November 2010. On an overcast day in North London a young beast of a striker with a questionable haircut and a bristling physical approach battered Arsenal's defence. He chased, he harried, he fouled, he won headers and he scored the only goal of the day from a Joey Barton assist. At the time he was the main man, the local boy with a glint in his eye and, if reports are to be believed, a knob the size of a Burmese python that was adept at working its way into the nooks and crannies of Newcastle's lasses. That player, of course, was Liverpool's Andy Carroll.
A lot of money has changed hands and plenty of balls been blasted high, wide and handsome since that day. Carroll, despite people talking of an uplift in his form is less than half the player he was. He is lacking spring in his step, too many balls are flashing across the box without him being anywhere near them, he hasn’t dominated any top-class centre-back pairings and the smile that beamed at St James' has been replaced with all too familiar screenshots of him telling the ref to f*** off.
Yet, unless I'm reading this wrong, one thing is clear. Kenny Dalglish is going to keep playing him and give him the chance to bustle his way top form. In that sense, the match with Arsenal today is the perfect platform for him to do that. If Carroll is a student of the game, or even just reads the papers, he will have hopefully spent last night playing FIFA 12, removing Vermaelen and Metrsacker from the starting line-up as they will be today and wanging ball after ball into the box with Downing and banging them home with his lumbering avatar.
Despite their coruscating comeback against Spurs last weekend, it is clear Arsenal is a team that can be got at. Sam Drew wrote a good piece on here the other day regarding the Arsenal full-backs and how they increased the fluidity when Wenger packed the midfield. Yet away from home with Liverpool buoyed after winning the first piece of silverware since 2006, he will have to be more cautious.
If he wants to keep that number 9 shirt beyond the end of the season he has to start terrifying defences
Back to Carroll. If he can’t dominate a defence shorn of two of its most experienced practitioners then, and lets be honest about this, he may as well knock it on the head. He might have lost a yard to the ankle injury that coloured the early months of his time at Anfield but he looks, at least to the naked eye, bigger and stronger than ever. Who knows what goes on his head? Is he a mud-thick player, who doesn’t really give a toss about it or does he lay at home worrying about it. We’ll probably never know.
Of course for him to be able to dominate the team has to be set-up to help him. Kuyt, following his two differing but equally excellent displays at Wembley in the last week has to start ahead of Henderson. I want to like Hendo, I really do, but the insipid nature of his game at present lets the team down. Liverpool might have lacked quality at times this season but the side has never lacked application, apart from perhaps the horror show at Bolton that was quickly forgotten with the cup victories over United and City.
Suarez will, and has to, start because of his effervescence but his decision making seems to have suffered since his return. Maybe he is trying to hard to make people remember him for his football, but there were a lot of aimless turns last weekend when people were better placed.
Suarez, though, can point to his goals and assists record since he moved and say it shows he is a classy second striker. All Carroll can point to is the faded memories of a handful of very good performances for Newcastle and the odd flash for Liverpool. If he wants to keep that number 9 shirt beyond the end of the season he has to start terrifying defences, linking play when he has his back to goal and playing on the front foot when he gets turned. Today presents the perfect opportunity for that to happen.
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