Arsenal vs. Liverpool: Top Names and Key Battles That Will Decide the Match
What a difference eight matches can make in the world of football.
It was just over two months ago that both Arsenal and Liverpool were embroiled in turmoil of sorts, albeit for different reasons.
Arsenal had just suffered a drubbing at the hands of Aston Villa on their own pitch. They hadn’t made a signing of note over the summer, and fans were calling for the owners to distribute the cash for Arsene Wenger to splash.
Liverpool, on the other hand, scraped past Stoke thanks to a late penalty save from Simon Mignolet. But it was issues off the pitch that were creating headlines.
Who will win this match?
Brendan Rodgers and his star man Luis Suarez were slinging verbals at each other via the press, and it looked for a while like the Uruguayan wouldn’t wear the red of Liverpool again.
And now look.
Arsenal sit top with 23 points from a possible 25, after breaking the club’s transfer record to secure the singing of Mesut Ozil.
Liverpool occupy third spot—trailing Chelsea on goal difference—and Luis Suarez has arguably been the Premier League’s best player since his return from suspension.
Time may heal wounds, but winning heals them faster, and with both teams flying high this weekend’s matchup has the potential to be a classic.
Here’s a look at the names and battles that will be key to the outcome.
Olivier Giroud vs. the Liverpool Centre-Backs
If we learned one thing from Arsenal’s midweek defeat to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup, it was the value of Giroud to the side.
The Frenchman has come on leaps and bounds in the Arsenal shirt this year and fits perfectly into Wenger’s current system.
He is the pivot point in the attacking third for Arsenal, and unusually for a lone front man, his assist tally is as impressive as his goalscoring record.
Liverpool’s centre-backs—whether they’re Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger or Kolo Toure, or all four as has happened once this year—will need to limit Giroud’s time on the ball.
He has great feet, he is good in the air and he can hold it up well. When given time to control the ball, he links up excellently with Arsenal’s speedy midfielders who like to go beyond the front man whenever the opportunity presents itself.
A big question for Rodgers will be how his midfield can contain Arsenal’s attacking threat in that area.
The Gunners are one of the fastest teams in the world on the break, and although Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain sidelined, they are still a threat when counter-attacking.
Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva and Jordan Henderson will need to put in an industrial-like shift at the Emirates.
Each member of the Arsenal midfield likes to pull the strings from the centre, so Liverpool will need to stifle the threat coming through the middle.
If the Reds can force Arsenal out to the wings, then they will weaken them going forward.
SAS vs. the Arsenal Back Four
Arsenal’s defence has looked relatively solid this year, but they have conceded on average a goal per game in the league.
Part of this is due to lack of protection in front of them. While Mathieu Flamini has added some cover, it is the full-backs that are often left exposed, and that is the area that Rodgers will need to exploit on Saturday.
If previous games are to go by, then Wenger will deploy central midfielders—Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla—in the wide areas even though they all like to drift inside. This formation works well when Arsenal have the ball at their feet, but it will cause problems for Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna when Liverpool are in possession.
With Liverpool's midfield focussed on Arsenal's attacking threat, it will be up to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge—and possibly Philippe Coutinho if he starts—to provide the inspiration for the visitors. They are both as comfortable working down the wings as they are through the centre, and if they can work in tandem like they have done in recent weeks then they could give the Arsenal back four a torrid time.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny are good at being in the right place at the right time. Their positional awareness is excellent but they lack speed, and if Liverpool can get them out of their comfort zone and onto their heels then they will get some good looks at the Arsenal goal.
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