Two of English football’s proudest clubs saw their seasons fall apart in the past month. Liverpool exited the domestic cups and title race – at home – in the space of a week while Arsenal’s woes, as ever, were on their travels.
A humiliating defeat in Munich saw their Champions League hopes end in the first leg of the Round of Sixteen for the fifth season in a row. The same mistakes over and again, compounding consecutive defeats to Watford and Chelsea which saw their title dreams evaporate.
Still in the FA Cup, they are old hands at finishing in the top four; can they do it once again, this time at Liverpool’s expense?
Monday night’s capitulation at the King Power Stadium summed Liverpool’s 2017 up in one ninety minute performance. Jurgen Klopp may have made mistakes in team selections but the lack of application from experienced players is staggering.
Leicester, woefully out of form but inspired by needing to impress a watching new manager, exploited the high defensive line Liverpool employed; it was a naivety which deserved overwhelming and the Foxes obliged.
The early season – even pre-Christmas – optimism has evaporated and now the whole season is on the line. Arsenal, Manchester City and Everton in their next four games; if Liverpool collect less than five points, the top four could well be beyond their reach yet again.
It’s hard to know where Klopp begins to put it right. His goalkeepers flit between brilliance and exasperating mistakes which cost them dear. He can address the issue at the centre of his defence by recalling Dejan Lovren in place of Lucas Leiva.
His bigger problem comes in midfield where Arsenal do have options. Jordan Henderson will miss this key clash and his absence will prove hard to overcome. While unrated by opposition fans, managers of both club and country value his leadership on the pitch.
The onus will fall on Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho to lead the rest of the side in his absence. Against Arsenal, they know they will get chances; it’s a question of whether they can take them.
After the trip to Munich, the fortnight’s break may have been just what the doctor ordered for Arsenal. It was an embarrassing second half performance yet entirely in keeping with Wenger’s Arsenal in the past decade. Hammerings in the big games are commonplace in recent years and Anfield has been their graveyard on several occasions.
But they have a surprisingly good record there in recent years, and that is something the Frenchman will be looking to continue. His future dominates the Arsenal skyline and reports this week claim that the club has put all contract negotiations with players on hold until Wenger makes his decision.
Paralysis off the pitch cannot be allowed to spread to it. Alexis Sanchez epitomises the effort the rest of the squad must match. Granit Xhaka should return to the starting line-up following his suspension, with Aaron Ramsey also back in training.
Crucially, Laurent Koscielny’s hamstrings are healed and he is set to provide the calming presence which the back four so badly needs.
Wenger stated that he needs his side to begin the game quickly, be crisp in tackle and movement, if they are to win this match. It’s been missing from Arsenal’s game for some time.
Arsenal’s only major doubt for the game is ironically enough, Mesut Ozil. The German was sent home from training, not yet fully recovered from the illness which kept him out of a couple of games in January.
His absence opens the door for Danny Welbeck whose pace will give Arsenal the best chance of winning. Liverpool’s back four, particularly James Milner on the right, lack the blistering pace that Welbeck and Sanchez possess. If Arsenal can get them the service they deserve, it could be a comfortable night for the north London club.
FORM (Last six games)
Liverpool - LLDLWL
Arsenal - WLLWLW
- Arsenal’s last six away Premier League games feature more than 2.5 goals.
- Liverpool have lost one of their last 20 home Premier League games.
- Six of the last seven matches between the two sides featured more than 2.5 goals.
- Arsenal have scored at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 games against Liverpool.
- Liverpool haven’t completed the double over Arsenal since 1997/98.
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CURRENT MATCH ODDS (BEST PRICED ODDS)
HEAD TO HEAD
14/08/2016 PL Arsenal 3 : 4 Liverpool
13/01/2016 PL Liverpool 3 : 3 Arsenal
24/08/2015 PL Arsenal 0 : 0 Liverpool
04/04/2015 PL Arsenal 4 : 1 Liverpool
21/12/2014 PL Liverpool 2 : 2 Arsenal
16/02/2014 PL Arsenal 2 : 1 Liverpool
Liverpool are slight favourites for this game but current form doesn’t substantiate the clear difference in the odds. The two sides are equally poor at the moment but away from the Emirates may suit them better; the pressure is less tangible.
Neither side can afford to lose this game; ordinarily, you’d expect a cagey affair. On the whole, these two don’t know what that means at Anfield. Goals a-plenty in recent encounters and always late drama. Why expect any different this time?
Arsenal, experts at maintaining possession, enjoy greater success in the big matches when they don’t have the ball as much. That’s where Liverpool are their most vulnerable and Arsenal definitely have the pace to exploit that.
Their problem is their back four. Arsenal are proven to wobble under pressure in the big games, giving Liverpool plenty of incentive to attack from the kick-off. It’s a match where both sides are likely to concede goals, it’s a question of whose goalkeeper has the best night.