September 2, 2012; 13:30 BST
Liverpool continue their tough opening test to this season’s Premier League campaign as they welcome Arsenal to Anfield this Sunday. The Reds have shown a lot of promise in pre-season and in the game against Manchester City at home last week, but with three points being the sole focus, Brendan Rodgers will be preparing his team for another formidable display against an Arsenal side which has failed to score in its two opening games. It’s not to say that Liverpool don’t have issues of their own on the striker front. Failure to land their one target, Clint Dempsey, has left Brendan Rodgers in muddy waters over striking options upfront. It looks like Suarez and Borini will have to bear the brunt of the responsibility to bring in the goals for Liverpool this season.
The signings of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski surely sent out a strong message to the Premier League. Wenger might have lost van Persie to Manchester United but one would agree that the new trio is of the quality that can keep the ship afloat. While Cazorla will be the creative mastermind floating across midfield, Giroud and Podolski are expected to strike a partnership to bring in the goals. However, both attackers are still finding their footing in a new country; a lack of goals has resulted in Arsenal picking up only two points out of a possible six so far.
This weekend is absolutely crucial for both the teams as each one would be hoping for its first victory to kick-off their 2012-13 campaign. While it makes up for an exciting encounter, a slump in this game for either team could make things really difficult in the coming weeks.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Reds walk into this game without the influential midfielder Lucas, who is expected to sit out for two to three months due to a thigh injury he picked up in the game against Manchester City. Centre-back Daniel Agger is expected to make a return against Arsenal after serving his one-match ban for a red card he picked up against West Bromwich Albion on opening day. Liverpool, otherwise, do not have any player concerns ahead of Sunday’s fixture.
Brendan Rodgers has so far gained a lot of fans for the style of football he has been trying to preach at Liverpool. Many suggest that the club played one of its best games in a long time when they faced League champions Manchester City at Anfield last weekend. While this is true, Liverpool had done well against top teams at home last season as well, with the players’ energy levels elevated to perform better than otherwise.
So while you can once again expect a game with slick passing and strong possession, keep in mind that consistency is the key for Liverpool. If tiki-taka is to become a success, all the eleven players need to weave this brand of football together. The longer this takes, the longer will Liverpool have to wait to challenge for the League title.
On-loan signing Nuri Sahin is expected to make his full debut against Arsenal this weekend. The midfielder was coveted by both clubs featuring in Sunday’s game but chose to arrive at Liverpool in a last minute twist en route to Arsenal. With Lucas absent, the fans will be expecting Gerrard, Allen and Sahin to strengthen the midfield in terms of attack and defense. Big ask for the two new players in this trio.
No points for guessing who will start upfront in the 4-3-3 formation. While Suarez and Borini are obvious choices, Raheem Sterling, who was highly impressive as a starting player against Manchester City, could once again feature against Arsenal. Holding him back will be key for Arsenal full-backs, Gibbs and Jenkinson.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Gerrard, Allen, Sahin; Suarez, Borini, Sterling
Arsene Wenger has the responsibility of deploying a system which will bring in the goals for the Gunners this year. You can never predict the near future with Arsenal. Last season too, they got off to a very slow start but picked up pace soon enough to bounce right into the thick of things at the top of the League table from being in the bottom half.
Laurent Koscielny makes a return to the Arsenal side after recovering from a calf injury but first choice keeper Wojciech Szczesny’s availability is subject to a late fitness test due to his rib problem. If he’s unavailable, Vito Mannone would once again wear the gloves against Liverpool. Right-back Bacary Sagna will continue his visits to the medical room due to a broken leg while midfielder Jack Wilshere is still nursing an injured ankle.
Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla – all three additions made on the attacking front haven’t delivered as yet. Although Cazorla in midfield does look threatening, the left-footed Spanish midfielder has also not found the back of the net as yet. Arsenal have a midfield with a good positional knowledge. Diaby, Arteta and Cazorla have the nous to drive the attack; the onus is now on the strike-force to convert the chances created by the midfield. Doing so will only bring in a world of confidence in the new arrivals at the club.
Arsenal are most likely to start with a 4-2-1-3 formation against Liverpool on Sunday. While Diaby and Arteta will sit in front of the back four, Cazorla will be overseeing the attack , with Giroud, Podolski and Walcott playing ahead of him. Liverpool versus Arsenal games are always high intensity matches so Wenger would ideally like the presence of a quick winger like Walcott to give them an edge.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-1-3): Mannone; Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Jenkinson; Diaby, Arteta, Cazorla; Podolski, Giroud, Walcott
- There have been seven goals scored in the 90th minute or later in the last seven Premier League games between Liverpool and Arsenal and five in the last four.
- Liverpool have won just one of their last 10 Premier League games against Arsenal (W1 D6 L3).
- Arsenal have failed to score in their opening two Premier League games. The longest they have gone without scoring from the start of the season is 224 minutes (last season).
- The Gunners are unbeaten in their last five Premier League visits to Anfield (W2 D3) and have come from behind in all those games to secure those results.
- Arsenal have won just one of their last seven Premier League matches, but five of the other six games have been draws.
Player(s) to Watch Out For
Without doubt, the German Footballer of the Year two seasons ago will be talk of the town come Sunday. Sahin was not allowed to feature for Liverpool in their Europa League Qualifier match against Hearts due to his pending registration, but that should be cleared by now as the player has been training with the first-team. Teammates and fans will be excited to see what the 23 year-old can bring to the squad and no better way to start your season in a new country than facing the other club who was pursuing you with such intent.
Lukas Podolski (Arsenal)
The German international has a proven goal-scoring record at club-level as well as national level and one can only infer that he would want to add to this tally at Arsenal too. Having been unable to score in the couple of opening fixtures, Podolski would be raring to have a go at Pepe Reina’s goal this weekend. Expect the striker to shoot from a variety of positions as he looks to announce his arrival in the Premier League.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Arsenal
The Reds might just nick this one. Arsenal’s lackluster form in front of goal may come back to haunt them at Anfield.