Arsenal take on Liverpool at the Emirates tomorrow evening in a game between two clubs that are both in the hunt for Champions League football next season. A win on Wednesday would give Arsenal some breathing room and the chance to climb to 5th if Everton fail to beat West Brom that night.
Captain Thomas Vermaelen is available after overcoming the ankle injury that ruled him out of the FA Cup tie at Brighton last weekend. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are expected to return to the starting line-up after being substitutes at the weekend. Wilshere and Walcott came on and made an impact whilst Cazorla was an unused substitute.
Both Mikel Arteta and Francis Coquelin remain out short-term and Lukasz Fabianski is back in training following a long-term injury, so he may be on the bench tomorrow night. Arsene Wenger says he needs a game, so I expect him to play for the reserves at some point and also Blackburn in the FA Cup is a possibility of course.
Liverpool welcome back Pepe Reina, Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson from injuries and the Liverpool squad is expected to be a stronger one than the one named at the weekend against Oldham.
Oldham aside, Liverpool have picked up their form since these two first met early in the season. Both teams have had pretty similar seasons so far, full of ups and downs and it’s fair to say both are inconsistent. Arsenal have three wins out of their last four and Liverpool have 3 out of their last five. So both have been in decent form heading into it. As mentioned, both sides rested key players in their cup ties at the weekend. Arsenal progressed, whereas Liverpool crashed out.
Liverpool won at Arsenal last season for the first time since 2000. The Gunners’ record against Liverpool in recent years has been impressive. That 2-0 win at the Emirates in August 2011 (when Arsenal were in the middle of a ‘crisis’) is Liverpool’s only win over Arsenal in the past 11 meetings (W1, D6, L4). Since that fixture, the two sides have met twice, both at Anfield. Arsenal won both times, with a Robin Van Persie double enough to see off the Reds last March in a 2-1 win, before Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla netted in a comfortable 2-0 win over Liverpool last September.
Luis Suarez is in fine form this season with 16 league goals to his name and 21 in all competitions so far. Arsenal’s leading scorer is Theo Walcott who has 17 goals in all competitions, although Olivier Giroud has found form with 4 goals in a week (2 against West Ham and 2 against Brighton) as well as Lukas Podolski who has 11 in all competitions. Compare this to Liverpool who have Steven Gerrard as their second highest scorer with 6 goals in all competitions. That would leave him 5th on the Arsenal scorers list behind Walcott, Giroud, Podolski and Santi Cazorla.
It’s a big game in the race for Champions League qualification. I hope Arsenal can win it, part of me has a feeling it could end up a draw though. I hope I’m wrong and that Arsenal win it. My usual feeling about this fixture (home or away) is 1-1, but if somebody is going to grab a winner, it’ll be 2-1 Arsenal. That was proven correct last season with Van Persie’s last minute winner at Anfield and a few years back when Andrei Arshavin struck a winner in a 2-1 win at Anfield (2009/10).
There is little margin for error here. A win is what is required. If Arsenal can’t get that, it’ll put a lot of pressure on them to get a result at home to Stoke this weekend. Obviously hoping for 2 wins in this week, just like last week. Arsenal’s problem is consistency. They need to follow up a good week with another good week. That has been a problem this season. One week you’re delighted, maybe even surprised by a result, the following you’re down in the dumps because Arsenal have been knocked out to Bradford in the League Cup. You catch my drift. The fixtures are coming quickly and it won’t be long before they’re all gone. Arsenal need to make the most of them. They won’t get any easier and Arsenal need to be ready for the challenges ahead. Liverpool are in the same boat as us. It will come down to who wants it more tomorrow night.