After a three-week Premier League hiatus for the Gunners, a tough test at Anfield awaits on Saturday evening.
Having been defeated 4-3 during the opening fixture of the season in August, there is a real opportunity to exact revenge. Despite Liverpool’s surprise 3-1 loss at the hands of Leicester City on Monday, that will be easier said than done.
During his pre-match presser, Arsène Wenger had plenty to say including some injury updates and defiant answers about being linked with jobs elsewhere.
Barcelona boss Luis Enrique announced on Wednesday evening that he’d be resigning at the end of the current season. Wenger had been tipped as one of the frontrunners to replace him, but shut the rumour down in emphatic fashion when questioned.
Wenger said, “My preference has always been the same and will remain the same. Of course I am not looking for jobs in other clubs or jobs off other people, I am focused on me, getting to the next level and trying to improve.”
He continued saying, “I have been here for 20 years and I had many times the opportunity to leave so I don’t think I have to convince you that my preference has always been Arsenal.”
As for injury updates, both Aaron Ramsey (calf) and Laurent Koscielny (back) have returning to full training. Ozil was ill but ‘should be’ fine for Liverpool.
Mohamed Elneny (ankle) sustained an ankle injury during the win over Sutton United and isn’t expected to return until the start of April.
In terms of attacking options, Arsenal are near full strength. Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are expected to feature in some capacity within the matchday squad. Whether that is from the start or off the substitutes’ bench remains to be seen.
It’s likely we will see limited or no changes to the side that beat Hull three weeks ago.
Mesut Özil, as mentioned, was ill, but should be fit to start against the Reds.
Lucas Perez or Welbeck could start ahead of Iwobi, who has been on the periphery of late. Kieran Gibbs should, but might not retain his place at left-back with Nacho Monreal struggling for consistency this season.
Granit Xhaka is expected to start ahead of Francis Coquelin alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield. There may be doubts about Koscielny’s fitness ahead of kick-off, with both Gabriel and Rob Holding available replacements.
Possible XI (4-2-3-1): Cech; Bellerín, Koscielny, Mustafi, Gibbs; Xhaka, Ox; Welbeck, Walcott, Özil; Alexis.
All things considered, Jurgen Klopp’s side will be fired up to recover from their recent poor displays. They’ve got plenty of talented individuals, all who can cause Arsenal’s backline a number of problems when going forward.
Sadio Mané is Liverpool’s chief creator, having scored eleven goals and created four assists in the league this term. He’s not the hosts’ only threat – Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have all proved their importance to the cause in the final third.
With that being said, it would be naive not to expect a few changes from Klopp. Firmino’s recent struggles as a false nine could see him shifted back and provide Divock Origi an opportunity up-top.
Possible XI (4-3-3): Mignolet; Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Milner; Can, Lallana, Firmino; Coutinho, Mané, Origi.
Time will tell
Liverpool v Arsenal will be an unpredictable watch and one which could prove pivotal come the end of the season. Every point is vital and already, both sides have dropped too many in the title race [cont below]
The only real positive from Arsenal’s perspective is that they have a game in hand. Provided they come away with the win, they can keep the gap between themselves and Chelsea at ten points. Anything less than victory though will suggest a battle to remain in the top four is on the cards.