The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Liverpool
Premier lunchtime viewing, provided you have BT Sport. Just Sky? Swindon vs MK Dons it is, then.
- Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Monaco 0-2 Arsenal (CL)
- Arsenal 3-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-2 Arsenal (FAC)
- QPR 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- Liverpool 1-2 Man Utd (Prem)
- Swansea 0-1 Liverpool (Prem)
- Liverpool 0-0 Blackburn (FAC)
- Liverpool 2-0 Burnley (Prem)
- Liverpool 2-1 Man City (Prem)
Swindon go into this promotion six-pointer on the back of three consecutive victories, while Dons... oh, right.
Reports of Arsenal’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Their annual snafu in the Champions League round of 16 was a touch embarrassing, sure, but they’ve won 14 of their last 16 matches in all competitions and this weekend could move into second place in the race for... well, second. Even if the title looks unreachable, Arsenal haven’t made the top two in 10 years. So that’d be nice.
However, the lunchtime kick-off may trigger terrifying flashbacks to the licking Liverpool gave them at Anfield last season. Arsenal, top at the time and entering hostilities on the back of eight wins from nine games, found themselves 4-0 down with the sun barely over the yardarm. Taken aback, they were sunk 5-1, which took the wind out of their season’s sails, and other nautical metaphors as well.
Back on the dry land of 2015, Liverpool’s impressive run was derailed by Manchester United [trains now, is it? – Ed]. Defeat to their rivals put the Reds five points and 13 goals short of fourth, on 54 points to United’s 59 with eight matches remaining and £9 million at stake, 10 years on from That Night In Istanbul.
So if a train carrying the Champions League trophy leaves Liverpool at 9.14am and passes Manchester at 120mph in a 45mph headwind, in what year will an English club actually win the thing again?
Right now, Liverpool’s most immediate problem is filling voids in the centre of their team, created by malingerers and madmen (see 'Team news'), and in the hyphen-heavy position of right-wing-back.
Put simply: assuming Brendan ‘Brendan’ Rodgers continues with the current formation, who’s going to play there against Arsenal? Jordon Ibe is injured and Adam Lallana doesn’t have the required work-rate.
Jordan Henderson is needed in central midfield, Raheem Sterling is needed in attack, Lazar Markovic isn’t defensive enough, Javi Manquillo isn’t aggressive enough and Jon Flanagan is on an island somewhere.
Plus, Glen Johnson is Glen Johnson. It’s incredible, really, that Rodgers’ side has kept up a semblance of form while using seven players in that one position.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is still recovering from a hamstring injury and Danny Welbeck is a doubt having picked up a knock while playing for England, but Arsenal’s latest injury crisis appears to be ending – for now – with a number of the squad returning to full fitness.
Mathieus Flamini and Debuchy played an hour of a friendly against Brentford, Debuchy having been out since January, and midfielders Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta – both sidelined in November – managed a half each. Even Abou Diaby played. Quick, get him in your Fantasy Football team.
Meanwhile, Liverpool have been quite the naughty boys. Stamp collectors Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel – scorer of the late, late equaliser in December’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal – are both suspended.
On the quite large treatment table, Daniel Sturridge may make a miraculous recovery from England internationalitis (he actually has a hip flexor muscle problem), Dejan Lovren and Lallana face late tests, while Ibe, Flanagan and Rossiter are long-term absentees (and possibly a firm of chartered accountants).
Brad Jones – Rodgers’ first-choice keeper “for an indefinite period” – has been on the bench for the past couple of matches. It seems that ‘indefinite period’ was basically ‘until Simon Mignolet starts playing well again’. Good of Jones to get injured in order to save Rodgers’ blushes, really.
Key battle: Olivier Giroud vs Dejan Lovren
There should be goals in this game: these two teams have the worst defences in the top six, and this fixture has previously seen Andrey Arshavin and Julio Baptista each net four goals in a game.
Indeed, the last goalless draw between Arsenal and Liverpool was a double whammy of 0-0s in the 1998/99 season, when Arsenal still had the likes of Steve Bould knocking around (and in one of the games, David Grondin making his only league appearance for the Gunners).
Problematically for Liverpool, this likelihood of goals galore coincides with Skrtel’s suspension. The Slovakian Fans' Player of the Year – you joke, but Filip Kiss thought he’d won it this time – has been virtually ever-present this season, and his absence means the unconvincing Lovren will play at the heart of defence.
And he’ll play against a striker who has six goals in his previous five league games. The much-derided Giroud will trouble Lovren aerially more than he would Skrtel, and with his smart movement could expose the Croatian’s occasional lapses in concentration. Or Kolo Toure could play.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- L’pool 2-2 Arsenal (PL, Dec 14)
- 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)
If Arsenal fans had any fears/hopes that Arsene Wenger might pack it all in soon, they’ll be relieved/distraught to hear that Robert Pires is “certain” that his former boss will still be manager next year. The reason? “He’s not tired.” The Red Bull is paying off, then.
Brendan Rodgers is Nigel Worthington’s cousin.
Facts and figures
- Arsenal vs Liverpool has seen more hat-tricks than any other match in Premier League history (5).
- Only Man United (7) have won away at Arsenal more often than Liverpool in the Premier League (6).
- There have been eight 90th-minute goals and two 45th-minute goals scored in the last 12 Premier League meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A share of the spoils looks likely, even though quirks of circumstance dictate that Arsenal haven’t drawn a game since meeting Liverpool just before Christmas, winning 16 and drawing three. And yet... with the Gunners resurgent and Liverpool missing part of their spine (ouch), the home side may sneak this. 2-1.