04 April 2015

Arsenal-Liverpool Preview: Are we really fully fit? Diaby, too?

Okay, okay, so Arsène hasn't quite ruled anyone out, but, in what might just be one of the signs of the Apocalypse, we’ll square off on Saturday against a Liverpool squad that will be missing more players than we will. I’m not sure that this is legal. Aside from where the two clubs stand on the table, all of the talk will have to be about how Rodgers will set up without Skrtel and Gerrard (both suspended), Ibe, Jones, and Flanagan; and without Sturridge, Sterling, or Lallana, who may or may not be suffering from interlullitis but could experience miraculous recoveries by Saturday.

ramsey goal liverpool By contrast, we look to field one of the strongest XIs of the season, so strong in fact that there may not be room for the healthy but unsettled Theo Walcott. Long-injured players like Wilshere, Arteta, Diaby, and Debuchy trained midweek and could be available, for we’re unlikely to see them make full-returns just yet.

Instead, it will be up to Arsène to put together a squad best-able to exploit the numerous holes in Liverpool’s defense.  Without Skrtel, Kolo Touré will likely have to slot over to CB, and Giroud will give him more than he can handle. Touré is not nearly as formidable in the air as Skrtel, both offering Giroud chances and saving Mertesacker’s cringes.  Rodgers’ selection-headaches suggest that he’ll have to play a 3-4-3, with Sakho and Can playing narrowly alongside Touré. Give yourself a moment to salivate over how Alexis, Welbeck, and Özil might make use of such space—just don’t drool on your keyboard.

More seriously, though, should Sturridge in fact be unavailable, the entire offense falls on the slender shoulders of Sterling and Coutinho. There has been swirling talk of Sterling feeling unsettled at Liverpool, to the point that he’s admitted that it’s “quite flattering” to be linked with Arsenal. Polite, that, but far from proof of anything. If anything, he might be more motivated to show what he’s capable of as he seeks a weekly wage-packet in the six-figure range, whether that be with Liverpool, Arsenal, or who knows who else? We’ll have to set aside such distractions, though, as this match provides us a rare opportunity to climb to second (Man City visit Crystal Palace on Monday…) and all but nail the coffin shut on Liverpool’s Prem aspirations. After Liverpool’s loss to Man U, we emerge as the hottest club in the Prem, having won our last six. However, rather than emphasize how hobbled Liverpool now are, we have to be ready for them to adopt a siege-mentality, an us-against-them attitude that could fuel their competitive fires and make this match much-more competitive than it at first appears.

LAST THREE:
● Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal (12.12.2014)
● Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (16.02.2014)
● Liverpool 5-1 Arsenal (08.02.2014)

FACTFILE:
● The two clubs first met in 1893, an 0-5 win to Liverpool.
● Arsenal have scored at least two goals in their last seven home matches.
● Liverpool have not lost in their last six  away-matches.

INJURIES:
● Are you sitting down? Are you? Everyone—everyone—is fit.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI:
● Ospina; Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin; Ramsey, Coquelin; Welbeck, Özil, Alexis; Giroud.

I expect a stubborn start from Liverpool but one that we eventually wear down if not overwhelm.

PREDICTION:
● Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool.

This post first appeared at Goonersphere.

What do you think? Can we make the most of our on-paper advantage? Your predictions below the fold...