LIVERPOOL vs ARSENAL
| Saturday, December 29th |
Premier League | Anfield
5:30 PM GMT / 12:30 PM EST
Before Liverpool take on Manchester City to start the new year, the Reds will face up with Arsenal at Anfield on Saturday. It’s a marquee fixture between two attacking clubs at the business end of the Premier League table, but one that Liverpool will be heavily favored to win.
Jürgen Klopp has a few key players sitting out of training right now, but Unai Emery is in the midst of an honest to goodness injury crisis at Arsenal. Hector Bellerin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Kostas Mavropanos, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck are all unavailable to play. Nacho Monreal could pass a late fitness test but is also expected to miss out.
Make no mistake, Arsenal still possess plenty of attacking talent to cause Liverpool problems if given chances. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for instance, is pretty good. And it was Alexandre Lacazette who spoiled Liverpool’s glory at the Emirates in November after cancelling out James Milner’s second half goal.
Emery has righted the listing ship that Arsene Wenger left him, but the Spaniard’s project in London is still in its infancy. Arsenal’s wins have been sporadic and they’ve recently dropped points to Southampton and Brighton & Hove Albion. The defense is messy, keeping just one clean sheet in Arsenal’s last five matches.
Liverpool’s attacking pressure should pop open the Gunners’ cobbled together back line with ease.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Van Dijk, Clyne; Keita, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Klopp is likely to send his team out onto the pitch with attacking power. Arsenal can be stunned early by Liverpool’s front three or four. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané are all in good form. As is Xherdan Shaqiri, who could be given another run out after a good performance against Newcastle this week.
But my guts tell me that Naby Keita could be slotting into the more advanced midfield role with Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum partnering in the center. Keita missed out against Newcastle and I have a feeling Klopp may choose to save Jordan Henderson for the Manchester City game.
James Milner is unavailable due to a hamstring situation but otherwise there are no new injury surprises for Liverpool.
With City right around the corner, it’s anybody’s guess how the manager will fill out his team sheet against Arsenal. Klopp will want his best XI to take the pitch at the Etihad and may spare a player or two tomorrow to keep them fresh for that match even if there is plenty of recovery time in between.
Liverpool are riding high in first place, six points clear of Tottenham. The Reds remain unbeaten in the league and their goal differential is now equal to that of Manchester City. It’s been determined effort after determined effort from this Liverpool team to climb the table and stake their claim at the top.
But complacency against this Arsenal side, however depleted and in-transition as they may be, would be a mistake. The title race is on and Liverpool can’t afford to drop points and give either Spurs or City a reason to hope.
What the Managers Had to Say
Jürgen Klopp: “The boys are not silly. To win against Arsenal is always difficult but it’s what we want to do. I would like to have the atmosphere like it was when the people found out about the Man City score.”
Unai Emery: “We know it is difficult for us but for me it is a very big test, I have a big motivation and I am looking forward to our response against them.”
Referee: Michael Oliver Assistants: Stuart Burt, Simon Bennett Fourth official: Jonathan Moss
Kickoff is set for 5:30 PM GMT/12:30 PM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV.
In the meantime, and as always, we’ll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it’s released, our live matchday thread, and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on the action as it happens.