As the Premier League season approaches the midpoint in game week 19, the title race is effectively over. The most interesting aspect in the top half of the table is the battle between five sides for the second, third, and fourth spots in the table. Two of those five sides will fight it out on Friday night. In a quirk of scheduling, on Friday Arsenal play Liverpool second time in the league, before playing against Crystal Palace even once. Similarly, the Reds play the Gunners a second time before playing against Swansea even once.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal fans in general should be buoyant by the recent form of their side. Yes, draws against Southampton and West Ham (in the league) have dampened the spirit a bit, especially as they have left Arsenal one point below their fourth-placed visitors for Friday. The last three matches have also been won by a lone goal. But overall, the Gunners have performed admirably since the 4-0 thrashing they received at the hands of Liverpool back in August. Whether they can dish out retribution on Friday and win against Liverpool or just eke out a meek draw, both results will keep their hopes of a top-four finish buoyant. But a loss on Friday can deal a knockout punch to those same hopes.
Till the last season, the dominant feature of Klopp’s Liverpool was their outstanding levels of performance against top sides – those against whom they were competing for the top-four or theoretically, the title. The narrative has changed a bit this season. Liverpool have severely punished the sides at the bottom of the table but the 4-0 win against their hosts on Friday at Anfield is their only victory against their top-six peers this season. But if they wish to consolidate their chances of qualifying for the Champions League again, the Reds need to win on Friday. It seems that they have the form to win on Friday, having not lost since the game against Spurs and having scored 36 goals and conceded 7 during the 12 matches that followed.
Arsenal had to play midweek in the Carabao Cup quarterfinal against West Ham but Wenger dealt with it like he has dealt with Europa League fixtures this season – by rotating almost his complete team for the midweek game. Thus, he should have a fresh team for Friday night. Aaron Ramsey will sit this one out, as will Olivier Giroud as both of them are injured. Shkodran Mustafi was rested during the midweek and will feature on Friday. Francis Coquelin is also a doubt against Liverpool but Alex Iwobi should find a spot in the three-man advanced midfield behind Alexandre Lacazette.
Liverpool will also be fresh for this important game as they did not have the mid-week fixture to play and they would have had a five-day break. This means that Klopp will deploy all his attacking options including Mane, Firmino, Salah, and Coutinho. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will play his first game against his former side. Joel Matip has started joining the team training but will remain a doubt for Friday. Alberto Moreno is also not fit, giving Andrew Robertson one more game at left-back. Emre Can is back from his suspension and will be an option for Klopp on Friday – possibly to replace Wijnaldum. Daniel Sturridge will also sit out the game due to an injury.
- In 224 matches between the two sides, Arsenal have won 78, Liverpool 86 and 59 have been drawn. In the Premier League era as well, Liverpool have just edged past the Gunners with 19 wins to Arsenal’s 15, with 17 draws. The last five, especially the last two meetings have been completely dominated by the Reds who have won the last three and drawn two.
- Arsenal’s record in their last five games has been quite good with three wins and two draws, having scored 9 goals and conceded only one. At home as well they have been strong, winning 13 of 14 home league games this season.
- With their 4-0 win at Bournemouth, Liverpool became the first side in Premier League history to score three goals or more in three successive away matches. The Reds have also done that in their last three matches against Arsenal (both home and away)
- Liverpool’s record in their last five games is identical to the Gunners’ record – 3 wins and 2 draws but they have scored 17 goals and conceded two. Since losing to Spurs at Wembley, the Reds have played 12, won 8 and drawn 4.
Alexis Sanchez has not scored a goal for 355 minutes. If someone had said this sentence anytime during the last season, people would have not believed him. The Chilean star was in such great form last season that such a goal-less streak would seem implausible. That inherent quality is why I believe that he has the potential to bounce back and contribute a goal or two on Friday. Liverpool’s defensive issues and Sanchez’s pace are complimentary factors. Not that he has been completely muted this season. He has scored 4 and assisted 3 goals so far. In terms of xG and xAssist per 90 minutes, he is second among the Gunners with 0.50 and 0.35 respectively. That means that Sanchez has a 85% chance of contributing a goal if he plays for 90 minutes.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah need not worry about any goal-less streaks as he is in red hot form so far this season. By far the league’s leading goal scorer with 14 goals scored even before the half-way mark of the season has been reached, Salah has been quite a revelation for Liverpool. His xG and xAssist per 90 minutes are 0.73 and 0.24 respectively, which means that he has a 97% chance of contributing a goal per 90 minutes played. He is currently scoring or assisting a goal every 81 minutes. Salah will relish attacking against an Arsenal team that likes to attack.
The games between these two sides are generally goal-fests. We can expect the same on Friday. However, the difference between the sides is in their volume of goals. Arsenal have been struggling to pile up goals in the last few games while Liverpool have been doing so with abandon. This could lead to Liverpool outscoring Arsenal on Friday night. It will not be as easy as the victory at Anfield earlier this season but Liverpool should be able to emerge victorious on Friday as well.
Arsenal 2 – 3 Liverpool