How Arsenal Will Line Up for Vital Premier League Clash Against Liverpool

Willie GannonSenior Writer IFebruary 6, 2014

Associated Press

Arsene Wenger and Arsenal travel to Anfield to take on Brendan Rodgers' high-flying Liverpool on Matchday 25. The top of the table clash will be one of the Premier League's defining games of the season and begins an 11-day run through hell for the Gunners.

However, Wenger and his charges must first negotiate the incredibly difficult trip to Liverpool, where the Reds have only lost once and drawn once from 12 matches this season.

Liverpool will be hoping to wreak revenge on the Gunners after they were easily beaten at the Emirates Stadium in November. That time around, the Reds were completely obliterated across midfield by Arsenal's incredible speed of thought and movement. Aaron Ramsey was in red-hot form and scored his 12th goal of the season in a game he dominated from start to finish.

Rodgers may have rubbished his team's Premier League title aspirations to Sky Sports recently, but that won't stop the Reds hoping to turn Arsenal over. Wenger, on the other hand, told Sky Sports that the title race will go down to the final game of the season.

No Ramsey this time around.
No Ramsey this time around.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

This time around, Wenger will be without his first-choice central midfielder and Liverpool will be lying in wait to ambush the Gunners' impressive season.

Looking at Arsenal's fixtures over the next 11 days, it is next to impossible to see the Emirates-based side come out unscathed.

The Gunners are heading into the toughest run of fixtures one could possibly imagine between February 8 and February 19. They take on Liverpool in a top-four decider on Feb. 8. They then entertain Manchester United on Feb. 12 before facing Liverpool, again, in the FA Cup on Feb. 16. If three games against some of their biggest rivals weren't enough, the Gunners then face Bayern Munich in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Feb. 19.

Wenger will have one eye on the upcoming fixtures. However, at this stage of the season, he would be insane to rest players and to rotate his squad. These games will be decided by discipline, character and momentum. There is no better way to build up some steam than to inflict a damaging defeat upon a close rival.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Anatoliy Tymoshchuk of Bayern Muenchen lifts the trophy in celebration alongside team mates Claudio Pizarro (L), Javi Martinez, Mario Mandzukic (2R) and Emre Can (R) after victory in the UEFA Champions League final match between
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

The Bayern Munich and Manchester United games may be looming, as too is the FA Cup return clash against the Reds, but nothing else matters in the football world except the next game. Wenger knows this all too well.

Wojciech Szczesny will start in goal. The Polish 23-year-old has been impeccable this term and has only really made one bad mistake, against Southampton, all season. The only long-term worry for Wenger is that Szczesny is completely unchallenged for the goalkeeping berth. The Frenchman will, therefore, have to keep his 'keeper's feet planted firmly on the ground.

The defense picks itself. The Gunners have the best away record in the Premier League, and that is down to the defensive combination of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. The duo have marshalled Arsenal to eight wins and two draws from 12 away matches. The 15 goals conceded in 12 games on the road may be a little too high for a top-class team, but there is no doubting their status as one of the best central pairings in the league.

They will have to be at their very best if they are to keep Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge quiet. Between the pairing they have scored 37 of Liverpool's 58 goals this term.

Mertesacker has developed into a real leader at the Emirates this term. He told his teammates to stay focused on the goals ahead, starting with the Liverpool game, as per Sky Sports.

It is that part of the season when you might feel tired or exhausted, but we have to keep our chins up and now the really important games are coming.

We have interesting games in the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League.

We have played well this season so far, and we have to keep that level [up].

Bacary Sagna will start at right-back and Kieran Gibbs should come in from the cold for his first start of the new year. Gibbs' last outing was in the 1-0 win over Newcastle United on December 29.

Up front, Olivier Giroud is almost as unchallenged for his starting spot as Szczesny. The Frenchman has been in sparkling form this year and has bagged 10 goals and six assists in 22 games. He is guaranteed to start and will be one of the first names on Wenger's team-sheet.

That leaves midfield as the only area of real worry for the legendary manager. 

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 13:  Per Mertesacker of Arsenal celebrates victory during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal at Villa Park on January 13, 2014 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool like to deploy three men in central midfield. The energetic Jordan Henderson, the creative Philippe Coutinho and the irreplaceable Steven Gerrard will man the Red's engine room.

Wenger has stuck with a 4-2-3-1 almost exclusively this season and that won't change against Brendan Rodgers. Back in November, much was made of Liverpool's all-conquering midfield and how they would be too much for Arsenal's slight trio. The truth could not have been much different as the Gunners imposed their game upon the Reds and never let them breathe.

Gerrard and Henderson: Tough to Keep Quiet
Gerrard and Henderson: Tough to Keep QuietMatthew Lewis/Getty Images

That won't happen this time around for a couple of reasons. The first being that Liverpool are likely to be fired up in front of their home crowd and cowed less easily than in November. Anfield is likely to be a cauldron of hate for the Gunners as only 5,168 of 9,000 FA Cup tickets have been allocated to Liverpool's fans because of health and safety fears, according to the Liverpool Echo.

The second and most important reason is that Arsenal have severe injury problems in the central area.

Add in Mathieu Flamini's three-game suspension for a red card received against Southampton and you can see why Wenger is sweating. reports that Arsenal have no less than eight players out injured at this very moment in time. Almost all of them are midfielders.

New signing Kim Kallstrom and Aaron Ramsey are both out until the end of February at the least and Abou Diaby is not expected to kick a ball before next season. That leaves Wenger pinning his hopes upon the return of either Jack Wilshere or Mikel Arteta to partner each other or, one would expect, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield.

Oxlade-Chamberlain scored twice against Crystal Palace last time out in an impressive display. He was, however, untested by Palace's defend-at-all-costs midfield philosophy and Liverpool will offer another question entirely.

If Arteta and Wilshere pass their fitness tests, as hoped, they will anchor Arsenal's midfield. It would be churlish, however, to expect a rampant display given their injury problems of late.

That leaves the attacking midfield berths. Given that Arsenal will be short of real match fitness in the middle, the hard-working Tomas Rosicky should start on the right. The Czech international is a selfless player and will run himself into the ground for the cause. He is also one of the more disciplined members of Wenger's midfield and will not shirk his defensive duties.

The same cannot be said of Mesut Ozil. The German's game has waned considerably since the start of December. When his reputation, skill set and price tag are taken into account, his recent return has not been up to the standards he set when he first joined the club.

He will start in the central berth, but will have to watch Gerrard closely and vice versa.

Santi Cazorla has been excellent of late. The little Spaniard will take up his favored left-sided spot. Last week he was deployed on the right by Wenger and he was competent. Arsenal's fans should expect more of the World Cup-bound star when he returns to the left.


Arsenal team to start at Anfield against Liverpool:

Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Wilshere, Arteta; Rosicky, Ozil, Cazorla, Giroud.


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