The 2015-16 season could have been a great start of his Liverpool career for Jurgen Klopp, but for two results. It was an impressive start, but it would have been simply great if Manchester City had not crashed Liverpool’s League Cup hopes in the Final and Unai Emery’s Sevilla had not done the same in the Europa League Final. Klopp’s men have left Manchester City 7 points behind in the title race, so there is some measure of closure there. But Unai Emery is yet to taste defeat at the hands of Liverpool and as he leads Arsenal to Anfield on Saturday evening, Liverpool will be keen to open their win account against Emery.
Not that Liverpool need motivation from their opponents. They should have plenty of it from within their own ranks. They sit six points clear of not Manchester City but of Tottenham as the Champions’ league defence was hit hard by two losses in two games. City are a point behind Tottenham, and the title race has suddenly become a three-horse race. This in itself is the biggest reason why Liverpool will want to win on Saturday. Both Spurs and City will be keen to close the gap to the top at the earliest, and that is exactly what Liverpool should not allow to happen. Going by their performance against Newcastle United on Wednesday afternoon, the Reds’ fans will not be too concerned. The Reds attacked with verve if not with precision and were quite untroubled at the back. But that was Rafa’s Newcastle and on Saturday, they will face the Arsenal attack, which comprises of Aubameyang and Lacazette, the two players who have created the maximum number of goals for each other (6) since they came together. Aubameyang is also the lead goal scorer in the league at the moment. So, it is fair to say that the Reds’ defence will have to put in more effort on Saturday.
After a poor start to the league campaign, a string of wins and unbeaten results had put Arsenal as one of the favourites for a top-four position. But a few results have not gone their way recently – Southampton beat them a couple of game weeks ago and on Wednesday, Brighton came from behind to draw the game leaving Arsenal fifth in the table with 38 points, 2 behind Chelsea. 13 points separate them from Liverpool, but a similar points difference did not matter in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. In that game, Arsenal had shown that they had the capability to take the game to the Reds. They will need to do that on Saturday as well, but at Anfield under the lights, which is a completely different proposition. However, a lot of fans of a lot of teams will be willing them on to do what no other team has been able to achieve this season in the league – defeat Liverpool.
- This will be the 227th meeting between Liverpool and Arsenal in all competitions, with Liverpool winning 86 of the previous 226 and Arsenal 79 (61 draws). In their Premier League history, these teams have scored 149 goals amongst themselves, something surpassed by only four other team pairs (Arsenal-Everton, Liverpool-Spurs, Chelsea-Spurs, and Arsenal-Spurs).
- Last five visits to Anfield have not yielded a victory for Arsenal (D2 L3) and they have conceded two or more goals in each of those five games. In fact, Liverpool are unbeaten in 7 games against Arsenal in all competitions (W3 D4).
- Arsenal have scored more goals from outside the box than any other Premier League side this season (9), while Liverpool are the only side that have not conceded from outside the box. That is not surprising, given that Jurgen Klopp’s men have conceded just seven goals in 19 league games and a clean sheet on Saturday will be a top-flight record for fewest goals after 20 games.
- Arsenal are not at their best when facing the league leaders away from home. The Gunners have won just one of their last 12 Premier League away games against sides starting the day at the top of the table (2-1 vs Chelsea in Nov 2008), losing the last six such games in a row by an aggregate score of 2-17.
Virgil van Djik
Thursday 27th December marked a year from the day when Virgil van Dijk signed for Liverpool. To say that the most expensive defender in history has been value for money sounds bizarre but is actually an understatement. His presence in Liverpool’s defence has galvanised them and given them solidity. He does not need to tackle much as he defends with his positioning but when he does tackle he wins 95% of them. He wins 74% of his aerial duels and also puts in almost 6.6 CBI (Crosses /Blocks /Interceptions) per match. Not only does he use his pace to keep attackers in check, but he also uses it to take the ball forward. He has created 3 chances for Liverpool in the league so far, two of them being Big Chances. He has also scored his first league goal now (against Wolves in GW 18). In a game where the Reds’ defence will need to be on their toes, VVD will need to be at his best.
Aubameyang leads the Premier League race for the golden boot for now. Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane are not far behind, but it is the Arsenal forward, who seems to score in almost every game. He has scored six goals in last eight away games. xG90 of 0.56 and xA90 of 0.17 indicate that he is capable of contributing three goals every four games. His partnership with Lacazette is also helping Arsenal a lot. If the Gunners are to beat the Reds on Saturday, both their forwards – and primarily Aubameyang will need to be in form.
Liverpool are not likely to change too much from the side that defeated Newcastle earlier in the week. Jurgen Klopp has the luxury of a relatively relaxed fixture list around this period and will not want to unsettle the rhythm a lot. Naby Keita made the squad on Wednesday and may find himself in the starting lineup if Klopp decides to go with one midfielder more. This would mean that Shaqiri drops to the bench though.
Arsenal have some major names like Mkhitaryan and Bellerin unavailable due to injuries. Laurent Koscielny came off with a knock on Wednesday and might not make it to Anfield. But Emery will hope that Mustafi, who has missed Arsenal’s last five games (W2 D2 L1) is able to play as otherwise he will be playing with a depleted defence against a rampant attack. Given that Ozil was subbed out at half-time on Wednesday, it could mean that he drops to the bench at Anfield or he is more rested and starts.
It is a game of high importance for both the teams but more so for Liverpool as they need to make sure that they do not drop points and let Spurs or City close the gap. This, along with a fitter team and the Anfield atmosphere, should propel Liverpool to win. It will be a narrow win but a win, nevertheless.
Liverpool 2 – 1 Arsenal