Liverpool vs Arsenal Preview: Reds Look to Pounce on Wounded Gunners
It will be no easy task for Arsenal on Saturday, as they travel to Anfield with a depleted squad to clash with the league-leading Liverpool. When the 2 sides last faced off at the Emirates in early November, Arsenal had arguably their entire first choice XI fit and available for selection. Their XI will likely look massively different this time round, as 4 of the 11 players who started at the Emirates in the reverse leg will likely miss out on the XI this Saturday through injury - Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Rob Holding. Even Mesut Ozil is rumoured to be missing out on the matchday squad despite being fully fit, as Unai Emery seems to have lost trust in the German when it comes to physically intense away days. Ozil and Mustafi could still feature on Saturday, but one thing is clear - the Gunners squad is wearing thin, and subsequently, their chances of victory are slimmer than they normally would be.
As for the Reds, their surge to the top of the Premier League became even sweeter on Wednesday, as their main title rivals Manchester City dropped all 3 points in shocking fashion to Leicester City, allowing Liverpool to go 6 points clear at the top. City play Southampton this weekend in what should be a comfortable victory, so Liverpool will need to come out firing against Arsenal if they are to maintain their comfortable lead. The last time Liverpool were defeated at Anfield in the league was all the way back in April of 2017, and they'll consider themselves firm favourites to pick up the win against Arsenal.
Just as it was at the Emirates in November, the key to this fixture will be the midfield battle. Arsenal dodged a massive bullet in the midweek, as Lucas Torreira avoided the yellow card that would have had him suspended for this match. Anfield produces high-intensity matches that are won and lost in the 50-50 battles in midfield, and it's normally Liverpool who feed off the crowd and win the battles. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka will have to be at the top of their game to give their side a chance, but the occasion might be too big for 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi, who's performances have been dropping lately.
Liverpool should be looking to start one of Xherdan Shaqiri or Naby Keita in a midfield role, as their ability to find pockets of space between the lines and produce a final ball could cause major havoc for Arsenal's sub-par backline. Moving Salah and Mane back to the wing positions and Firmino back to centre-forward could also allow Liverpool to reap the rewards, as Arsenal's fullbacks have been a major defensive deficiency in recent matches, especially with Hector Bellerin out with injury. As for Arsenal, their best hope will be through fashioning chances in wide areas, as they need to aim to avoid Virgil Van Dijk's interference through the buildup. Top-scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has failed to make a significant impact in majority of Arsenal's matches against the top 6, and they'll need to get him firing on Saturday.
At the end of the day, it will be Liverpool's match to lose on Saturday, as Arsenal's thin squad will have to play to their very best potential to have any chance. If Liverpool's big guns show up, they should have no problem seeing out this match.