The break in contract negotiation and unsanctioned interview season is well-timed, with most involved clearly fatigued and in need of a chance to clear their heads and get back to the football. Thankfully that break means yet another make-or-break matchup for Liverpool, who will face Arsenal in a match that could settle the top four hopes of Brendan Rodgers' side once and for all. Or not really that, depending on the outcome, which could also see Liverpool revive those hopes or leave them in purgatory.
At this point Arsenal are playing for the exact same thing as their visitors tomorrow: FA Cup glory and top four qualification. They have to be seen as frontrunners in both, with only Reading and one of Liverpool, Blackburn, or Aston Villa standing in the way of the former and a comfortable six-point lead on Liverpool--and just one point back of second-place Manchester City--for the latter. The much-heralded second-half collapse hasn't yet struck for Arsene Wenger's side, even with the typical Champions League capitulation, and with Liverpool losing at home to Manchester United two weeks ago, Wenger and company are now the form side in the top flight.
They'll have form and fitness on Saturday afternoon, with only Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain expected to miss out through injury. Away to Newcastle in a match that saw them hold on desperately in the second half for a 2-1 win, Wenger went with David Ospina in goal, Laurent Koscielny alongside the impressive Gabriel in central defense, Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal at right- and left-back, respectively, Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin in central midfield, and each of Santi Cazorla, Danny Welbeck, and Alexis Sanchez providing support for Olivier Giroud up top.
Can Toure Sakho
Markovic Henderson Allen Moreno
In terms of injuries things are looking much better for Rodgers, who will include Daniel Sturridge, and Adam Lallana in the squad after speculation as to whether or not they would be available. Dejan Lovren should be available after suffering an abdominal strain, while Jordon Ibe is close to a return as well. Jon Flanagan remains out, though he should be ready by season's end after logging half an hour in the exhibition last weekend. Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel each serve the first of their respective three-match bans.
Some significant questions asked of the manager here, with no clear answers readily available. Does he bring Sturridge straight in? Does Raheem Sterling start after his injuries, both physical and moral, and if so, where? Will it be Lucas or Joe Allen? Both? Most importantly, does this paragraph now act as the open thread, especially if it includes a bonus question about one's favorite nearly-missed transfer target in the past five seasons?
It's at least fairly straightforward at the back assuming Rodgers stays with three central defenders; with Skrtel suspended and Lovren apparently only back from injury, Kolo Toure comes into the middle with Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho on either side. Further forward it gets murkier, with Lucas' form earlier in the season demanding consideration but, similar to Sturridge, worries about ongoing injury issues tempering the rush to bring him back into the starting eleven. Jordan Henderson seems a lock, so that leaves Joe Allen to join Henderson if it's not Lucas.
If Sturridge doesn't start, it will either be Sterling or Mario Balotelli, and with Lallana likely to make the squad but not fully fit, it would appear to be time to give Balotelli another chance. Starts have been few and far between for the Italian despite improved form in the new year, and he could benefit from the work of Sterling and Philippe Coutinho coming in from behind. If it's Sterling, Lallana and Coutinho are the favorites, with an outside chance that Lazar Markovic joins Coutinho and Javier Manquillo comes in at right wingback.
There is also a chance that Rodgers decides to reshuffle the deck completely, with some suggesting that a change in formation is now due. Revisiting the diamond is plausible, with something along the lines of Mignolet; Manquillo, Toure, Sakho, Moreno; Lucas; Henderson, Allen; Coutinho; Sturridge/Sterling, Balotelli potentially workable.
Kickoff is set for 12:45PM BST/7:45M EST on Saturday, with BT Sport providing coverage in the UK and NBCSN airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.