- Top-four hopefuls have struggled of late
- Arsenal seek revenge for embarrassment in August
- Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returns to Arsenal
The top-four credentials of both sides will be put to the test on Friday, when Arsenal host Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium in a battle of fifth versus fourth in the Premier League (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).
While the two sides enter Friday’s primetime clash in identical form — two straight draws against far lesser opposition, followed by slump-busting victories last weekend — recent history hugely favors Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds in facing Arsene Wenger‘s Gunners. Liverpool have won the last three PL meetings between the two sides, by a combined score of 11-4. That dominance was most recently exhibited in the 4-0 thrashing at Anfield back in August.
In each of those three games, it was Liverpool’s rabid, incessant pressing and quick counter-attacking which continuously frustrated and dismantled Arsenal. That strategy has only been strengthened by the arrival and emergence of Mohamed Salah, who’ll likely go down as the PL’s signing of the season, as the Egyptian has amassed a league-leading 14 goals through the first 18 games this season. Having recently rotated the other three members of the Reds’ “fab four” attacking quartet — Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino — Klopp’s side will be fresh and on the front foot from the opening whistle.
Arsenal, meanwhile, will be just 72 hours removed from their League Cup quarterfinal victory over West Ham United, and in the midst of another mounting injury crisis. As such, star attackers Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were rested on Tuesday. Midfielder Aaron Ramsey and forward Olivier Giroud are both out with absolute certainty, while defender Shkodran Mustafi remains a doubt now six weeks into his recover from a thigh injury.
[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Week 19 ]
INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Olivier Giroud (hamstring), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); RETURNING: Shkodran Mustafi (thigh) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Nathaniel Clyne (back); QUESTIONABLE: Joel Matip (thigh), Daniel Sturridge (illness)
What they’re saying
Wenger, on Liverpool’s attacking options: “I have to analyze that well and you have to guess a little bit who will play. It is not always the same — it depends on their personnel. They have plenty of offensive players and, looking at them recently, they have changed a lot their teams so it is difficult to guess. But I will try to see what I do. For me, the most important thing is we turn up with a positive performance. We have been strong at home and it is important we continue to dictate our game at home.”
Klopp, on defending proactively: “We are a team that are very offensive-orientated, but that doesn’t mean you have to give any space away. The boys did well in different systems, which I really like because that’s the biggest improvement, but only because they now do the jobs more often. But even against Bournemouth, which was obviously an impressive performance, when Jermain Defoe hit the post, that’s not good defending. It was a good pass, but it should be defended. Not by the center-halves — earlier. Then keeping the line for the offside or if you’re a bit deeper you have to react in the situation differently.”
Over the last year or so, Wenger has shown a willingness to adopt rigid, defensive tactics for big games against irresistible attacking sides. He would be wise to do so against Liverpool and avoid another lopsided beatdown. 1-1 draw.