Two of England’s biggest clubs will look to continue recovering their faltering seasons when Arsenal host Liverpool on Saturday at 8pm (UK time).
The Gunners are down in ninth place with 42 points after 29 games, seven adrift of West Ham in sixth and nine behind rivals Chelsea in the fourth and final Champions League spot. But Mikel Arteta’s recently recorded big wins over Spurs and Leicester City and showed a lot of character to battle back from 3-0 down and draw 3-3 with the Hammers prior to the international break. The former midfield would love to see more of that spirit against the reigning English champions.
Liverpool won’t be holding onto that title for long, however. Jurgen Klopp’s men go into this weekend seventh in the table, just four points above Arsenal and a massive 25 adrift of Manchester City, who look set to steal the Premier League crown from the Merseyside giants.
So, which team will set themselves up for a climb back up the table? And who will be staring down the barrel of obscurity for the final eight games of the season?
CLICK HERE to join Karamba (18+ only) and compete in Squawka’s betting tournament for Premier League fixtures.
18+ only. Uk only. New depositing sport players only. Tournament Timeout Limit: 35. Stake contribution per bet: £1. Minimum odds: 3/10. Minimum bets in tournament to be eligible for reward: £10. 1st Place Prize: £1000. Prizes granted up to 48h after tournament ends. Free Bet does not contribute towards leader board. Please Play Responsibly. BeGambleAware. T&Cs apply.
1. Predicted Arsenal XI…
Though he has experimented with a back three at times this season, Arteta has largely stuck to a 4-2-3-1 system across recent months. Considering Liverpool have won their last two games against teams playing three at the back, the Spaniard would be wise to stick to his guns this weekend.
Although Arsenal managed a miraculous comeback from 3-0 down, they were a defensive disaster during the 3-3 draw with West Ham prior to the international break, so expect Gabriel Magalhães to be restored to the starting XI in favour of Pablo Mari. Further forward, Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey will look to protect their centre-backs and restrict the space between the lines of Diogo Jota.
Martin Ødegaard is yet to register an assist in Arsenal colours but on his day undoubtedly possesses the craft to unlock this Liverpool defence. Ahead of the Norwegian, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will operate on the left, cutting inside onto his right foot to create shooting opportunities and combine with Alexandre Lacazette through the middle. Bukayo Saka faces a late fitness test and did not train with the first-team squad up till yesterday but is “feeling better” after injury forced him to withdraw from the England squad, according to Arteta.
2. Predicted Liverpool XI v Arsenal…
While Arteta has been known to experiment, Klopp has, of course, been largely wedded to a 4-3-3 system, and there’s no reason to believe that’ll change this weekend.
Alisson remains the Reds’ undisputed No.1 and will need to be on his toes once again behind the inexperienced centre-back pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak. Trent Alexander-Arnold will be nice and fresh after having been left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the recent World Cup qualifiers.
Liverpool kept back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since December prior to the international break, beating RB Leipzig and Wolves 2-0 and 1-0, respectively. This is in no small part down to the restoration of Fabinho to the No.6 role, with his positional awareness and calmness in possession helping protect his defence and make Liverpool far more dominant on the ball. It also set Thiago and Georginio Wijnaldum free to push forward and focus more on getting the ball to the likes of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who will look to dovetail of the ever-busy Jota through the middle – although Klopp has confirmed Firmino is available after missing three games through a knee injury.
3. Tierney vs Robertson: A battle for Scotland’s left-back throne?
One of the battles within the war on Saturday will be between Scottish left-backs Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson. Sure, they won’t actually come face-to-face as they’ll line up on opposite sides of the pitch, but both will be out to prove they’re Scotland’s best left-back.
It’s been close to call in the Premier League this season, with Tierney busier defensively and proving a more successful ball-carrier, while Robertson has been the more creative presence of the two, also enjoying far more of the ball having played in a more possession-heavy team:
For now, Robertson has dibs on the left-back spot for Scotland while Tierney slotted into the left side of a three-man centre-back partnership — something Liverpool and Scotland legend Kenny Dalglish has praised the former Celtic defender for.
“I think unfortunately Kieran Tierney and [Andy Robertson] play in the same position,” he told TalkSPORT following Scotland’s 4-0 win over the Faroe Islands, in which both players recorded assists (a hat-trick of them in Tierney’s case, even).
“Tierney has done brilliantly. He’s just accepted the fact that he’s the one that might be moved to play as a left-sided centre-back. He’s played that position for Arsenal and now he’s doing it for Scotland. He was involved in two goals last night.
“They’re both good players and the higher levels these players are playing can only benefit Scotland.”
Even so, Tierney will see Saturday’s game as a chance to send Steve Clarke a message that he does, indeed, have a claim to Scotland’s left-back throne.
4. England’s most entertaining fixture to bring another goal-fest?
Since the inception of the Premier League, no fixture has yielded more goals than Arsenal vs Liverpool, will the ball hitting the net 166 times so far. Unfortunately for the Gunners, Liverpool have been responsible for 94 of those, though they’ve still caused the Merseysiders their fair share of problems over the years.
Salah is the Premier League’s joint-highest scorer this season with 17 goals, while Mane has seven career goals to his name against Arsenal. Against only scoring Aston Villa and Crystal Palace has he scored more. Conversely, Aubameyang has finally started to hit form, scoring 10 goals for club and country since the turn of the year, while top-scorer Lacazette has found the net in each of his last two appearances.
In short, there is plenty of firepower in these two sides and with at least three goals scored in nine of their last 10 Premier League meetings, all of the signs point to another goal-fest this time around.
5. “Player of the year” Fabinho to extend Liverpool’s clean sheet streak
As mentioned, there was no coincidence in the fact that Liverpool kept consecutive clean sheets against Leipzig and Wolves prior to the international break, just as Fabinho was restored to his familiar role at the base of midfield.
Across the two games combined, Fabinho made eight tackles, six interceptions and four clearances, providing the protection and stability that Phillips and Kabak have been crying out for. The Brazilian’s superb reading of the game allowed him to be in the right place at the right time to cut out dangerous passes toward the Liverpool box and once he recovered the ball, Fabinho was measured, precise and ambitious with his distribution.
So impressed has Liverpool legend John Barnes been with Fabinho’s ability to slot into defence and the difference he makes when deployed in midfield that he named the former Monaco man as the club’s Player of the Year.
“The one player who has impressed me the most for Liverpool this season is Fabinho,” he said. “Due to injuries, he’s been put into defence and played quite well throughout the season.
“You can see the influence he has on the team when he’s put back in the midfield. Fabinho’s been Liverpool’s most consistent performer.”
Had Klopp not been hamstrung by so many defensive injuries this season, thus allowing Fabinho to remain in midfield, the Premier League table might have a very different look to it now. Arsenal, and especially Ødegaard in the No.10 role, will have to be at their very best to get a look at Liverpool’s centre-backs on Saturday.