Season Defining Must Win For the Gunners – Arsenal vs. Liverpool Match Preview
Sunday’s loss in the North London Derby stung the pride of every arsenal fan, but far more importantly, it meant that Arsenal are now extreme longshots to qualify for any sort of European football this season. It is not yet impossible, but failure to win against newly-crowned champions Liverpool could see it become so if other results don’t go in Arsenal’s favour. Of course, this is a Liverpool side that has lost just twice all season, albeit emphatically on both occasions, and who currently lead the league by a massive 21 points. They have blown away all competition this season and in having to beat them, Arsenal may have the toughest task in world football at the moment.
Recent Form and Previous fixture
Arsenal had put together a good run of form either side of lockdown, but a midweek draw to Leicester City followed up with a frankly embarrassing defeat to Tottenham means that Arteta’s side need to find a way to bounce back in order to stand a chance against the champions.
All that being said, both sides have identical records over the previous five league games, consisting of three wins, a draw and a loss. Liverpool’s loss came the game after their title win was confirmed when they were comprehensively beaten by Manchester City, but they have since taken 7 points from their last 9 as they chase the points record for any season. They need a perfect finish to do so, and therefore will not lack incentive against an improved but still mentally fragile Gunners side.
The previous fixture ended with Liverpool running out 3-1 winners thanks to two goals from Mohammed Salah and a red card for David Luiz. However, in the first half especially Arsenal held out well and looked threatening on the break, Nicolas Pepe, in particular, spurning a good chance when through on goal. Whilst the end result and the manner of the defeat was poor, there were signs of promise for Arsenal in this defeat.
Arsenal remain without Bernd Leno, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli and Pablo Mari, all of whom remain out with long term injuries. Mesut Ozil is a doubt with recurring back soreness whilst Eddie Nketiah remains suspended after his red card against Leicester. The out of favour Matteo Guendouzi is also unlikely to feature.
Liverpool are without captain and player of the year contender Jordan Henderson, who will miss the remainder of the season. Also injured is Joel Matip, who is sidelined with a foot injury, whilst James Milner is a doubt as he returns from a muscle injury.
Do away with width?
At Anfield, Unai Emery knew that the problem was width. Liverpool’s fullbacks are two of the best chance creators in world football, and unsurprisingly this was where most of the chances in the game came from. Emery’s answer was to field a narrow diamond in midfield with two inside-forwards, allowing the full-backs to progress and relying on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe to exploit the space which they left in behind.
Rightly or wrongly, there was some method to this madness, although Emery seriously over-estimated the resilience of Arsenal’s defence. On the other hand, Mikel Arteta generally prefers to be proactive, always seeking to take the game to the opposition. It will be interesting to see the extent to which this philosophy can be implemented confidently against a team as good as Liverpool.
Are the defenders good enough?
Arteta has begun rectifying Arsenal’s defensive issues by employing a back three rather than a back four to offer more bodies to defend with. However, he appears insistent on playing a left-footed player on the left side of this back three. On Sunday, this was Sead Kolasinac, who chimed in with his second consecutive poor performance, capped with a poor pass that allowed Heung Min Son to equalise. This raises the question as to whether Kieran Tierney will return to centre-back, with Bukayo Saka outside him, against a potent Liverpool team that will punish any mistakes.
This will be the hardest test of Arsenal after the restart. A must win game against the reigning champions which will test both player’s ability and managerial skill thoroughly. A loss, although expected, would all but mathematically confirm Arsenal’s loss of European football for next season, for the first time since the 1992/1993 season. No sane fan would expect anything from this game, but as with all Arsenal games, it is the hope that truly kills you.
Arsenal 1 – 3 Liverpool
WHAT THE HEAD COACH SAYS (COURTESY ARSENAL.COM)
“I believe that it’s very important to have energy and momentum going into important matches, and in order to do that you have to go game by game,” Arteta said.
“Today and tomorrow we will assess the players and how they are, and obviously they’ve been hit and a lot of them have played some crazy minutes up until now, and again we’re going to have games every two and a half days.
“We will try to put the strongest team out as possible here and as well on Saturday, and to do that we need to know how everyone recovers from the game.”
ARSENAL RECORD VS OPPONENT (LEAGUE ONLY)
55P 15W 19D 21L
AVERAGE GOALS SCORED PER GAME
Arsenal: 1.82 (home)
Liverpool: 1.71 (away)
AVERAGE GOALS CONCEDED PER GAME
Arsenal: 1.24 (home)
Liverpool: 0.82 (home)
Referee: Paul Tierney
Assistants: Dan Cook, Simon Long
Fourth official: Graham Scott
Replacement official: Michael George
VAR: Craig Pawson
Assistant VAR: Stephen Child.
MATCH FACTS (COURTESY BBC.CO.UK)
- Arsenal’s defeat against Tottenham ended a four-match unbeaten run (W3, D1).
- The Gunners can win a maximum of 59 points this season, which would be their lowest-ever total for a 38-match campaign.
- They have won just one match this season against established top-six teams (D3, L5).
- Arsenal have dropped a league-high 15 points from winning positions since Mikel Arteta’s first game in charge in December.
- Alexandre Lacazette has scored two goals in his last three league appearances, equalling his tally from the previous 14 games.
- Arsenal are winless in nine Premier League meetings with Liverpool since a 4-1 victory at the Emirates in April 2015 (D4, L5).
- The Gunners have conceded 90 goals against Liverpool in the Premier League, a club record against a single opponent