Premier League Preview: How Liverpool Will Line Up Against Arsenal
Arsenal have been a bit of a bogey team for Liverpool in recent seasons: The Reds last league win against the Gunners came in August 2012, and they’d have to go way back to March 2007 for the victory before that.
With Arsene Wenger’s men in good form and Brendan Rodgers’ squad still embattled by injuries, this will be a tough fixture for Liverpool, which were quite comprehensively outplayed by a masterful midfield performance in the reverse fixture at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season.
How will Saturday’s hosts line up against the league leaders then? Here is our starting Liverpool XI for the clash at Anfield in a 5-3-2 formation designed to contain Arsenal. Let us know your picks in the comments below.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet
As he has done for all 24 league games this season, Simon Mignolet will start in goal. No debates—or real alternatives—there.
Right Centre-Back: Martin Kelly
Given the lack of form Martin Kelly has shown since his return from injury, his selection here is very much a “best of the worst” scenario.
By packing the defence with a five-man back line, Liverpool would be able to defend slightly deeper against Arsenal’s pacy and dynamic forward and midfield units to absorb pressure and minimize any chance of a quick break from the visitors.
Kelly will need help from his central defensive partners if he is to keep a confident and in-form Gunners attack at bay.
Central Defender: Martin Skrtel
What can we really make of Martin Skrtel?
Seemingly not in Rodgers’ plans initially, Skrtel played his way back into first-team contention at the start of the season only for a dip in form over the Christmas period.
Alongside Kolo Toure and anchoring a young and enterprising (not to mention injured) team in recent weeks, though, Skrtel’s shown signs of improvement yet again.
He starts in the center of the five-man defence, because he’s played there on occasion this season and also simply because there are no real alternatives.
Left Centre-Back: Kolo Toure
It didn’t need a horror back pass against West Bromwich Albion to confirm that Kolo Toure had been having quite a few bad weeks on the left side of the Liverpool defence, but his terrible blunder did the job quite nicely.
Considering Toure’s experience and mental strength, we’re confident that he’ll put the incident behind him and work hard to impress against his old club.
He’ll have to; with Mamadou Sakho still a couple of weeks away from full fitness, Rodgers doesn’t have too many other options to choose from in his position.
Right Wing-Back: Raheem Sterling
Jon Flanagan’s return from injury came at the right time, just as Glen Johnson would have to sit out for a while himself.
But while Flanagan has carried on his good pre-injury form on the right, he’ll move over to the left for this match to replace the error-prone Aly Cissokho.
In his place, Raheem Sterling will move slightly deeper compared to his usual right-wing position to take up a right wing-back role, a position that he’s played in at times this season to good effect.
Sterling’s strength on the ball and tenacious defensive work make him an ideal makeshift wing-back: His pace, direct running and dribbling (not to mention his very encouraging spell of good form) turn him into an effective counterattacking outlet.
Left Wing-Back: Jon Flanagan
A fully fit Glen Johnson or Jose Enrique would be the ideal left wing-back options for Liverpool in a game of this magnitude, so it’s probably for the best that Jon Flanagan has kept up his good form.
He might not offer too much going forward, but at least he sticks to his defensive position, concentrates on his opponents and puts in a hardworking shift, all of which Cissokho unfortunately hasn’t shown he is capable of.
Flanagan rescued his Liverpool career with an impressive performance in the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park earlier this season. From the Reds perspective, it’d be nice if he turned in another big display against the likes of Santi Cazorla on Saturday.
Holding Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
Just as Steven Gerrard was being criticized for his performances as Liverpool’s newest holding midfielder, he stormed back with a midfield masterclass and was instrumental in a 4-0 derby drubbing over Everton last week.
Rodgers will likely keep faith in his captain to reprise the holding midfield role, especially since Lucas is still out injured.
It could prove to be a defining match for Gerrard: Either he is overrun by a young, energetic, physical and quick Arsenal midfield, or he rises to the occasion and rolls back the years with a commanding display.
Don’t be surprised if he proves his critics wrong once again.
Central Midfielder: Joe Allen
The last few weeks have been a gradual return to first-team action for Joe Allen, and Rodgers probably had the Arsenal clash in mind as a target return date all along.
Against a team who are arguably the Premier League’s best at distributing the ball and off-the-ball movement, Allen’s composure and passing technique will be needed to stabilize the Liverpool midfield.
Even if he’s not fully fit to put in a whole 90-minute shift just yet, Rodgers will be looking to get at least a good hour out of him before moving Jordan Henderson back to the central midfield if need be.
Attacking Midfielder Jordan Henderson
After a mini resurgence in form over the past few weeks, Philippe Coutinho will count himself unlucky to miss out on a starting place against Arsenal.
But it’s a tactical decision designed to maximize Liverpool’s output against a dynamic midfield, and where Jordan Henderson lacks in silky dribbling and game-changing creativity, he will have to make up for with a disciplined and workman-like performance pressing and harrying his opponents from the tip of the midfield.
Henderson’s recent form has dipped in a more withdrawn role next to his captain, so a return to the most advanced position in the middle of the park may be the key to bring back the impressive levels he set a few weeks ago.
Striker: Luis Suarez
Since Daniel Sturridge’s return to the first team, Luis Suarez has turned from an out-and-out goalscorer to more of a creator, but his influence in the team hasn’t diminished one bit.
Capable of both playing as the most advanced forward leading the line or dropping back to take up more of the creative burden in a No. 10 role, Suarez will likely play slightly deeper than his strike partner and work with Henderson as a double first line of defence.
The good thing about Suarez, though, is that he’s capable of working some magic wherever he plays. Don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what happens.
Striker: Daniel Sturridge
To contain a rampant Arsenal midfield, we could have opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation to pack the middle third and have just the solitary striker leading the line up front.
But when the attack in question features the Premier League's top scorer Suarez and the on-fire Daniel Sturridge, surely some compromises have to be made.
Sturridge has been part of an interchanging forward line with Suarez and Sterling of late, enjoying a hot scoring streak, and against Arsenal, he will be dovetailing with Suarez up front for the Reds.
How his managers and fans would love for him to continue his goalscoring form on Saturday.
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