I very much doubt that Brendan Rodgers and Arsene Wenger envisaged this fixture taking place between the 6th and 11th placed teams when the season started in August. Liverpool and Arsenal have both ensured sluggish starts to the season but with the halfway stage fast approaching the two clubs need to to start putting on the performances they need. Christmas is a great time to find momentum. If you can create some confidence and bag some December victories anything can happen and that’s what these two will be hoping for as they try to gain some sort of foothold on the fourth Champions League spot.
For Liverpool, this game represents a chance to bury that awful memory from Old Trafford whilst Arsenal have another chance to prove they aren’t defensively naive against one of their usual rivals. This game promises to be a cracker no matter what.
Rodgers currently has six injuries within his ranks with Daniel Sturridge being the obvious big miss. The England man scored twice in this fixture last season and will be badly missed again through a long standing thigh strain. Another high profile absentee is Mario Balotelli, the Italian striker is both banned and injured after his Instagram post about racism and antisemitism caused controversy two weeks ago.
Defender Dejan Lovren requires a late fitness test to prove his availability whilst Glen Johnson is out until the New Year with a groin strain. Full-back Jon Flanagan is also out with knee injury that required surgery. Attacking midfielder Suso is also out with a groin injury for at least one more match day.
Injuries and Arsenal, the two go together like meat and potato – pretty darn well. At the moment, Arsene Wenger has just the nine injuries limiting his squad options.
There are three players currently waiting for late fitness tests to prove their match readiness: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Nacho Monreal. Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) should miss out but will be back soon, as should Laurent Koscielny (calf). The traditional Boxing Day fixture should see the returns of Mikel Arteta from a calf injury and Tomas Rosicky from a thigh strain, too.
However, Arsenal do have some long term injuries to key players with Jack Wilshere sidelined until February after his latest ankle injury whilst Mesut Ozil remains out until January with a LCL Knee injury.
– Liverpool have beaten Arsenal just twice in the last 14 Premier League meetings between the two sides (W2, D7, L5).
– There have been four 90th minute or later goals in the last six Anfield meetings
– Liverpool vs Arsenal has seen more hat tricks than any other Premier League fixture (5).
– Last season’s 5-1 battering ended a six game winless run for Liverpool in home fixtures against Arsenal.
– Arsenal have trailed in six of the last seven Premier League games against Liverpool at Anfield. However, the Gunners have come back to win two and draw three of those games.
Has there ever been a more relied upon 20 year old in the Premier League? Not for a long time but Michael Owen does spring to mind. The current path of young Raheem Sterling does have a touch of the Owen about it. Nailed on starter for club and country in his teens, completely relied upon by Liverpool and blisteringly quick. Liverpool supporters are certainly hoping the path changes soon and Sterling stays injury free unlike Owen himself.
It’s not been the best of the starts for Sterling with his quality coming in fits and starts unlike last season’s constant stream of dangerous play. However, signs have emerged of late that Sterling could be coming back with a string of solid performances (including Manchester United). The young attacker scored two goals against Championship leaders Bournemouth during midweek and Rodgers will be hoping that game is a catalyst for both Liverpool and Sterling.
Rodgers must be careful that he doesn’t burnout his talented winger because his side would struggle even more without him. Sterling has played more minutes than any Premier League player this season (as well as England internationals) – including 11 full 90 minute matches out of a possible 16 in the league alone. It’s easy to see why because the 20 year old has completed an impressive 50/93 attempted take-ons as well as creating 40 chances for teammates.
You either overrate him or underrate him but one thing is for certain, Olivier Giroud is very rarely analysed objectively and accurately. Expected to bag 25 goals a season a la Robin van Persie, Giroud is often portrayed to be struggling under the weight of Arsenal’s rich attacking history. However, it is this scribbler’s opinion that Giroud is a very good Arsenal player and his form since returning from injury should scare Liverpool – especially if any of the staff over at Melwood have seen his goal against Manchester United a few weeks ago.
Despite his injuries, Giroud has enjoyed a decent season when fit and ready. In seven appearances, the silky Frenchman has scored four goals. Those seven appearances include precisely zero 90 minute run outs which gives his total a lot more credit.
However, Giroud’s injuries do show in his other figures. So far, the centre forward has only won 10/26 headed duels which I think is a little low for a player with some strong heading ability – I’d like to see him reach at least 50%. He’s also yet to register an assist for any of his teammates which surprised me because Giroud is well known for his neat touches and his ability to bring the Arsenal midfield into play is often vital for Wenger’s side – especially when Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey are in the squad (which they won’t be for this Sunday’s match-up). Giroud has made six chances for his teammates which does show his output is still strong despite not finding an assist as yet.
If I was a betting man I’d be backing Giroud to score this weekend because his aerial prowess will stress test Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren (if fit) to their limits. Watch out for his distracting presence making space for fellow attackers too.
I’m going to be bold and suggest a thriller this Sunday. I’m going for 3-2 Liverpool at Anfield with pace and defensive naivety the key words in the commentary repertoire. Look out for a boring 0-0, sorry guys.