19 December 2014

Can Arsenal sink the Scousers? A preview of Sunday's clash...

One hundred and one goals. Liverpool scored 101 goals (I went with words that first time because the numerical form allows us to gloss it over a bit. I wanted to draw it out) last season, becoming one of only three teams to go more more than one hundred in the last ten years. The other two, of course, won the league—Chelsea in 2009-10 (103 goals) and in one of those historic slip-ups, Man City in 2013-14 (102). However, shorn of Suarez and Sturridge, the goal-scoring load has fallen on the somewhat more-slender shoulders of Raheem "too tired" Sterling. Between him struggling to carry that load, and Rodgers struggling to forge a cohesive squad, Liverpool stand on a precipice. It's up to us to shove them over.

There was once a time when this fixture was one between heavyweights, and its outcome would decide the winner of the FA Cup or the First Division. That's not a typo—Liverpool have never won a Premier League title but were regular contenders throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s. Ever since the Prem formed in 1992, Liverpool have flirted with relevance and irrelevance in equal measures. True, Liverpool did win the Champions League in 2005, but that's about as relevant as us bringing up the 2003-04 Invincibles. Glory days.

More recently, in last season's run-in, Liverpool had a five-point lead over Chelsea with three matches to play. Man City, with a game in hand, were six points off the pace. If Liverpool could find six points from those last three matches—just six—that should have been enough to secure the championship. They could only find four points, stumbling to an 0-2 loss to Chelsea and escaping from Selhurst Park with a point while watching Man City eclipse them.

Their exploits to this point suggest that last season may have represented a pinnacle of sorts, as the club's fortunes seem to have slumped. All of the energy expended in earning a spot in the Champions League appears to be in vain as Liverpool skulked out, falling into the Europa League. Needing a win in the final match, Liverpool could only muster a draw against FC Basel, who would finish second and advance at Liverpool's expense. Mired in domestic mid-table mediocrity, it took a full-strength squad to see off Championship-side Bournemouth in the League Cup. Earlier in the week, Liverpool learned its Europa League fate—Beşiktaş, current home of Demba Ba, who scored for Chelsea when Gerrard slipped in that infamous 0-2 loss at Anfield. It's rare that UEFA shows such a penchant for irony, but there you have it.

It may be a sign of the times when Arsenal have crashed out of the League Cup but can look ahead to a favorable Champions League draw with AS Monaco while Liverpool may have to pin their hopes to that same League Cup while dreading a tetchy Europa League draw with Beşiktaş as their best chances at silverware. A part of me wonders if that Europa League foray might be Liverpool's undoing in the Prem. They might have enough firepower to overcome Beşiktaş, after which they might just face a season-long commitment to chasing the Europa League title. It's not as if they need the distraction, based on their early-season struggles.

On the near-horizon, we'll go into Anfield against a squad perhaps a bit weary after seeing off Bournemouth on Wednesday. Then again, that same squad has to know that Sunday's clash is a vital one, one in which they can take dramatic strides towards the top of the table. A loss for Liverpool may not be fatal, but it would be one more nail in the coffin. As alluded to above, it's up to us to drive that nail home.

On to the the nitty-gritty details...

AVAILABILITY:
  • Liverpool: Suso, Sturridge, Johnson, and Flanagan are ruled out. Lovren is doubtful. Balotelli will serve a one-match ban. Gerrard and Skrtel carry four cautions. 
  • Arsenal: Özil, Ospina, Diaby, Arteta, Wilshere, Rosický, Ramsey, Koscielny, and Gnabry are ruled out. Walcott, Monreal, and Oxlade-Chamberlain face late fitness tests. Ox also carries four cautions. Calum Chambers returns from his one-match ban.
STATS:
  • Arsenal have scored 11 goals in their last three outings.
  • Aside from the 1-3 win over Bournemouth, Liverpool had scored just one goal in its previous three outings.
  • Arsenal have scored at least one goal in every match since a 2-0 loss at Stamford Bridge—a run of thirteen matches.
PREDICTION:
  • There's a lot in this for both clubs, but I don't see enough from the Kop end to intimidate us. It may not be emphatic enough to offset the 5-1 scoreline we suffered in our last trip, but I do see us coming away with all three points. Liverpool 1-3 Arsenal.
What are your thoughts? Can Arsenal knock Liverpool even further back, or will Sunday see the Scousers climb to within two points?