Arsenal v. Liverpool Preview – Philippe Coutinho’s return sets the stage

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  • Arsenal have lost just one of their last 12 clashes with Liverpool, winning four and drawing seven.
  • Luis Suarez has six goals and one assist in four Premier League games since returning from suspension.
  • November is Arsenal’s least productive month in Premier League history with the Gunners gaining only 1.55 points per game. October is their second most productive month (behind March).

Third place Liverpool heads to the Emirates Stadium to take on table-toppers Arsenal this Saturday (1:30 pm ET on NBC, watch live via NBC Sports Live Extra).

Liverpool enter the match having humbled a tricky West Bromwich Albion squad 4-1 behind a fantastic Luis Suarez hat-trick and an unappreciated Daniel Sturridge chip. That victory ensured the Reds taking ten out of a possible twelve points in their last four league matches following a pair of 3-1 victories Crystal Palace and Sunderland, along with a 2-2 draw at Newcastle.

Confidence will be high for Brendan Rodgers’ men not only because they haven’t lost a league match to Arsenal in their last three visits to the Emirates but because they’re also unbeaten in all four of their Premier League road matches this season.

While a bum knee leaves Jose Enrique a doubt to play, the Reds are set to receive a massive boost through the return of Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho (above right). The 21-year-old has been sidelined since the September 16th match with Swansea City where a waist-high challenge from Ashley Williams left him with a shoulder injury.

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Arsenal will be without defensive stalwart, Mathieu Flamini, for Saturday’s match against Liverpool.

Coutinho is a tricky little customer who loves to operate in between an opposition’s midfield and defensive lines, an area of the pitch where Arsenal will be without Mathieu Flamini due to a groin injury. With amaranthine stamina and the tenaciousness of a pit-bull, Flamini has been a revelation in manager Arsene Wenger’s midfield. His absence will be eased by the return of Mikel Arteta after serving a one game suspension for the red card he was shown in last weekend’s 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace.

That match marked the Gunners second straight league victory and took their league-best unbeaten streak to eight in a row. Outside the Premier League, however, Wenger’s squad has stumbled at home losing their last two matches to Chelsea (2-0 in the Capital One Cup) and Borussia Dortmund (2-1 in the Champions League).

Those results were difficult on the Gunners, who played well despite the unavailability of Flamini, as well as long-term absentees Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Yaya Sanogo, Abou Diaby and Lukas Podolski. With all six players out for Saturday’s contest, Arsenal will once again look to impress audiences by holding down their place atop the league with a heavily reduced squad.

With a victory, Wenger’s men will preserve at least a two point lead over second place Chelsea and open up a five point distance from Liverpool. If the result swings the other way, Liverpool will leap-frog the Gunners in the standings and, depending on the Chelsea result, could go top of the league.

What They’re Saying 

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: “We were happy with how we worked last weekend against West Brom, but it was forgotten about very quickly and our focus has been very much on this game and the quality of our training this week has been outstanding. We arrive in the game really confident and high in belief, coming off the back of an outstanding performance.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “We have to respond well against Liverpool. We are in a strong position in the league and have a good opportunity at home, and we have to turn this round. Away from home we are very solid, but at home you know it is important and vital to win the big games.”

Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud: “I feel really confident, the boss made me feel good and that is why I feel good and try to improve every day. It is all about confidence I think.”

Prediction

What a tasty fixture this is shaping up to be. Liverpool fans will be frothing at the mouth to see what Coutinho pull the strings behind Sturridge and Suarez while Arsenal supporters will be adamant that the current home loss streak come to an end and that their position atop the league be preserved. A share of the points feels like the likely result but if pressed to chose a winner, Arsenal’s health issues give Liverpool the slight edge.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Arsenal board will be told decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.

Report: Wenger ready to pay Ozil, Sanchez club record deals

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Arsenal knows its departure from the UEFA Champions League has to be a short one, and that keeping its two best attackers around is imperative.

That’s why Arsene Wenger is preparing to make Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez the top paid players in Arsenal history, according to a report from The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson.

The contract status of both players has been a touchy one this season, and Sanchez especially has been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe (including London neighbors Chelsea).

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

But perhaps the Gunners’ FA Cup triumph over Chelsea has Ozil and Sanchez feeling good vibes about the Emirates Stadium set, and Arsenal is ready to pounce. According to the report:

Wenger has told the board that he thinks he can win the Premier League if this group stays together and is supplemented by no more than two or three key additions. Ozil is understood already to have been offered more than £250,000 a week and the club are ready to go to around £280,000 for both him and Sanchez.

The Gunners need both players healthy and happy heading into next season, and appropriate additions as well (A top striker is a must. Again). Wage structure is important, but Arsenal will have a blessing in disguise if another player can make a legit case he deserves to be paid like Ozil and Sanchez any time soon.

West Ham, Everton, and the superstar striker’s need for the Champions League

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Come up with a list of active elite level strikers, and it’s likely to be a short one filled with names from UEFA Champions League clubs.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Harry Kane, even Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Rarely do names like these move to a non-UCL club while in their prime, and it’s just as uncommon to see them stay at clubs which have failed to qualify for the UCL.

The money, the prestige, the endorsements; All are amplified by the world stage. Given the massive import of their domestic stage and spotlight, Premier League sides have bucked this trend on occasion — see Romelu Lukaku — but it’s the exception to the rule.

That’s what puts an ambitious club like West Ham United between a rock and a hard place. The Irons have been vocal about their desires to bring in a top-end striker, and it’s likely they’d be happy to spend what it takes to attract Alexandre Lacazette, Aubameyang, or Cavani to town.

Lyon reportedly rejected a $45 million bid for Lacazette last season, admitting that ultimately the player’s desires would determine his future. Higuain, too, was linked to chairman David Gold’s wallet before moving to Juventus. Carlos Bacca also saw his future connected to the Irons.

Instead, Gold landed Andre Ayew from Swansea, and had to hope Andy Carroll could stay healthy or Enner Valencia would deliver. Not a striker, Dimitri Payet apparently decided to skip town soon after West Ham’s Europa League exit at the hands of Astra Giurgiu.

Now it’s Kelechi Iheanacho being linked to the London Stadium, another hopeful swing from the Irons that points a strong finger at the problem: West Ham can be as ambitious as it likes, but it’s going to need a miracle to pull an elite striker to London without European football.

And it shouldn’t happen, but what if Everton is bumped from the UEL in the third qualifying round or playoff next year? Will Lukaku follow Payet’s lead and sink another team from joining the discussion? Though an argument can be made it’s better for Everton to lose those summer games, the Toffees very much need to succeed in the UEL qualifying and also show signs of strength in the early PL docket. That’s the unforgiving life of sitting on the outskirts of the powerful tier.

Every team at every level is searching for the next elite striker. Some, like West Ham, will need to luck into a young buck on the rise or a flawed striker finding his potential. And how do they hold onto that player, one who will have alerted the big boys to his arrival, without qualifying for Europe? It’s improbable.

The ability of teams like Chelsea and Liverpool to compete for a European slot in the PL standings thanks to missing out on the UCL the year before signals hope for clubs like Everton and West Ham. And five Premier League sides competing in the UCL this year could extend an invitation to stay longer in the Top Seven discussion for sides like Southampton and Leicester City, too.

So this summer’s striker captures are huge for Slaven Bilic and David Gold. This is a window the league’s “next group” won’t have open annually, and West Ham’s hopes of barging into the discussion again hinge on who shows up by August.