For once Arsenal go into a major game with their injury problems overshadowed by their opponents’.
Liverpool seem to have lost half a squad to hamstring injuries, something that has had a particular effect on the centre of their defence. Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren are definitely out, while Mamadou Sakho is a doubt. Kolo Toure is back, however, and could partner the new emergency loan signing Steven Caulker, who has arrived just in time to play. Tiago Ilori and Jose Enrique, two largely forgotten men, played in the 2-2 draw against Exeter City in the FA Cup on Friday, with the 19-year-old Joe Maguire coming off the bench. There’s also the option of Lucas Leiva who ended up at centre-back in the games against both Watford and Stoke. There are also problems up front with Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge both out, leaving a straight choice between Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino. Philippe Coutinho is definitely out, while Jordan Henderson and Jordon Ibe are both doubts.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have much the same injury list as they have for the last month. Alexis Sanchez will probably not be fit to start, while Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla are all out. The major decision for Arsene Wenger is whether to field Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Joel Campbell on the right.
The 4-0 defeat to Southampton aside, Arsenal have been excellent of late, winning five of their last six league games to go top of the table and beating Sunderland 3-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday. Liverpool, meanwhile, have stuttered since the 6-1 win at Southampton in the Capital One Cup as injuries and fatigue have taken their toll. It may simply be an accumulation of games that’s responsible for the tiredness – the Capital One Cup and Europa League campaigns taking their toll – or it may be, as many have argued, that Jurgen Klopp’s intense style was imposed without sufficient regard for the lack of his sort of pre-season and for the rigours of the Premier League.
Although they did beat Stoke 1-0 in the away leg of the Capital One Cup semi, they’ve only won two of their last five in the league. More encouraging for Liverpool was their performance at the Emirates in August when, under Brendan Rodgers, they had the better of a 0-0 draw.
GIROUD AND LIVERPOOL’S CENTRAL DEFENCE
Olivier Giroud ended a three-game run without scoring on Saturday with a goal against Sunderland, meaning he has scored 11 goals in his last 14 matches for Arsenal. There must still be doubts about his quality against the very best opponents in the very biggest games but he has the physicality to unsettle the centre of Liverpool’s makeshift defence and, in form as he is at the moment, he should relish the opportunity.
PRESSING AND GEGENPRESSING
When Liverpool beat Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield the season before last, it was representative of a familiar failing on the part of Wenger’s side. They had proved themselves consistently unable to deal with teams that pressed them aggressively. There’s unlikely to be a repeat, though, for all Klopp’s reputation as a Gegenpressingmeister.
Arsenal have radically improved in that respect over the past 18 months, able both to adapt their game to deal with a side that presses them. Arsenal’s 4-1 win over Liverpool at the Emirates last season, for instance, was rooted in ferocious opening half hour of pressing. Whoever wins the pressing battle will probably win the game.
Who plays up front for Liverpool? Benteke has looked horribly out of sorts of late, despite scoring the winners against Leicester and Sunderland. His performance against West Ham was one of a man who is utterly devoid of confidence.
But if he doesn’t play, then the only real option for Klopp is Firmino, who was excellent in the 4-1 win against Manchester City but otherwise has looked a little lost in English football, as though nobody can quite work out what his role should be. Pace and physicality can upset Arsenal, so Benteke, if he is showing the slightest sign of confidence may be the better option.
It says much about Liverpool’s injuries and the respective recent form of both sides that Arsenal go to Anfield as favourites. Seeing Liverpool available at 3.00 for a home game is immediately tempting, but under Klopp they’ve only won twice at home in the league, both times 1-0.
It may be worth simply backing Arsenal to win at 2.35 but if the game follows the pattern of the Emirates last season with Arsenal making a fast start, the best way to go may be to back Arsenal to lead at half-time and full-time at 3.90.