Arsenal FC host Liverpool FC on Monday night with both clubs looking to make a statement early on in the season and TheHardTackle looks at key battles that may decide the game.
Arsenal FC have been billed as title contenders but slumped to a defeat against West Ham in the opening game of the season at the Emirates. The Gunners did recover from the shock defeat and beat Crystal Palace, but only marginally so. The Emirates outfit were far from their scintillating best and had to dig deep to register their first win of the season.
Liverpool FC have also struggled to bed in the plethora of new signings they have made over the summer and scraped through against Stoke City and newly promoted side Bournemouth. The Reds were looking at a dull draw against the Potters in their opening fixture, before a Philippe Coutinho stunner helped them head home with all three points. Premier League new boys, Bounemouth, were undone by two contentious refereeing decisions – one of which was a goal which never should have been allowed to stand.
The two teams have had some fiery encounters in the recent past. A Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool FC ran-riot against Arsenal FC at the Anfield two years ago, while the Gunners went some way in avenging that in last seasons 4-1 rout at the Emirates. The encounter promises to be another high scoring affair with both teams looking to impose themselves on the game. Here we take a look at some of the key battles ahead of Monday nights encounter between the two sides:
Alexis Sanchez vs Nathaniel Clyne
Liverpool FC new signing Clyne would be trusted with the tedious task of keeping the electric Alexis Sanchez at bay. The Chilean lacks the match sharpness of his other teammates, having returned to training only in early August. However, he makes up for it with his relentless running and pressing. His goal against Crystal Palace symbolized the fight inside the diminutive Chilean, who was some way off his devastating best, but still managed to get on the end of a Hector Bellerin cross and forced Damien Delaney to put the ball inside his own net.
Clyne has had a solid start to life at Anfield, having been part of a defence which is yet to concede. Clyne was impressive against Ibrahim Afellay and kept the former FC Barcelona man under check throughout the game. The 24-year-old marshaled the right channel with relative ease against Bournemouth. However, facing Alexis Sanchez, even if the Chilean lacks match sharpness, would be a far more difficult job than what he has had to face till now. It is important for the Reds that the threat of Alexis is negated and Brendan Rodgers would be hoping his new signing comes good in his sternest test till date.
Christian Benteke vs Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny
Benteke scored the controversial winner over Bournemouth last weekend and his efforts were lauded by the manager. The Belgian came close to scoring another but was denied by the crossbar and used his physical presence to good effect in holding the ball up for his teammates. The Reds fans have been skeptical if Benteke could actually fit into the system at Anfield, considering the contrast in playing styles between his former club Aston Villa and Liverpool FC.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny endured a torrid time in the game against West Ham as Arsenal FC concede two very soft goals. Koscielny’s failure to close down Mauro Zarate led to the second goal of the Hammers, while the Frenchman was again at fault at Selhurst Park, having turned his back as Joel Ward attempted another speculative effort which made his way past Petr Cech.
The true strength of Liverpool’s towering Belgian forward lies in his heading ability and it would be put to test against Per Mertesacker, who is one of the few defenders who actually has an eight cm height advantage over Benteke. Koscielny will need to get over his defensive lapses of the last few games and ensure that he is at his best if the Gunners are to keep their first clean sheet in the league.
Philippe Coutinho vs Francis Coquelin
Coutinho scored from a stunning long-range effort in the win over Stoke City, taking his tally to four goals from outside of the box in the last two seasons. If the Brazilian is allowed to cut onto his right foot and afforded the little space required to shoot, he can be devastating.
Francis Coquelin has been a revelation for Arsenal FC since he returned to the Emirates following his loan at Charlton Athletic. The Frenchman was instrumental as the Gunners put together a string of impressive displays in the second half of last season and eventually finished 3rd. Coquelin provides bite and much needed defensive solidarity to an Arsenal FC midfield full of number 1o’s. The combative midfielder is strong in tackles and closes down opponents quickly.
Coquelin has been below his best recently and escaped a red card narrowly in the win over Crystal Palace. However, the 24-year-old will have to be alert and cannot afford to give any space to Coutino as the Brazilian could be destructive with his shooting.