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Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Key Gunners Players to Watch in Premier League Clash

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Jack Wilshere of Arsenal on the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium on December 29, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images
Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2013

In a typical campaign, Liverpool versus Arsenal would have massive Champions League ramifications. But 2012-13 has been far from a typical year for these two English powerhouses, and sadly, this game does not.

Regardless, there's often something special in the air when the Reds and Gunners get together—especially in the Emirates, one of the Premier League's most ravishing pitches.

They rank just sixth and seventh on the table, but both sides are still within striking distance of Champions League qualification if they get hot. And nothing would be a nicer springboard than defeating a rival who just so happens to border you in the standings.

Here are three players the Gunners will need big games from if they want to be said victor.

 

Olivier Giroud

Arsenal will look to ride the hot boot Wednesday afternoon. Their prized striker is coming off a four-goal week and has scored four times in his last three Premier League matches at home. He netted two against Brighton and two against West Ham in the club's most recent pair of games.

With a unique blend of size and skill, Giroud is a handful for almost any defender. Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel have proved they're bona fide defenders over the years, but even tested beaters like them can't envy Wednesday's task.

Arsene Wenger is a very smart manager. He knows to stick with what has worked until someone proves capable of stopping it.

Against Liverpool, he'll be sure to order a healthy dose of the Frenchman.

 

Per Mertesacker

Speaking of players with prodigious size, the 6'6'' Mertesacker has become something of an icon—especially among more casual, strictly-FIFA-playing fans—for his tough, lumbering presence.

But on Wednesday he'll be matched up with Uruguayan firecracker Luis Suarez—a lightning-quick striker who goes from zero to 60 faster than a Porsche. (Okay, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration... but still.)

Mertesacker will need to stay close to his opponent in this one, as one step of separation could provide Suarez with all the acceleration room he needs to break loose.

Suarez is the first Liverpool player to ever reach 20 goals before February since Michael Owen 11 years ago, so Mertesacker certainly wouldn't be his first victim.

 

Jack Wilshere

If you wanted to flatter Jack Wilshere, as some in the know have already done, you'd call him the in-game doppelganger of Steven Gerrard. With just a soupcon of finishing ability added to his high energy level and creative playmaking, Wilshere's game is eerily redolent of the Liverpool star.

On Wednesday, the two will go head-to-head in what could be the game's keystone matchup.

Both sides love to control the ball and believe that the key to winning is possession, possession, possession. In like manner, the squad that is able to best control the midfield is likely to be the most comfortable and, in turn, the likely victor.

Wilshere might be out of his league experience-wise, but he's shown flashes of Gerrard in his game. If he can best the Liverpool ace, his side could well follow suit.

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