By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome fifth place Arsenal for the final match of what has been a year to remember.
Liverpool are currently six points clear at the summit of the Premier League and seven ahead of Man City.
Such a large gap means Liverpool can afford the opportunity to slip up, but with two massive games on the horizon I would prefer if we slipped up later rather than sooner.
Arsenals good fortunes have ended as of late, for a large part of the season they have been playing poorly but due to fortuitous circumstances found themselves on the winning side many a time when the opposition were felt hard done by.
Having only one twice in the last five, the prospect of finishing in the top four is slowly slipping away.
Liverpool have been in excellent form in December, winning all seven league games scoring 17 and conceding twice. These victories especially the past three have been vitally important in the title race given City have lost three of their last four games.
A recent mauling of Newcastle United has meant Liverpool continued their excellent form, both in an attacking sense as well as defensively. Keeping a clean sheet last time out brought it to 12 shut-outs for the season.
Mo Salah continued his goal scoring form, while goals from Dejan Lovren and Fabinho has now meant 13 different scorers have found the net for Liverpool this term, quite a impressive feat to have at this stage of the season.
Arsenal only drew with Brighton on Boxing day, after starting so brightly and taking an early lead they were pegged back after a defensive mix-up. They failed to register a shot on goal for almost an hour in that game and Brighton could easily have won it at the death.
Arsenal’s defence was shaky and prone to a mistake at the start of the season, the form of Rob Holding alongside Sokratis somewhat paved over the cracks. Recently however with both players missing due to injury and suspension their defensive frailties have returned and give up many clear-cut chances in 90 minutes.
Unai Emery has something of a defensive injury crisis on his hands – Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are out, while Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal are all doubts.
Sead Kolasinac and Stephan Lichsteiner are expected to start in the full back positions. With only one recognized centre back available, Granit Xhaka could deputise next to Sokratis.
Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira will start in a midfield two due to Xhaka moving back into defence. This midfield is not efficient without Xhaka, as both players don’t possess the passing range like the Swiss international. Cutting off the passing lines between midfield and attack will go a long way in stifling Arsenal’s dangerous attack.
The Premier League top scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubamayang will form an attacking midfield trio alongside Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi. Alexandre Lacazette will complete the line-up and start up front.
The midfield two, as well as the back four, can be easily got at. Arsenal’s last league clean sheet came against Huddersfield and have since conceded against Southampton, Brighton and Burnley.
With Mustafi, Sokratis and Xhaka often known for their defensive mistakes, if Liverpool’s attack continues to show their improved form then Liverpool could be out of sight by half-time.
Liverpool should revert to a 4-3-3 formation after using 4-2-3-1 in their last eight games, the reason being is Klopp would want to have an extra man in midfield to control the game better.
Having a third midfielder will also allow us to have an extra player to stifle Arsenal’s attack as well as utilise Bobby Firmino’s pressing game and his form against Arsenal to full effect. The Brazilian has been involved in eight goals against Arsenal in six games (5G 3A)
The back four should remain unchanged having kept two clean sheets in five days. Fabinho is more comfortable in a midfield two, so expect one midfielder to be utilised slightly ahead of a defensive duo.
Wijnaldum will probably get the nod ahead of Henderson in the more forward role though I wouldn’t be surprised to see all three take turns getting into forward positions.
Newcastle was probably the best we seen from the front three as a collective unit, making good runs and using the ball efficiently and effectively. All three will look to run havoc among Arsenal’s make shift back line.
Danger man: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The Gabonese striker has been in fine form for Arsenal this season. Carrying over his form from the second half of last season has seen him become the Leagues top scorer with 13, making it 23 in total since he arrived in England.
He has found himself on the wing earlier in the season, but a new-found formation has paired himself up front with Alexandre Lacazette.
Due to an injury crisis at Arsenal, Emery will probably revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation after using a 4-4-2 diamond in recent weeks. meaning the number 14 will start on the wing as he as in the reverse fixture where he was largely ineffective, though for a player of his class it’s unlikely for him to have another poor performance.
Using his blistering pace, often on par with Olympians, paired with his world class finishing, the striker along with his partner will certainly be a test for Liverpool’s defence at Anfield.
Torreira vs Fabinho – When the two sides met at the Emirates back in November, Arsenal won the midfield battle. One of the main reasons for this is summer Lucas Torreira getting the better of Fabinho.
The Uruguayan bettered our Brazilians in all aspects whilst on the pitch. Being better in possession and being more successful defensive wise. Since then however, Fabinho has been fully integrated into the Liverpool side and has looked the part.
Deployed in a midfield duo alongside either Henderson or Wijnaldum, the Brazilian looks comfortable alongside both players and have even upped their respective games.
Being more comfortable on the ball under pressure, being dominant defensively both on the ground and aerially has seen the Brazilian shoot up the charts to be the best midfielder at the club and one of the best in England.
Last five results
Premier League 14/08/2016 Arsenal 3-4 Liverpool
Premier League 04/03/2017 Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Premier League 27/08/2017 Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal
Premier League 22/12/2017 Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool
Premier League 03/11/2018 Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
Games at Anfield for Arsenal hasn’t gone too well in recent season, they have failed to claim a victory in the past five games and have conceded at least three goals four times in those five games.
Saturday shouldn’t be too different I would imagine, we were largely comfortable against their attack at the Emirates. Add an in-form Fabinho to the mix and we should be keeping a clean sheet.
Our midfield has upped their form and has been in fine form as of late, having plenty of options and using them wisely throughout the festive period has meant the intensity as stayed the same for all seven games.
Our midfield should over power theirs with relative ease. With Unai Emery lack of defensive options, getting into scoring positions should be a problem, we got into plenty at the Emirates, but poor finishing let us down, lets hope we put on our goal-scoring boots for this game.
Final Score: Liverpool 3 (Salah x2, Firmino) – 0 Arsenal