Arsenal host Liverpool tomorrow in what will be a crunch game for the Merseysiders as failure to win the game will mean their faint hopes of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League will be diminished even further.

Liverpool were beaten for the first time in the league this year just before the international break as Manchester United widened the gap between themselves and their arch rivals who currently sit fifth. The loss ended Liverpool’s run of five consecutive wins. Arsenal on the other hand, are unbeaten in their last six games and have won all of them.

Both the sides have quality players who can turn the game on its head at any point of the game. Here are three key battles that will decide the outcome of the game.

Philippe Coutinho vs Francis Coquelin

Coutinho has undoubtedly been Liverpool’s best player this season. So much so, that it’s almost become ‘stop Coutinho, stop Liverpool’ and it was visible in Liverpool’s last two games when they struggled against Swansea and Manchester United. Although both Swansea and United’s team set up was to counter press Liverpool, we could see that whenever the Brazilian got the ball, the opposition players instantly crowded him out.

In tomorrow’s game, the role of neutralising Coutinho will be given to Frenchman Francis Coquelin who has been excellent apart from that game against Monaco. The Frenchman has added a sense of dirtiness to the Arsenal midfield that was missing in the first half of the season and will have to be at his best against Liverpool who will be desperate to get something out of the game.

Stats that could matter:

Philippe Coutinho has a pass completion ratio of 80% and averages close to four successful take ons per game.

Aaron Ramsey vs Jordan Henderson

Another midfield battle will be the one that features the Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. Although they might not face each other directly like Coutinho and Coquelin, both Ramsey and Henderson will be involved in their respective team’s defending and attacking and hence will have a big say in what happens during the game. While Ramsey hasn’t had the same season like the last campaign where he couldn’t stop scoring, Henderson has carried the good form of last season into the current season and was rewarded with the Liverpool captaincy.

Both of them will have to join in the attack when Liverpool and Arsenal go forward and will have to help their defense as well. But what could be key is the work rate of Henderson. The former Sunderland man works tirelessly in the midfield and likes to get forward when he can. With Coutinho’s presence, Coquelin will definitely need help and Ramsey will have to do his defensive duties.

Just like Ramsey, Henderson will have to help out in defending as well. With Arsenal playing at home, it’s almost certain that they’ll have the bulk of the possession. The skipper will have to make sure that his passing is error free as Liverpool will get their chances on the counter.

Ramsey scored against Liverpool when the two faced off against each other last time in the league as Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners, but Henderson can boast of his goal the season before when the two team drew 2-2 at the Emirates.

Stats that could matter:

STATS PER GAMERAMSEYHENDERSON
Forward Passes46.4336.23
Key passes2.041.38
Pass completion84%82%
Chances created2.231.63
Interceptions1.53.99
Tackles won1.841.70

 

Santi Cazorla vs Lucas Leiva

By now you must’ve noticed the trend; it’s all about the midfield. While Arsenal do have the fire-power of Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil, if there is any area on the pitch that Liverpool can try to beat Arsenal, then it’s at the middle of the park. Simply because they don’t seem to possess the lethality of the SAS that they had last season and with Sturridge out most of the time with injuries, they can no longer strike fear into the hearts of defenders.

With Steven Gerrard suspended, Brendan Rodgers has no option but to either go with Joe Allen or Lucas Leiva in midfield. keeping in mind the quality of Arsenal’s attack, Rodgers could give Lucas his first game in six games and he’ll have to be on his toes as he’ll most likely be facing Santi Cazorla who has been in excellent form this season.

The Spaniard has scored seven times and set up nine goals for his teammates and is having the best season in an Arsenal shirt. Cazorla’s link up play with the likes of Sanchez, Giroud and Ozil has troubled teams as they have not been able to cope with their movement. Liverpool will have to be very compact with Lucas having an important role of trying to break Arsenal’s rhythmic passing.

Stats that could matter:

Cazorla has a pass completion ratio of 88% and creates at least two goal scoring chances every game.