February 08, 2014; 12:45 BST
The last time Liverpool won against Arsenal at Anfield was back in the second leg of the 2008 Champions League quarter-final clash. The Gunners have had a fantastic record against Liverpool FC away from home off late and the Reds will once again face a tough test as they host the league leaders in an highly anticipated clash on Saturday. Interestingly only Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure from these two squads were present in the starting line-up of that 2008 Champions League fixture, Toure of course was playing for Arsenal FC on that night.
Liverpool are currently fourth in the league table and are eight points behind the league leaders. Although Brendan Rodgers has ruled out his team’s chances of competing for the title this season, the fact remains that the Reds are only six points behind Manchester City and Chelsea and they could yet play a big part in the title race. But their primary aim this season is to regain a place in the Champions League and with Everton and Tottenham breathing down their neck, and Manchester United expected to challenge as well, the race for the fourth spot will perhaps be more interesting that the battle at the top. Liverpool certainly have the upper hand though and they go into this game on a seven-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.
Brendan Rodgers would have been frustrated at the way in which the Reds dropped points against West Bromwich Albion. That result almost took away the advantage they built on Everton after a thrashing their local rivals 4-0 at Anfield in their last home game. But Liverpool do have a fantastic home record this season and they have suffered only one defeat at Anfield this season in all competitions and they will go into this game with a lot of confidence.
Arsenal defeated Liverpool 2-0 at home in reverse fixture earlier this season, and it was fairly comprehensive performance by the Gunners. Arsene Wenger’s men reclaimed top spot in the Premier League table in their last game as Manchester City dropped points against Chelsea. They do head into a tough period of fixture list with a two-point advantage at the top, but will face a tough challenge to maintain this lead in February and March.
The Gunners boast of the best record in the road in the Premier League so far, along with Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal have faced only two defeats, against the Manchester clubs, in the away games this season. This, along with their wonderful record against Liverpool at Anfield, will provide them with immense confidence heading into this game. Arsene Wenger’s men are also on a 10-match unbeaten run in all competitions and are expected to maintain this streak on Saturday.
Team news and tactics
Brendan Rodgers has a lot of injury concerns heading into this game, especially in the defensive half of the pitch. Liverpool will be without the likes of Lucas Leiva, Glenn Johnson, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho for this game. Rodgers confirmed that both Agger and Sakho are close to returning to first team action, but will be short for this upcoming match.
Rodgers is expected to field an unchanged line-up in this game as he currently has very limited options on the bench to make any drastic changes. Which means Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho will once again start as the fullbacks. This could cause a lot of problems for the Red in the game as Flanagan lacks experience, while Cissokho looks vulnerable defensively. Kolo Toure will face his former side, but will be under tremendous pressure to make up for the mistake which allowed West Brom to score the equalizer in their last game. Another worrying factor will be that both him and Skrtel lack a bit of pace and hence are unlikely to play a high line against Arsenal.
With Lucas Leiva absent from the side Liverpool are also missing a key defensive option in the midfield. While Gerrard has done a reasonable job in that role, he can be found out against the swift attack of Arsenal. If Rodgers opts to add more defensive steel to his side then he might opt to drop Countinho in favour of Joe Allen in the midfield. That will of course reduce the attacking edge of his side, but will certainly provide more balance to the midfield, but it seems unlikely that Rodgers will resort to such a move at home.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will once again be Liverpool main hopes in this game and with Arsenal likely to field a pivot of Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain; the Uruguayan international might enjoy a lot of freedom in dropping in between the lines of the Arsenal defence and the midfield. Liverpool should look to capitalize on this.
Expected starting line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Flanagan, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho; Coutinho, Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge
Like the Premier League points table, the Gunners are at the top of the injury table as well with eight first team players facing fitness concerns. The squad is stretched at the moment and the Gunners will be without Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Yaya Sanogo, Abou Diaby and new signing Kim Kallstrom for this game. Thomas Vermaelen is also expected to miss this game, although he is close to be available once again. There are also doubts about the availability of Jack Wilshere, who will undergo a later-fitness test ahead of this game.
Arsene Wenger has confirmed that Wilshere might be the only change in the squad that was used against Crystal Palace in their last game. Even if the England international recovers in time, he is unlikely to make it into the starting line-up as Wenger won’t risk another setback ahead of a busy and important period.
Arsene Wenger is expected make twochange to the line-up he used against Crystal Palace. Tomas Rosicky, who recently missed a lot of action following a knock he picked up against Aston Villa, is expected to start in this game. Wenger favour the experienced midfield in the big matches as his energy and experience comes in handy in tight situations. Rosicky also contributes a lot defensively, which is an added bonus. Rosicky’s inclusion would mean that Lukas Podolski will drop back to the bench and Santi Cazorla will move back to the left wing. The other change is likely to be the inclusion of Kieran Gibbs in the side ahead of Nacho Monreal.
Talking of Cazorla, the Spaniard has been the most influential player in attack for Arsenal recently and his goals from the midfield are a welcome addition for the Gunners who are missing Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott at the moment. Arsenal will look to exploit the wings as Liverpool look shaky defensively in the wide areas. Moreover, they will look to dominate the midfield and hence cut down on the supply Suarez and Sturridge receives upfront.
But perhaps most importantly, it will also come down to how Mertesacker and Koscielny handle the SAS partnership. The Arsenal duo won the battle in the reverse fixture earlier this season, and the outcome of this little clash will once again have a massive impact on the outcome of the game.
Expected starting line-up (4-2-3-1): Szczesny (GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain; Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla; Giroud
- Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have played 11 Barclays Premier League games together this season and the only team to stop them both scoring is Arsenal.
- Santi Cazorla has scored in two of his three Barclays Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
- Arsenal v Liverpool has seen five hat-tricks scored; the most trebles of any fixture in Premier League history.
- Liverpool have won just one of their last 13 Premier League games against Arsenal (W1 D7 L5) and none of the last six at Anfield (W0 D3 L3).
- Arsenal have trailed in five of the last six Premier League games against Liverpool at Anfield and come back to win two and draw three of those five where they fell behind.
Players to watch-out for
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
It is hard to look past Suarez in this Liverpool side. The Uruguayan international has been mind boggling form this season and has already scored 23 goals in 19 Premier League outings and to think he missed few matches at the start due to suspension! Suarez was kept fairly quiet by Mertesacker and Koscielny when the last time these two sides faced each other in the league, but he is heading into this game in much better form. His partnership with Sturridge upfront is the single biggest strength of this Liverpool side and if Suarez turns up in mood for this game, the Reds have a good chance of defeat the league leaders.
Santiago Cazorla (Arsenal)
The Spaniard has been in sparkling form recently for Arsenal and his new found goal scoring touch has been crucial for them. Cazorla has had a slow start this season, but he has grown in confidence off late. The midfielder has scored five goals in his last six matches including a brace against Fulham. With Arsenal missing out on the goal scoring abilities of Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott due to fitness concerns, Arsene Wenger has stressed on the importance of Cazorla contributing to side with his goals along with him usual role in the build-up play. Santi will once again be at the heart of the Arsenal attack against Liverpool and the Reds will certainly have to keep an eye on him.
Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
Liverpool will come out strongly, and buoyed by the home support they will look to take an early lead in this game. But Arsenal should slowly be able to gain control of possession after the early storm. It will be a fairly tight encounter, which will open up after the first goal is scored. Expect the Gunners to win this by a solitary goal in the end.