February 16, 2014; 16:00 BST
Arsenal FC host Liverpool FC at the Emirates tomorrow in a highly anticipated FA Cup clash. The importance and tension in this fixture has gone up a notch following Liverpool’s emphatic win over the Gunners in at Anfield few days ago. The Gunners will look to avenge that loss in this game as they look to maintain their hopes of lifting silverware this season.
The home side have now won only one of their last four matches in all competitions and are coming into this game on the back of a 0-0 draw against Manchester United at home in the league. Arsenal knocked out Coventry City in the last round of this tournament as Lukas Podolski scored a brace, while Liverpool won against Bournemouth courtesy of goals from Victor Moses and Daniel Sturridge. The Reds are coming into this game in better form than Arsenal and as they look to extend their eight match unbeaten run. Brendan Rodgers’ men clinched a hard fought win against Fulham in their last game as they came back from 2-1 and won the back match 2-3 with Steven Gerrard scoring the crucial winner from the penalty spot.
Arsenal do have history on their side though, they enjoy a good record against Liverpool in this competition and they have lost only once in their last 36 home FA Cup games.
Team news and tactics
Arsene Wenger still has a lot of injury concerns to contain with ahead of this crucial fixture. Normally he would perhaps look to rest few of his key players in a FA Cup fixture, although considering the recent results Wenger will have to field the strongest possible team against Liverpool. But the Frenchman will also have to balance his selection based on the fact that they will face Bayern Munich in three days’ time after this game.
Thomas Vermaelen is still out with his calf injury, although he could be available in their next league game against Sunderland. Aaron Ramsey, Kim Kallstrom, Theo Walcott and Abou Diaby remain the other injury concerns at the moment. Arsene Wenger also revealed in his pre-match press conference that Spanish star Santi Cazorla is likely to miss out on action due to illness, and his absence could be a big blow for the Gunners.
Considering the injury list and the upcoming match against Bayern Munich, Wenger is likely to make four changes to his side that he fielded in the 0-0 draw against Manchester United. In the pivot ahead of the defence Jack Wilshere and Mikel Arteta will be replaced by Mathieu Flamini, who is once again available for selection after serving his suspension, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has done well in that role against Crystal Palace.
There are likely to be two changes in attack. Lukas Podolski, who has been ignored by Arsene Wenger recently, is likely to start on the left as Cazorla fails to make it to the squad due to illness, while Serge Gnabry will start on the right in place of Tomas Rosicky. The other alternative for Arsene Wenger might be to rest Olivier Giroud and start Podolski upfront with Jack Wilshere start in the pivot and Oxlade-Chamberlain moving to a wide role.
After conceding four goals against Liverpool in the opening 20 minutes Arsenal will have to be more focused at the back, especially while defending set pieces. The zonal marking system from corners has come under a lot of criticism as it always seems to hand over the advantage to the attacking side. Moreover, the midfield and attack of the Gunners have to be more imposing as they look to right the wrong they did at Anfield.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Podolski, Ozil, Gnabry; Giroud
Brendan Rodgers also has few injury concerns of his own to contain with at the moment. Jose Enrique remains out of contention, while Lucas Leiva and Mamadou Sakho are likely to return to action in the first week of March. Glen Johnson, who last featured in the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa in January, is also close to returning to first team action and Brendan Rodgers hinted that the England international can feature in their league clash against Swansea City.
Unlike Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers doesn’t have to worry about any European clash while selecting his team for this game and the Liverpool manager has hinted that he is likely to field the same team which grabbed a memorable win against Fulham in their last league game.
The only change to the Liverpool side could possibly be the return of Daniel Agger at the center of the defence after the defender recovered from his ankle injury and came on as a substitute in the dying moments of the match against Fulham. He is likely to replace Kolo Toure in the defence after the former Arsenal man made a glaring error against Fulham. It will be Agger’s first start since Liverpool’s 2-0 win over Hull City last month.
Brendan Rodgers and his men will of course go in with a lot of confidence into this fixture having out played Arsenal in their last game, but the match against Fulham might act as a reminder that they will have to retain their focus at the back throughout the game, especially against an Arsenal side which will eager to avenge their defeat.
Liverpool will once again look to exploit Arsenal on the counter attack, like they did on numerous occasions in the match at Anfield. With Coutinho hitting a good patch of form and Henderson and Gerrard working well as a pair, they look stronger in the midfield.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Flanagan, Skrtel, Agger, Cissokho; Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho; Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling
- These two traditional big guns have met in the FA Cup in 12 previous seasons, with the Gunners coming out on top seven times (including winning two finals), with the Reds winning one final and progressing on four additional occasions.
- The Gunners are yet to concede a goal in the competition this season and have kept three clean sheets in their last five FA Cup games.
- Liverpool have won just two of their last six away FA Cup games, losing three and drawing one.
- Liverpool have not lost any of their last nine competitive matches; winning seven and drawing two.
- Arsenal have kept 11 clean sheets in their last 12 competitive matches at the Emirates Stadium.
Players to watch-out for
Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
The German international’s arrival at the Emirates lifted the spirits at the club and provided the spark they required to put up a substantial title challenge so far. But despite his contribution of four goals and eight assists in 21 Premier League starts, Mesut Ozil has come under a lot of criticism recently, especially due to his lack of contribution in big games. The former Real Madrid star did put up a good performance against Manchester United in their last game and will look to silence his critics with a standout performance against Liverpool, the team which managed to silence him and his team mates last time around. It is time for Arsenal’s record signing to stand up and leave lasting impression on the game.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
While his partner in crime Luis Suarez has grabbed all the headlines this season, Daniel Sturridge has maintained his incredible run of form as well despite struggling with his fitness recently. The 24 year old has already scored 16 goals in 16 starts in the league this season (along with four assists), which is incredible considering the fact that he also managed to return from an injury during this period. The England international will once again pose a lot of questions for the Arsenal back four.
Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
Arsenal will be more circumspect at the start of this game than they were at Anfield and their primary aim would be to keep it tight at the back in the first half. It will be a close game and one can expect this to end in a draw and bright forth an unwanted replay for both these sides.