Liverpool vs. Arsenal: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in Crucial EPL Clash

Nick AkermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Kolo Toure of Liverpool marshalls Olivier Giroud of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool can deal Arsenal a hefty title blow with victory during their Anfield clash on Feb. 8.

Brendan Rodgers' team were soundly beaten at the Emirates earlier this season, succumbing 2-0 to a Gunners squad that played with confidence in front of the North London crowd.

A second loss would all but end the Merseyside club's aspirations of lifting the Premier League trophy for another year, but victory in front of the Kop would pull Liverpool to within five points of Arsene Wenger's high flyers.

How can each team secure a vital three points in this weekend's standout fixture? Let's take a look.

 

Liverpool Must Dominate the Centre

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Charlie Adam of Stoke City battles with Steven Gerrard of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Pho
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

While Steven Gerrard has scored three goals in his last five appearances, per WhoScored.com, the Liverpool skipper's 33-year-old legs are shot. He isn't able to bounce from box-to-box any longer, and in the absence of Lucas Leiva, the Reds have often struggled to take control of midfield.

Jordan Henderson's role is reigned in when Gerrard plays. His creative, goal-scoring form has vanished since the captain returned, but he needs to be on top form when Arsenal arrive.

Wenger is likely to deploy a midfield that includes Mikel Arteta, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, per Jack De Menezes of The Independent. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could continue in the centre after scoring both goals during Arsenal's 2-0 win over Crystal Palace, but the manager could refrain from utilising the youngster in his new role.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Jordan Henderson of Liverpool is challenged by Joleon Lescott of Manchester City as he shoots from close range during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on December
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

No matter the personnel, Rodgers would be smart to use Gerrard and Joe Allen in deeper roles, with Henderson just in front. Liverpool's midfield was overrun when the manager included Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho against Aston Villa, so expect to see one of the flair players left out.

Arsenal thrive on control and maintaining possession in the middle. If Liverpool line up like they did against the Villains, they will get passed off the park.

 

Olivier Giroud Needs Instant Support for Arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace and Olivier Giroud of Arsenal battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Crystal Palace at Emirates Stadium on February 2, 2014 in London, England.  (Ph
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Despite his continued efforts up top, Olivier Giroud has received plenty of criticism this season for not consistently scoring goals.

Many forget the Frenchman has largely run Arsenal's forward line by himself—something that isn't going to change anytime soon after Wenger failed to land striking reinforcements during the January transfer window.

Giroud has netted 10 in 22 Premier League appearances this season, assisting six. He is on a decent run heading into the Anfield battle, per OptaJoe:

The problem for Giroud, then, is his isolation up top. His pass success rate of 68.2 percent is horrific, his 0.7 dribbles per game disappointing—but he fulfils a vital role for the league leaders, per WhoScored.com.

Without the 27-year-old's willingness to work hard, Arsenal wouldn't be anywhere near the Premier League summit. Giroud busts a gut to retain possession and should be commended for completing a thankless task that isn't often associated with Wenger's strikers.

The manager must ensure Arsenal spring forward quickly to support Giroud against Liverpool.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01:  Martin Skrtel of Liverpool looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on September 01, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It is likely Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure will patrol the home side's backline after Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho were ruled out, reported by Sky Sports. Both are powerful specimens who can suffocate rivals into giving the ball away, but Arsenal can limit this by meeting Giroud's hold-up play with numbers.

He won't have time to ponder and will certainly need to advance possession quickly before heading into the area.

While Giroud will need to be boundless to cover the breadth of the box, his teammates must be ready to bomb up and down the pitch in order to provide their spearhead with support, space and respite.