Can Arsenal bulldoze Liverpool’s Top Four ambitions?
Emirates Stadium Saturday 5th April 12.45
Arsenal host Liverpool in Gameweek 31 of their 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign, in a game that could potentially end the Reds’ chances of achieving a top four finish.
Both these Premier League heavyweights have been in scintillating form since the beginning of this calendar year, but the Gunners, who won all 6 of their games in March and have a fully fit squad to choose from, start as favorites for today’s engrossing encounter. Liverpool lost to Manchester United just before the international break, a game that saw Steven Gerrard pick up a red card for stamping Ander Herrera and Martin Skrtel suffer a 3-match suspension for stamping David de Gea right at the end of the game, an incident that invited a retrospective action to confirm the punishment. With two of their most important players unavailable for a game of this magnitude, can the Merseysiders stun the Gunners?
The North Londoners have finally clicked into gear over the last couple of months, after enduring an inconsistent start to their season. They were over-reliant on Alexis Sanchez, whose consistent performances early on in the season made sure that Arsenal didn’t fall away at any stage. The Chilean’s form has waned off since the beginning of this year, but it has been much more of a team effort from Arsene Wenger’s men, with the likes of Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck, Francis Coquelin and Santiago Cazorla rising up to the occasion and delivering the results.
Going into this pivotal league fixture, it will once again be a test of Arsenal’s big-game credentials, as they have defeated only Manchester City and Southampton of the current top seven in the Premier League this season. Wenger has been flexible in his tactical approach in certain games this season, but they haven’t paid much dividends apart from the victories at the Etihad Stadium and Old Trafford recently. From that point of view: it will be interesting to see how the Gunners setup today, as they wouldn’t want to do anything, attack or defend, in the extreme.
Arsenal need to start off well and put pressure straightaway on the visitors, who could come for a point and play on the counterattack. Liverpool, with the 3-4-2-1 system they have been playing in recently, can be exploited in wider areas of the pitch, which means that the likes of Sanchez and Welbeck will have their tasks cut out against Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson, two players who are expected to operate in the left and right wingback positions, respectively.
The Scousers’ campaign has, in many ways, been similar to Arsenals. They started off poorly, losing to the likes of Newcastle United, West Ham United, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace early on in the season. Poor defensive displays forced Rodgers to think out of the box and shift from his formerly favored 4-1-2-1-2 system to the audacious 3-4-2-1 system, which has seen them lose just 1 Premier League game since the beginning of this calendar year.
The likes of Philippe Coutinho, Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Simon Mignolet and Can have been crucial to their side’s renaissance. Coutinho has been in red-hot form recently, scoring 2 spectacular goals and creating 10 chances in his last 6 Premier League appearances, while the Hendersons and Mignolets have also done their bit in recent games.
Pace, as is always the case when Liverpool play, will be key to the visitors’ gameplan that could see them test out the slow movers in Arsenal’s ranks. Barring Sanchez and Welbeck, the North Londoners do not possess many pacey players, and it will be intriguing to see how the hosts combat this facet of the game. Coquelin’s midfield tussle with Coutinho could have major repercussions to this game.
The likes of Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana are unlikely starters for today’s game, though Rodgers hopes that they can be fit for this early kickoff. Without Sturridge, especially, Liverpool are considerably a lesser force, although Sterling can play as an out-and-out striker and do a decent job. From Arsenal’s perspective: they will definitely start as favorites, but it is up to Wenger’s side to run the show and not give the visitors a sniff of a chance.
Arsenal 2:1 Liverpool
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