Premier League | Anfield | Sun 21 Dec | 4pm
One-and-a-half crisis clubs doing crisis football against each other.
- B’mouth 1-3 Liverpool (LC)
- Man Utd 3-0 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-1 Basel (CL)
- Liverpool 0-0 S’land (Prem)
- Leicester 1-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 Newcastle (Prem)
- Galatasaray 1-4 Arsenal (CL)
- Stoke 3-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 1-0 So’ton (Prem)
- WBA 0-1 Arsenal (Prem)
If one game summed up Liverpool’s 2013/14 campaign it was the 5-1 Anfield demolition of Arsenal in early February. Zipping the ball around at frightening speed, the Reds were 4-0 up inside 20 minutes, the Gunners utterly shellshocked at the brutal ferocity of the home side’s Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling forward triumvirate.
Earlier that week, FFT had witnessed that play at first-hand by taking in a training session at Melwood. It ended with 11vs11 on barely a third of the pitch, playing widthways. That either side was able to string together five- and six-pass moves was a minor miracle. Arsenal certainly felt the full force of those exercises.
All of which is not to say that Liverpool’s training has changed. You can only play that sort of football when supremely confident in every player and the Reds are clearly a long way from that swagger.
Even when Bournemouth scored to reduce their midweek Capital One Cup deficit to 3-1, the Crystal Palace-esque wheels came off – the Cherries hit the post and put the shaky Red rearguard under serious pressure. Having one out-of-form keeper and another who has played 16 league games since 2010 doesn’t help, either.
Neither does the increasing reliance on Raheem Sterling. At the beginning of the season, Brendan Rodgers assured anyone who would listen that he wouldn’t overplay Liverpool’s brightest prospect.
On Monday, Sterling turned 20 and has completed 90 minutes in a Red shirt 49 times. At the same age, Cristiano Ronaldo had finished 30 matches, Lionel Messi just 25. Sterling may have been roundly mocked for telling Roy Hodgson he was tired on England duty, but surely a rest is in the post.
Arsenal may not be quite as mired in crisis as a couple of weeks ago, but the Arsene Wenger swingometer is never far from lurching violently back towards “out”. Irresistible against Newcastle last time out but regressive against Stoke the game before that, the mixed bag continues apace.
Yet, for all the negativity, the Gunners have a winnable last 16 tie in the Champions League against Monaco to look forward to, as well as their best football of the season against the Magpies to bask in. The return of Olivier Giroud is especially important. Danny Welbeck has been solid enough as the lone forward, but the Frenchman’s aerial threat and more consistent end product should provide the spark for an upturn in Christmas fortunes.
Throw in an increasingly in-form Santi Cazorla – FFT is still trying to get over that penalty last week – and you’d have to fancy Arsenal to get revenge for 10 months ago.
Dejan Lovren pulled a groin against Bournemouth in midweek, so expect Mamadou Sakho to start in the Croatian’s place. Mario Balotelli will have a late test, but is more likely to miss out (and Sterling to continue up front) than feature. Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, Daniel Sturridge and Suso are so far from fitness, we should probably stop mentioning them every week.
Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil all remain mid- to long-term absentees, while Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott could make the squad after approaching fitness from their respect foot and groin injuries. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is struggling with his own groin after being forced off in the final minutes of the Newcastle game. He’ll be assessed on Saturday.
Player to watch: Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal)
"Alexis Sanchez doesn’t realise what he has missed by not coming to Liverpool," winked the ever-quotable Soccer Saturday pundit Phil Thompson at the beginning of the season. If the former Liverpool captain meant he would realise missing some calamitous defending and less-than-brilliant finishing, then he was right. If he meant he should’ve joined the Merseysiders, he was wrong.
Liverpool’s defensive fragility is just the sort of weakness the Chilean will mercilessly exploit. Only Sergio Aguero (17) has had more direct involvement (goals or assists) in his team’s Premier League goals than Sanchez’s 14 this season. It promises to be a long afternoon for the Liverpool defence.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 2-1 L’pool (FAC, Feb 14)
- L’pool 5-1 Arsenal (PL, Feb 14)
- Arsenal 2-0 L’pool (PL, Nov 13)
- Arsenal 2-2 L’pool (PL, Jan 13)
- L’pool 0-2 Arsenal (PL, Sep 12)
Brendan Rodgers is a 41-year-old Aquarius, who would like to meet a striker who can run around quickly and score some goals.
Arsene Wenger is a 65-year-old Libra, who likes long walks on the beach, while contemplating which defensive midfielder will be too expensive to sign in January*.
*NB FFT may still be recovering from the Christmas party.
Facts and figures
- Alexis Sanchez has scored (7) or assisted (4) 11 of Arsenal’s last 17 Premier League goals (65%).
- Liverpool vs Arsenal has seen more hat-tricks than any other fixture in Premier League history (5).
- There have been 4 90th-minute or later goals in the last 6 Premier League meetings between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Arsenal to have too much going forward, Liverpool not enough at the back. 1-2.
Back 1-2 at 9/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication.