Sunday afternoon will see the big match-up of the weekend, with Liverpool hosting Arsenal at Anfield, a game that thrilled the home fans last season as the rampant Reds ran out 5-1 winners over a hapless Gunners side.
A devastating opening 20-minute spell early last February saw Liverpool notch up four goals and could have had even more, with two goals from defender Martin Skrtel inside 10 minutes, followed by another from Raheem Sterling 6 minutes later and a fourth from Daniel Sturridge on the 20 minute mark. Sterling got his second on the 56th minute mark to wrap up the Reds’ tally of five, but what was probably most remarkable was that three LFC players with surnames starting with “S” scored and Luis Suarez was not among them – wonder what odds punters could have got on that?
Mikel Arteta converted a consolation penalty for the Gunners 20 minutes from the end but it was a huge wake up call for the then league leaders, who were comprehensively outplayed on a day to forget for Arsène Wenger.
To see what the fans of both clubs may be thinking about the fixture this season, we looked at the Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football data from this game last season, to see which players were picked for the line-ups last year.
Beat Your Manager! Fantasy Football is a game similar to “Football Manager”, but applied to live football, where you manage your favourite club and pick line-ups, bench, formations and substitutions, all in real-time. When fans play the game, the Beat Your Manager team can measure the popularity of different players, by looking at how frequently they are selected for the starting line-up, substitute’s bench or not selected at all.
The app ran for the 2013/4 EPL season and is currently inactive while the developers are creating the revised version – watch this space!
Formation: A solid 4-4-2 for LFC fans but a more attacking 4-3-3 for the Gunners
An overwhelming 56 per cent of Liverpool fans opted for a solid 4-4-2 formation for this game, with the next-most popular formation an attacking 4-3-3, selected by 26 per cent of Reds.
Arsenal fans scented blood and went for an all-out 4-3-3 (34 per cent) with a flexible double-pivot 4-2-3-1 second choice, selected by 22 per cent of Gunners.
Goalkeeper: Szczęsny a comfortable first choice, but Mignolet doesn’t rest so easy
Fans of both clubs did not go for any surprises in goal, with both teams’ regular number 1 selected for goalkeeping duty.
Simon Mignolet was the goalkeeper of choice for Liverpool fans, but was also 2nd-from-bottom in the popularity stakes, with a 79 per cent rating from LFC fans. Wojciech Szczęsny was in for Arsenal with a much more emphatic 100 per cent rating from the Gunners’ fans, making him the club’s most popular player for this match.
Both real-life managers agreed with fans, going for the identical options between the posts.
Defence: Fans and Manager in perfect harmony
With injuries to Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger, José Enrique, Glen Johnson and Seb Coates, the choices in defense were limited for LFC fans, so it was no surprise that both fans and manager went for an identical back four.
Martin Skrtel was the club’s most popular defender and jointly most popular player, rewarding the fans for a perfect 100 per cent rating with two goals. Kolo Touré (95 per cent) was just behind Skrtel, with Aly Cissokho next on 92 per cent and Jon Flanagan (85 per cent) just taking the final position in the back four with fans.
Arsenal did not have any injury worries in defence and fans identified three clear favourites in defence.
Bacary Sagna was Arsenal’s most popular defender, with a staggering 98 per cent rating making him jointly the club’s 2nd most popular player for this match. Per Mertesacker was a close second on 94 per cent, with Laurent Koscielny (90 per cent) just behind. Nacho Monreal took up the fourth spot in defence, further behind, on 72 per cent. Similarly to Brendan Rodgers, Wenger went with the fans’ line-up for the back four.
Midfield: LFC fans agree with Rodgers in midfield, while Wenger has the extra man
With Lucas Leiva injured, Liverpool fans had three clear favourites in midfield. Club captain Steven Gerrard was the most popular midfielder, but his 95 per cent rating from fans was only enough to make him jointly (with Touré) the club’s 4th most popular player for this match.
Philippe Coutinho (92 per cent) was a close second, with Jordan Henderson (90 per cent) in third place. After Henderson, approval ratings dropped away, but Raheem Sterling still got a very respectable 74 per cent from LFC fans and rewarded both fans and manager with a goal in both halves of the match.
Arsenal’s midfield was injury-hit (as usual last season), with Abou Diaby, Mathieu Flamini, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey all out for this game.
However, this had the effect of making the four midfield choices pretty obvious for the Gunners’ fans; Santi Cazorla taking the top spot as Arsenal’s most popular midfielder, his 98 per cent fan rating making him joint (with Sagna) as the club’s 2nd-most popular player. Close behind Cazorla was Mesut Özil, with an impressive 96 per cent rating approval, with Mikel Arteta (82 per cent) close behind and Jack Wilshere way behind with fans (48 per cent), taking up the remaining spots.
As he did with the back four, Rodgers stuck with the fans’ line-up in midfield as well. Wenger agreed with fans on the four most-popular midfielders, but opted to also include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (38 per cent fan rating) in a five-man midfield set up.
Forwards: After this match, should it be SSS (Skrtel, Sterling, Sturridge) or SAS?
Both Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge got perfect 100 per cent ratings with LFC fans for this game, making them jointly (with Skrtel) Liverpool’s most popular players. They were also the natural choice for Rodgers upfront for this game and Sturridge rewarded both with the final goal of the early 4-goal blitz in the opening 20 minutes of the match.
With Yaya Sanogo injured, Arsenal’s 1st choice forwards were clear-cut for the Gunners; Lukas Podolski was Arsenal’s most popular forward and 7th-most popular player for this match, with an 88 per cent approval rating from the fans, while Olivier Giroud lined up in 2nd place, on a still-respectable 76 per cent rating.
Rodgers again agreed with his fanbase on the front two, while Wenger opted to bench fan-favourite Podolski and instead start Giroud in a lone striker role on a day that ended in disappointment and frustration for the visitors.