Match Preview: Arsenal v. Liverpool, 01.30.13

Laurence Griffiths

Liverpool face Arsenal at the Emirates, looking to rebound from their abysmal showing on the weekend and draw level on points with the London club.

I'm not sure if you've heard, but Liverpool didn't do so well this weekend and haven't beaten a team in the top half all season. Revelatory stuff, I know, which is probably why you've continued to visit us. Or, if this is your first time, you're probably awe-struck at the depth of insight and breadth of knowledge it takes to reveal such information. And the efficiency with which I seamlessly dispatched two words ending in -th in such quick succession.

But seriously, these are things we know and things we can't escape--Brendan Rodgers' disappointment with his underperforming squad against Oldham has been all anyone's talked about, and the club's failures against teams in the top half are destined to chase them until, you know, they're not failures anymore. So that's a nice couple pieces of narrative to have ahead of the visit to Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger's side have, in some ways, experienced similar pains as Liverpool over the past few seasons. They haven't quite plumbed the depths of the table that Liverpool have, but mixed results in the transfer market and shaky form in league have many asking questions about the best way forward. Their last two times out have been successes, at least with a hard-fought win at Brighton over the weekend in the FA Cup, and a breakaway 5-1 win over West Ham that was settled in a four-goal, ten-minute period just after the second half started.

Theo Walcott's contract renewal and Mikel Arteta's absence have been the biggest pieces of squad news out of the Emirates; the former finally settled his future and committed to the club, while the latter is ruled out with a calf strain. Thomas Vermaelen looked to have been a doubt as well, but his ankle knock doesn't appear serious, and he should be available to captain the squad.

As with many of the other sides nearer the top of the table, you're likely familiar enough with who'll be involved, and from a Liverpool perspective, there's notable personnel throughout the squad--Abou Diaby could start and has caused problems for Liverpool in the past, and Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are likely to feature, both of whom have the potential to give the visitors fits. Most have already picked Per Mertesacker out for Vermaelen's partner in central defense, and if that's the case, it'll be interesting (and hopefully enjoyable) to see what Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge can do. Although, we were excited about that earlier this season, too, and Arsenal's speed on the break proved to be the difference rather than their purported shortcomings at the back.

For Liverpool:

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Henderson
Downing Sturridge Suarez

Yesterday's good news on the injury front means that Martin Kelly is the only first-team player out injured--Jose Enrique is maybe the biggest doubt of the three that Brendan Rodgers discussed, but Pepe Reina should be back in goal and Glen Johnson ready to resume his his work as one of the best fullbacks going.

As for their impact on the defense, I'd assume at least two--Reina and Johnson--are nailed-on starters, with Enrique more of a question. If he's not yet ready, then we'll get Johnson left and Andre Wisdom right, which has produced mostly decent results even with Wisdom in the relative infancy of his career at fullback. Longshot that Jordan Henderson plays at right-back with Johnson left, but I don't see Rodgers taking that gamble tomorrow. Martin Skrtel's rapid descent out of the eleven likely continues, with Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger the probable pairing in central defense.

Lucas, Steven Gerrard, and Jordan Henderson absolutely need to start in the midfield tomorrow, and there's not really any argument to the contrary (unless Henderson does a job at right-back, in which case...bleh). Henderson started leftish against Norwich and still did everything we've enjoyed over the past few months, and Lucas and Gerrard were able to control the match from deeper. No chance they get the time and space that Norwich afforded at Anfield, but this is still the best three going right now, and that's what Rodgers has to go with.

We know that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will start, whether it's with Suarez left or just behind, leaving the uncertainty as to who joins them. Rodgers' preference for Stewart Downing seems to be enough for him to get the start, which would leave Raheem Sterling and Fabio Borini on the bench as substitutes. I think that's fine given Sterling's form, but there's potential for Borini to have an impact across the front with his smart movement and well-timed runs.

Kickoff tomorrow is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST, with Sky Sports 2 airing the match live in the UK and Fox Soccer Channel carrying coverage in the US. The open thread and matchday post will run as normal, but given that the transfer window's rapidly coming to a close, we might end up messing around a bit with the formatting to get parallel coverage of anything that breaks. Closer to the start time it's unlikely anything else will get in the way, though, and we'll have team sheets published an hour or so before kickoff.

Hope to see you around.

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