Let’s be honest – this match today means more for the Arsenal then it does for Liverpool. Some may argue the point but for Arsenal a win is essential in order to keep their distance from Man City and Leicester. For Liverpool they’d likely be happy with a draw as it gets them through this fixture whilst missing the majority of their preferred XI.
The last time these two teams met was in week 3. A 0-0 affair that was cruel to both sides as each dominated a half. We felt the more aggrieved because of the wrongly disallowed Aaron Ramsey goal but in the end it was a team that lacked both starting CBs and showed why Arsenal signed Petr Cech in the first place.
Fast forward to now and Arsenal sit on top of the league with key players set to return in the coming days and weeks. Liverpool are suffering through one of the worst injury bouts you’ve ever seen (unless you’re an Arsenal supporter.) All in all it looks ideal for Arsenal to go in and walk out with three points.
However, as has been our case this season, the “clear cut” opportunities are anything but. It seems a little harsh to be critical of an Arsenal side that has a clear path to it’s first league title since the Invincibles, but as we’ve seen this year on many occasions, Arsenal have an uncanny knack of not showing up – especially in matches where they should be the dominant squad.
Now that is not to belittle Liverpool. The tone would likely be different were they to have most of their key players available. In fact if they did have their key players back I’d be happy coming out of Anfield with a point. But with a makeshift center-back pairing of their own and facing an Arsenal squad that has 8 of its preferred starters available (and the 11 who were so effective in the 2-1 win against City last month) you really have to like Arsenal’s chances.
The hope is that since it’s Liverpool and the match’s implications the squad is charged up for this. It would be deadly for us to overlook this opponent because of their injury list.
Key Match Up
Usually you’d want to focus on the midfield for Arsenal. When the demolished Manchester United in the first half of the season, the entire match was won in the midfield with Schweinsteiger chasing ghosts all game long. With Liverpool and their injuries you would rightly point to this area of the pitch as essential for Arsenal to win.
However, the real match up will be Olivier Giroud versus Liverpool’s make shift central defenders. The likely pairing is Kolo Toure and Mamadou Sakho. Liverpool did sign Steven Caulker yesterday for a loan but I can’t imagine Klopp would throw him into the pitch his first day in? Klopp did see that he was part of the Southampton squad that lost 6-1 to Liverpool right? He did see that Caulker forget how to keep track of his striker right?
Regardless of whether it’s Caulker or Toure or Sakho, Giroud’s presence up top will bother Liverpool. He can bully central defenders. He is a big strong body who has excellent distribution. We also have seen that he can dominate in the air. Then there is there is his patented near-post, diagonal run. While he isn’t the fastest striker in the world, you can see him getting goal side of Toure and Sakho regularly. That means the likes of Theo, Campbell, Bellerin and the magician that is Mesut Özil looking for crosses, over the top passes and through balls to set the French beast loose.
Where to Worry
It’s hard to predict Liverpool’s lineup given their injury list but there is something we need to be wary of. Klopp is slowly trying to get Liverpool and the players he has to buy into his gegenpressing style. It’s been an interesting journey to watch as against good teams they live up to its Dortmund heritage and against lesser opposition . . . well the less said the better.
We haven’t handled pressing teams too well. It frustrates our passing style and when a team is successfully denying our passing channels what passes we do attempt seem to go astray. The question for Liverpool will be can they sustain it? Arsenal are a patient team. They are likely to wait for Liverpool to tire and then look for the opportunities but they can’t afford to let the pressure get to them and make stupid mistakes. Even with the injuries they will have players on the pitch who are capable of scoring opportunistic goals.
When Klopp came to England his personality and flair were hailed as they rightly should be. But as he has found out, the Premier League is not the Bundesliga and it’s a right battle. Additionally, he was left a Liverpool side not designed for his style of play. This has resulted in an up and down start to his English managerial tenure.
He faces off against a manager he has huge respect and admiration for (equally so on the other side too) and a manager who also has a 3-2-1 record against him. Wenger is familiar with how Klopp will want to play. It will be interesting to see if Arsenal cede possession to Liverpool and let them play to throw off their pressing rhythm.
Wenger has used this model previously and it was worked quite well. Still with band aids all over the Liverpool squad you could see a case for completely coming out and trying to hit Liverpool quickly. When we lost to Liverpool 5-1 – it was the lightening quick way in which the Merseysiders scored that sent us reeling. If Arsenal were to do something similar it would have a similar effect on Klopp’s men.
That being said, look for Arsenal to be their patient selves, to try and tire out the home side. A 0-0 at half time wouldn’t be bad as Arsenal have shown a propensity for turning it up a notch in the second half. This is how I see it turning out and ending with a win for the Arsenal.
Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Joel Campbell. He’s been the talk of the town as of late. His FA Cup performance has capped off a Coquelinesque rise. He was a bulldog in both the attacking and defending half of the pitch. When he cuts inside he poses both a shooting and passing threat that can exploit Liverpool’s back 4.
Liverpool. Jordan Henderson. We’re going to assume he passes fit for this match. The promise is there albeit hampered by bouts on the training table. You wonder if he could stay fit how good he could turn out to really be.
Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Cazorla (knee), Sanchez (hamstring), Coquelin (MCL), Wilshere (Calf) Welbeck (knee)
Liverpool: Origi (knee), Ibe (hamstring), Coutinho (hamstring), Lovren (hamstring), Sakho (knee – doubtful), Henderson (ankle – late test), Skrtel (hamstring), Rossiter (hamstring), Sturridge (hamstring), Ings (ACL), Gomez (knee)
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistant Referees: G Beswick, A Garratt
Fourth Official: R Madley
UK: BT Sport 20.00 GMT
US: NBC Sports Network – 3:00PM EST
Liverpool 0 – 2 Arsenal – while I think it will still be a tight affair, I think that Liverpool’s injuries are more than they can overcome.
“Momentum creates confidence and that’s vital at this level. Overall, in December and January we have been consistent and that’s important as we go into an important part of the season with many big games.
“Consistency is a good basis for belief. Every time we go to Anfield we face a team who are up for it and it’s always a ferocious battle.
“Jurgen Klopp has the personality to do well there, I don’t think you can explain their injuries by the intensity of Klopp’s game. [The challenge we face is] to play our game at a good pace but we are used to that pressing. It is not just Liverpool who do that.”
- Arsenal have only lost two of their last 17 Premier League matches against Liverpool (W6, D9, L2).
- There have been 35 goals scored in the last nine league meetings at Anfield.
- The Gunners are unbeaten in nine Premier League home games but have won just one of their last four away fixtures.
- Arsenal have scored the first goal of the game on 14 occasions in the top flight this season, more often than any other team.
- Mesut Ozil has either scored or assisted 16 of Arsenal’s last 24 league goals (three goals, 13 assists).
- Jurgen Klopp has won only five of his 12 league matches in charge of Liverpool (W5, D3, L4).
- They have scored just 14 goals in those matches, including two in their last four.
- Liverpool have scored 22 goals in their 20 league games so far this season, their lowest tally at this stage of a league campaign.