Liverpool versus Arsenal has always been a thrilling fixture in the past few years, be it Arshavin`s pyrotechnics or the SAS` demolition of Arsenal last season. With both teams having an indifferent start to this season, the winner of this fixture may well determine, who would end up in the top four.
The last time Arsene Wenger and Brendan Rodgers` teams locked horns at Anfield, the occasion was overwhelming for Wenger and his Arsenal side. Liverpool caught them cold and went into a 4-0 lead inside twenty minutes. This was a sickening blow to Arsenal who were sitting merrily at the top and were 2 points clear of City and Chelsea. This defeat set them well on course for a slump and the Gunners ended up finishing fourth at the end of the season. This year`s fixture is again crucial and Arsenal will be looking to take revenge and crush Liverpool`s hopes of finishing in the Champions League places.
The Alexis Sanchez factor
It would be safe to say Liverpool wont be languishing on 11th position had they managed to sign Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona. The Chilean, who`s game style is similar to that of Luis Suarez had all the attributes of filling in for the Uruguayan. Instead, he opted for North London and the Gunners have hugely profited from the South American who has 9 goals and 5 assists already this season. Sanchez, would be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of facing a very shaky Liverpool defence who have struggled to keep clean sheets. With first choice keeper Mignolet out for an indefinite period of time, one wouldn’t bet against Sanchez from scoring against the Reds on Sunday.
Pace versus pace
It was Liverpool`s pace and intensity right from the kick off which took Arsenal apart last season. With Arsenal being vulnerable to quick starts
as of late, Rodgers would look to capitalise by fielding Sterling upfront like he did against United last weekend and Bournemouth in the Capital One Cup. After Rodgers has adopted a 3-4-3 formation, the do Reds look much more threatening with better pace and movement upfront. Lazar Markovic, who did pretty well in the game against Bournemouth can be Liverpool`s X factor and if he manages to combine well with the likes of Sterling, Coutinho and Lallana the Reds can trouble the Arsenal defence who are without their talisman Laurent Koscielny. The key for Liverpool would be to close in on the weakened Arsenal midfield (who are without Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey) and stifle them. Wenger is expected to play Flamini and Coquelin in central midfield and if the likes of Henderson, Lucas and Gerrard put constant pressure on them, Arsenal`s front trio wouldn’t get the service they need.
Liverpool`s shaky defense
A defense with absolutely no confidence is a dream for opposition teams. If they had the choice, the Arsenal attack would love to play against Liverpool defence week in week out. With Lovren sidelined due to injury, the Reds may well field a back line of Skrtel, Sakho and Toure. Sakho`s last game was a nightmare against West Ham in September and only just made a comeback from injury in mid week. The likes of Sanchez, Welbeck and Giroud would not need a second invite to target the French international; who lacks the match fitness required for a high intensity premier league game. The fact that Liverpool have just kept 3 clean sheets in their last 10 games should boost the Arsenal attackers` confidence substantially.
Olivier Giroud- Arsenal`s focal point
When Olivier Giroud made a much early comeback against United as a late second half substitute, he showed what Wenger had missed during his time on the sidelines due to injury. He unleashed an absolute cracker of a shot from his left foot and left De Gea, one of the better keepers in this league dumbfounded. The Frenchman not only with his physicality, but also his neat technique and shooting skills is certainly a huge presence for Arsenal upfront and can help relieve the burden from Sanchez`s shoulders. The Frenchman who is in red hot form at the moment, would be keen to add to his tally of four goals in the premier league this season.
Lucas versus Cazorla
The outcome of this game would heavily depend on Arsenal`s enforcer Cazorla against Liverpool`s defensive shield Lucas Leiva. Cazorla, in the number 10 position will be the creator in chief and it will be Lucas` responsibility to track the Spaniard’s run and stop him from feeding Arsenal`s triumvirate of Sanchez, Giroud and Welbeck.
The former Villareal man put in a very good display against Newcastle, where he was an important influence on the pitch and bagged two goals. Lucas would be in for a long haul if Cazorla dominates in midfield like he did against Newcastle. The Arsenal number 19 has a good record against Liverpool and would be looking to score his second goal at Anfield on Sunday.
It promises to be an intriguing encounter between two teams who were top of the charts last season and the winner of this fixture would go into the busy festive period with loads of confidence.