Arsenal v Liverpool
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: April 4th, 2015 1245 BST
Finally, it’s over. Another fortnight filled with boredom and fear of injuries to our players is behind us. It’s yet to be confirmed whether we suffered serious consequences during that time as Danny Welbeck picked up a knee injury during the game with Lithuania.
If there is a good thing in the international break, it’s that our injured players could recover without missing a game. Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and even Abou Diaby survived a training match against Brentford which means we are stronger in both numbers and width. Our midfield has three more options for the run-in even if Wilshere, Arteta and Diaby lack match fitness while the two youngsters at right full-back can get a rest with Debuchy’s return.
Our next match might turn out to be both a preview of the FA Cup Final and a match in which we can seal the Champions League place for the next season. Liverpool are six points behind us, actually six-and-half points due to their worse goal difference. They welcomed the international break as their defeat against Manchester United wasn’t the only bad thing that happened two weeks ago – Martin Škrtel and Steven Gerrard are both out for the clash against us due to three-match-suspensions received for incredible stupidity while both Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling picked up injuries. Sturridge is still a major doubt for Saturday while Sterling should be back. I can’t help but think that Roy Hodgson did a big service for his former club by allowing Sterling to miss the friendly match against Italy (Walcott, on the other hand, was in the squad) while the whole story about Sturridge’s injury hasn’t been entirely convincing to me.
Anyway, we should beat Liverpool as we have been the best team in the league in 2015, we have more quality in every part of the team and we have both Manager of the month and Player of the month.
Now, it doesn’t mean Liverpool are not serious opponents. Raheem Sterling can do wonders upfront – whether he is deployed as a false nine, a No. 10 that will create chances for his strikers or as a winger, his electric pace, movement and creativity will pose a huge threat to our defence. Philippe Coutinho might be even more dangerous with his powerful right-footed shots and will require full focus from our right full-back and central defenders in order to deny him space to release one of his projectiles. Jordan Henderson played a huge role in that Liverpool victory last February at Anfield – he didn’t give Mesut Özil enough space to pull the strings in the midfield and our German wizard was pick-pocketed before two Liverpool goals. Finally, Daniel Sturridge is a striker with both a huge ego and incredible movement and if he plays on Saturday, he’ll get chances to score. David Ospina can take a look at Lukasz Fabianski’s highlights from the FA Cup match against Liverpool last season as it was the Polish goalkeeper who frustrated Sturridge in that game.
They do have weaknesses though – in both matches against United their left side of the defence looked like a playground for United players. That’s where either Alexis Sánchez or Theo Walcott should play a huge role for us with our right full-back (Bellerin or Debuchy?) providing support. Walcott hasn’t been in-form and all that rustiness caused by the year of absence is clearly visible but he might show his worth against the club he has been linked with lately. Santi Cazorla might be the one to play a decisive role today though. The Spaniard was our key player in both league victories over The Reds since his arrival and was instrumental in the reverse fixture when we were seconds away from grabbing all three points.
One of the reasons for our heavy defeat last February was poor performance in our midfield caused by the absence of Aaron Ramsey. Now we have Ramsey fit for the clash and he’ll have huge help from Francis Coquelin. The Welshman scored a stunning goal to seal our victory in this fixture last term.
Finally, our attack should be too hot to handle for the Liverpool defence. Alexis can show The Reds what they missed out on last summer while Olivier Giroud – who has just got his well-deserved player of the month accolade – can use the absence of Martin Škrtel to dominate in the air during set-pieces.
My team for today would look like this:
David Ospina has been one of the key yet most underrated ingredients of our winning streak. He’ll keep his place for today’s game as well.
Mathieu Debuchy might lack match fitness to start so Hector Bellerin is more likely to start.
Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny have more pace to face Liverpool attackers today so I’d pick them over Mertesacker and Chambers.
Nacho Monreal has done enough to keep his place in the starting eleven ahead of Kieran Gibbs.
Francis Coquelin is a safe bet for the middle of the pitch.
Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil will take the creative burden in the game. Now, with Aaron Ramsey back in form, Tomas Rosicky available and Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and Mikel Arteta all recovered, there is “a sweet pain” for Wenger as he has so many options for the middle of the pitch.
Alexis Sánchez might get the nod on the right flank if Danny Welbeck recovers in time for the game. If not, Alexis will go to the left with either Theo Walcott or one of our attacking midfielders going to the right – Rosicky, Cazorla, Özil or even Ramsey might start on the right wing.
Olivier Giroud is a no-brainer for the central role in the attack.
If there are bad signs, there are two: 1) we’ll play against Liverpool in our least favourite lunch-time schedule and 2) for some reason, the movie “Frozen” was on TV last night and it hadn’t been on that program since our defeat at Anfield last February.
Still, we should have enough to beat The Reds and knock them out of the Champions’ League battle. 3:1 for us, as I’ve already predicted last week.
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 21 Dec 2014 Liverpool FC 2 – Arsenal FC 2
FA Cup (FAC) 16 Feb 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 8 Feb 2013 Liverpool FC 5 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 02 Nov 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 0
Premier League (EPL) 30 Jan 2013 Arsenal FC 2 – Liverpool FC 2
Bellerin Gabriel Koscielny Monreal
Coquelin Cazorla (c)
Walcott Özil Alexis
Arsenal 3 v 1 Liverpool