Premier Preview: Arsenal V Liverpool
Sunday's shocking FA Cup defeat to League One side Oldham Athletic has unsurprisingly left Brendan Rodgers and his players under immense pressure.
The performance lacked passion for long-periods and clearly showed that a number of the club's youth and squad players still lack the ability and/or know-how required to be first-team regulars.
There is little time to dwell on matters however with a midweek league fixture away to Arsenal next on the agenda. As if the game was not already daunting enough, it is followed at the weekend by a visit to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, and failure to secure any points in the two matches will see criticism intensify.
Liverpool actually go into the match on the back of a 5-0 thrashing of Norwich City in their last league game but the loss at Boundary Park makes much of their recent progress redundant in the eyes of many supporters.
For their part Arsenal sit three points and one place better off than Wednesday night's visitors in 6th. Arsene Wenger's side have been in mixed form of late with a run of four straight league wins recently followed by a draw and two back-to-back defeats.
Arsenal and England attacker Theo Walcott speaking to Arsenal.com: "It's going to be an intense game. Both teams are fighting for that fourth position and are very close together.
"But I think the way we played at home the other day [against West Ham] shows that we are strong enough to beat them."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers speaking at his pre-match press conference on Monday: "It's a very important game. I wouldn't say it was a must-win game, but it's a game where, if we put yesterday aside, the team that has been playing of late in the league has got big confidence.
"We know it's a tough game for us, but it's a game we're certainly going to look to go and try and win - and a game we're capable of winning."
Arsenal Team News:
Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are all set for returns to the starting eleven after being left out of the Gunners' 3-2 FA Cup triumph over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday. Despite impressing through the middle of late, Walcott may find himself back on the flank to accommodate in-form French striker Olivier Giroud. The summer signing from Montpellier has scored six goals in his last eight games (in all competitions) for Arsenal, including four in his last two. Experienced pair Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) and Mikel Arteta (calf) are both expected to overcome problems in time to feature. Ghanaian midfielder Emmanuel Frimpong has joined London rivals Fulham on loan until the end of the season.
Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Wilshere, Diaby, Cazorla, Walcott, Podolski, Giroud.
Player to watch: Santi Cazorla
The diminutive Spaniard has had a massive impact on English football since arriving from Malaga over the summer. Cazorla scored his first Gunners goal in their 2-0 victory at Anfield in September and has gone on to notch eight in total so far. Technically gifted and highly creative, Cazorla has impressed in a manner similar to international teammates David Silva and Juan Mata did upon their arrivals in the Premier League. The Liverpool rearguard will need to be alert throughout to keep him subdued. A fact emphasised by the stat; Cazorla has made 15 through balls in the Premier League this season, no other player has made more than eight.
Liverpool Team News:
Rodgers is hopeful of welcoming back three key players from injury for this match; Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique. Spanish goalkeeper Reina should replace understudy Brad Jones between the sticks after missing the past two games through a combination of groin injury and a broken nose. Both Johnson and Enrique have been suffering with hamstring problems of late with the latter out for a month because of a tear. Many of the players who featured in the disastrous encounter with Oldham are unsurprisingly set to lose their places. Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson in particular may have to wait sometime for another first-team opportunity whilst Lucas Leiva will probably replace either Joe Allen or Jordan Henderson in midfield. Captain Steven Gerrard will be back in from the start after his late cameo almost forced a replay on Sunday. Spanish teenager Suso has been left out of the travelling party and could be set for a loan move away from Anfield before the transfer window shuts on Thursday night. Elsewhere, defender Martin Kelly remains out for at least another two months after last year's knee surgery.
Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Agger, Enrique, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Sturridge.
Player to watch: Steven Gerrard
Gerrard's mere presence gave his team a noticeable lift against Oldham and the thunderous late drive that thumped the Latics' crossbar was inches away from writing another chapter in his one-man football heroics manual. There had been signs over the past couple of years that the 32-year-old's powers were beginning to wane but in recent weeks the skipper has been back to his imperious best and boy do Liverpool need it! Alongside Luis Suarez he is arguably the club's only world-class talent at this moment in time and it is clear the Reds are yet to find a suitable long-term replacement for their talisman.
Match Facts & Stats
• Arsenal and Liverpool have met 213 times in their respective histories and the Reds hold the upper hand with 82 compared to 76 for the Gunners and 55 draws. Liverpool have scored a total of 295 goals compared to a tally of 270 for Arsenal.
• Arsenal's recent record in the fixture is excellent with the Londoners only losing one of their last 11 Premier League meetings with Liverpool, although six of the games did end in a draw (W4 D6 L1).
• At home the Gunners have been particularly strong with Liverpool winning just eight points in their last 12 away league matches against Arsenal (W1 D5 L6).
• Liverpool have averaged the highest possession in the Premier League so far this season (59.4%).
• Arsenal's impressive goal scoring record this season is illustrated by Theo Walcott (31.3%) having the best shot conversion rate in the league and Lukas Podolski the most Premier League assists (9).
Leicester based Kevin Friend is the referee appointed to take charge of this contest. The 41-year-old has officiated 22 games during 2012-2013 and shown 76 yellow and 2 red cards. Both Liverpool and Arsenal have experienced wins with Friend in the middle this season. The Reds defeated Wigan 3-0 in November whilst Arsenal have enjoyed high-scoring wins over Reading and Southampton.
A lot may depend on how Liverpool's players react to the embarrassment of Sunday's cup exit. Will it knock the side's fragile confidence or will it serve as a timely kick up the proverbial backside? Arsenal is never an easy place to go and they have been scoring for fun of late so it is hard to see the Reds keeping a clean sheet. However, the hosts have weaknesses at the back and Liverpool finally have the firepower to capitalise. It will be a surprised if there is much between the two but unfortunately we fancy the Gunners to just edge it. Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-1 defeat for LFC.
Arsenal - Premier League v Stoke City at The Emirates on Saturday 2nd January 2013, kick off 2.00pm.
Liverpool - Premier League v Manchester City at The Etihad on Sunday 3rd February 2013, kick off 4.00pm.
So that's what we think, how about you? Let us know your thoughts and predictions for the game below or vote in our poll to the right...
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