After last Tuesday's Merseyside Derby that was set to define the season, we're faced with another Liverpool match that's set to define the season. This one comes just before the one next month, and two the following month, and then probably one to round off the season's final month just for good measure. And then there's the in-between matches, like West Brom last weekend, that do just as much to define the season as any other. I think what I'm saying is that tomorrow might mean something.
With a decent amount of spacing between the things that mean other things we should at least be able to witness a Liverpool squad nearing full strength, which will finally present Brendan Rodgers with some sort of selection headache. Tomorrow, however, there won't be too much of that going on, and we'll have to hope that, similar to the derby, there's enough big-game about this existing squad to earn a result.
If the reverse fixture is any indication tomorrow could be grim viewing, as Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side passed and pressed their way past a helpless Liverpool (and their midfield, Lucas included and everything) back in early November as part of their tremendous early season form. They've stumbled at times since then, but not badly enough to keep them off the top of the Premier League for long, and they come to Anfield tomorrow on the heels of a hard-earned 2-0 win over Crystal Palace that, combined with Chelsea's win at Manchester City on Monday, means they're two points clear in first on the front end of a critical February stretch.
Wenger won't be able to include a number of important names, though, with Mathieu Flamini suspended and Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, and new loanee Kim Källström all ruled out through injury. Jack Wilshere and Mike Arteta have both had recent fitness concerns as well, but neither should miss out. Against Crystal Palace, they lined up with Wojciech Szczesny in goal, Bacary Sagna, Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal across the back, Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Mesut Ozil through the midfield and Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud at the front end in attack.
Flanagan Skrtel Toure Cissokho
Sterling Suarez Sturridge
Getting closer but not quite there yet for a trio of Liverpool's injured; Brendan Rodgers reported that each of Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, and Glen Johnson should be making their way back into the squad over the next few weeks, leaving Lucas and Jose Enrique as the only longer-term absentees.
That once again leaves Rodgers with largely the same setup he's used in recent weeks, especially in defense. Simon Mignolet was excellent against West Brom behind a back line that was a little up and down; Jon Flanagan came back to Earth a bit but should still get the start, Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure were serviceable despite the latter's error, and Aly Cissokho was bright during the first half before struggling in the second. There doesn't need to be anything spectacular in defense tomorrow, just a stable, solid display from the collective.
The same could be said for the midfield and Steven Gerrard in particular, who's set for his toughest test yet in a deeper-lying role. His performance against Everton will hopefully be repeated, in which he was far more reserved and positionally responsible than he has been in his other, less successful cameos in a holding(ish) role. I'd like to see Jordan Henderson aided by the presence of Joe Allen with Philippe Coutinho starting on the bench, as that would further solidify the midfield early in the match and mean fresh legs over the final half-hour for the Brazilian. But we're probably looking at the same thing again because stuff.
Whatever happens behind them, the front three will surely be Raheem Sterling, Luis Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge, and hopefully they're able to combine a bit more effectively tomorrow than they did last weekend. It was a strangely stilted performance in attack against West Brom, especially between Suarez and Sturridge, and they'll need to be at their best tomorrow if Liverpool's going to have a chance.
Kickoff is set for 12:45PM GMT/7:45AM EST, with BT Sport airing the match live in the UK and USA Network/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US. Our coverage will start with the overnight open thread tonight and carry into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have team sheets an hour before kickoff. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.