Liverpool vs Arsenal: Match Preview

(THE SUN OUT, THE SUN ON SUNDAY OUT) during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield on January 13, 2016 in Liverpool, England.
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Liverpool vs Arsenal gives sees two of England’s most prestigious clubs meeting at Anfield on Saturday night. This is an old rivalry that can provide plenty of fireworks. In the last two meetings between these two sides, a combined 13 goals have been scored. This weekend’s game has the potential to provide similar levels of entertainment and attacking flair in what could be a major match in terms of top four ramifications come the end of the season.

News and Notes

Liverpool, following a 3-1 defeat at Leicester, will remain without midfielder and captain Jordan Henderson for the visit of the Gunners. Henderson has developed very well in the number six role throughout the season, and his presence will be missed. The intensity he helps to install into the side is an underrated area of the Reds team. The 26-year-old leads the league in passes so far this season with 2057, as well as making 88 tackles: only three fewer than Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté.

Centre-back Dejan Lovren is back in training and faces a race against time to be fit and ready for this match. His presence would be a boost for manager Jürgen Klopp as he tries to sure up what has been a very weak back four of late; one which so far has conceded 33 goals in the 2016/17 league campaign.

As for Arsenal, attacking midfielder Mesut Özil should return for the trip to Merseyside after an illness concern. Although the German talisman hasn’t been in red hot form of late and has received his fair share of criticism, he’s still a world class player who will strengthen Arsène Wenger’s side greatly. Özil has scored five goals and clocked up four assists so far this season.

Aaron Ramsey is back in training after suffering a calf problem, and may make the squad on Saturday. Laurent Koscielny is also back in full training as he returns from a back problem he picked up in the Gunners’ Champions League Last 16 tie at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich. Koscielny’s return should strengthen what can be a similarly suspect Arsenal defence at times.

Liverpool Keys to Victory

Simon Mignolet had a strong performance at the King Power Stadium on Monday night, and will need to be at the same level against the second highest scorers in the league with 54 goals.

The back line must improve for Liverpool. Should Lovren not be fit, it will be interesting to see whether Klopp goes with Estonian centre-back Ragnar Klavan, who’s a tall strong defender who has the capability to come in a contribute positively; or whether he keeps the faith in Lucas Leiva in partnering Joel Matip.

As for the midfield, Emre Can will most likely retain his place at the base of the Reds’ three-man midfield, and will need to be strong in both providing protection for a vulnerable back line as well as winning tackles and playing the ball quickly to spring counter attacks.

Can registered an assist in the loss at Leicester and he will look to push on from there. The young German has often looked slow and unconvincing in midfield, failing to provide the same intensity and dictate a fast tempo to Liverpool’s play like Henderson has much of this season. Can vs Arsenal man Granit Xhaka could be an intriguing midfield battle to watch for, in what will definitely be a big challenge for the Liverpool man.

As for the attack, they will now look to re-demonstrate the quality that they have the potential to show. Liverpool are joint-top scorers this season with 55 goals, and on their day they can terrorise opposition sides. Getting the likes on Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino in space and in behind the Arsenal back line will be where they can cause the most damage. Coutinho has six goals and five assists, with Firmino netting eight times this season in the false nine position.

Sadio Mané using his pace against either Nacho Monreal or Kieran Gibbs at left-back for Arsenal will also help create this space for the attacking players to exploit. Mané has most likely been the side’s best player this season, with eleven goals and four assists so far. Adam Lallana will be pulling the strings in midfield, along with Georginio Wijnaldum’s capabilities to venture forward and chip in with important goals.

Liverpool should have luck against a shaky Arsenal back line should they come out showing their intensity and pace, pressing and winning the ball high up the field and shutting down Arsenal’s routes forward. Liverpool have a brilliant record against the top six, and will look to add to that record on Saturday.

Arsenal Keys to Victory

Wenger’s side, despite the recent criticism, still possess world class talent, with the ability to break down all kinds of teams. In a similar way to Liverpool, however, their successes will begin with a strong defence.

Mané contributed very little for Leicester last Monday night for Liverpool, and a lot of that was down to the Foxes’ plans to shut him down. Left-back Christian Fuchs did a good job, and this is something Wenger may game plan for in a similar way. Meanwhile, defensive midfielders Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin should look to drop back and stay tight to Liverpool’s attacking players in defensive situations; something they’re both very capable of doing effectively.

It looks like Özil should be ready for this game. If so, Arsenal will look for him to get on the ball and recapture some of his world class play to get free of opposition midfielders and open up the pitch for him to play in an array of similarly deadly Arsenal offensive options.

Players such as Theo Walcott, who has 15 goals in all competitions in what has been an improved season for the Englishman; along with Alex Iwobi and other attacking options such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck will be available to Wenger to use in his attacking game plan. These players will look to run at a vulnerable back line and get beyond them and in behind to create goal scoring opportunities.

More importantly, Arsenal have been playing forward Alexis Sanchez as their main centre-forward for most of the season. The Chilean is their main world class talent who will look to get free of Liverpool defenders and add to his goal scoring tally. He has 17 goals and eight assists to his name in the Premier League alone this season. His speed, movement and link up play with fellow attacking players has helped Arsenal’s offensive capabilities significantly.

The Last Word

This is a big game for both sides as they look to gain their places in next season’s Champions League. For Arsenal, a win will be crucial in increasing the team’s confidence and helping the cause for under-fire boss Arsène Wenger. As for Liverpool, opportunities for success this season are falling away fast as a result of a woeful start to 2017, in which they have registered only one Premier League win. Another victory for Klopp’s side is a must should they look to finish in the top four.

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