The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Arsenal
CLASH OF THE TITANS! (Said in Brian Blessed’s most dramatic voice). Or a match between two teams who won’t win the Premier League title, but will play a part in deciding who does (Said in Will Self’s most unimpressed, monotone voice).
In a year when Manchester United’s empire is crumbling, a huge opportunity for success has presented itself. No one expected the reds of north London and Merseyside to be in the mix, but they were.
- WBA 1-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 4–0 Everton (Prem)
- Bournemouth 0–2 Liverpool (FAC)
- Liverpool 2–2 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Stoke 3–5 Liverpool (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- So'ton 2–2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 4–0 Coventry (FAC)
- Arsenal 2–0 Fulham (Prem)
- Aston Villa 1–2 Arsenal (Prem)
We say were, rather than are, because of their calamitous performances in the transfer window. To stay the course with Manchester City and Chelsea, both teams needed to bolster their ranks to cope with the fixture pile-up.
Arsenal desperately required a relief striker for Olivier Giroud. They ended up wheeling 31-year-old Swedish midfielder Kim Kallstrom into London Colney on a gurney. Turns out he’s got a crocked back and won’t be available for another six weeks – he may not even recover in time to play a single game. According to reports, they also failed in loan bids for Salomon Kalou and Miroslav Klose.
Liverpool were equally inept. Chelsea beat them to the signature of Basel’s Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah and they failed to finalise a deal for Dnipro wide-man Yevhen Konoplyanka.
On Saturday the two teams meet at Anfield – starting a run of five games in 14 days for the Gunners. Form favours Arsene Wenger’s men. Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five games against Liverpool, recording four victories during that run.
However, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge leading the assault on the Arsenal back four, Brendan Rodgers will feel confident his side can break down one of the Premier League’s stingiest defences. Only Manchester City have scored more goals than the Reds, with the SAS responsible for 63% of Liverpool's 58 strikes.
With Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscienly at the heart of the Gunners' defence they have conceded just 21 goals – a record bettered only by Chelsea. Arsenal have not lost a Premier League game that the Big German and the Little Frenchman (he’s still 6ft 1in) have played in since January 2012 – an unbeaten run of 31 matches.
Jack Wilshere might be in line for a return to first-team duties after recovering from his ankle injury. Liverpool’s injured defensive duo Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho will miss Saturday's showdown.
Player to watch: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Pundits raved about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s performance alongside Mikel Arteta in the Gunners’ 2-0 win over Crystal Palace at the Emirates. Despite being deployed in a deep-lying central midfield role, he played with attacking freedom. Full of energy and adventure, he altered the point of attack with intelligent passing and scored two decisive goals. This owed much to Palace’s defensive tactics. Against Liverpool, at Anfield, he won’t be afforded as much space and he’ll have to be switched on defensively with Rodgers’ team set up in a 4-3-3.
Against Palace he made 2 successful tackles and 1 block – and that was about it. Of course, this isn’t indicative of his defensive capabilities, because Arsenal had 73% of the possession. If there wasn’t much defending to do, how can we judge whether he’s competent? We can’t, but judging by this output in the game, it’s clear his strengths lie in attack. He also only made 6 successful passes in his own half. How will he cope with collecting the ball off his own back four with Liverpool applying pressure? Will be able to stop the home side’s midfield getting the ball into the feet of Suarez and Sturridge? Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ability to deal with these added responsibilities could prove decisive.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool (PL, Nov 13)
- Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool (PL, Jan 13)
- Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal (PL, Sep 12)
- Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal (PL, Mar 12)
- Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool (PL, Aug 11)
Arsenal are top, Liverpool are fourth, separated by eight points and neither of them will be lifting the Premier League trophy come May. As much as FFT hates to rain on the “most exciting title race in years”, there’s no escaping the reality: Man City and Chelsea are better equipped to deal with squeaky bum time.
Reds boss Rodgers said as much earlier this week, “I don't see ourselves as title contenders. As a team, it's too early for that.”
Wenger on the other hand believes his side, who are two points clear at the top of the table, can maintain their momentum during a potentially season-defining month ahead. “We did fight very hard until now to be in this position so let's just enjoy it and give our best. I'm sure we will,” he said. “Physically we are prepared as well. It depends how many injuries we have because we need to rotate and it's important that we have as many players available as we can. Big injuries can question the end of the season.” Two words: Kim Kallstrom.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Liverpool have won 11 of their last 13 home matches, and were ahead at half-time in all 11 wins.
- 8 of Liverpool’s last 9 home matches have featured at least 4 goals with 7 seeing 2 or more goals in the first half.
- Since 2007/08 Liverpool have won just 1 of 13 league meetings with Arsenal and the Gunners have scored in 15 of their last 16 league head-to-heads.
- Arsenal won just 2 of 20 trips to top-six finishers in the 4 seasons prior to this (W2 D6 L12) and have lost both trips to the top seven this term.
- Arsenal have scored in 23 of their last 24 away matches.
- 72% of Arsenal’s away goals this season have come after half-time.
Best Bet: Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.60
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Arsenal to well and truly end Liverpool’s title aspirations. Gunners to nick it 2-1.