If one game summed up Liverpool’s 2013/14 campaign it was the 5-1 Anfield demolition of Arsenal in early February. Zipping the ball around at frightening speed, the Reds were 4-0 up inside 20 minutes, the Gunners utterly shellshocked at the brutal ferocity of the home side’s Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling forward triumvirate. You can only play that sort of football when supremely confident in every player and the Reds are clearly a long way from that mind frame right now. Even when Bournemouth scored to reduce their Midweek capital one cup defecit to 3-1, the Crystal Palace-esque wheels came off the Cherries hit the post and put the shaky Red rearguard under serious pressure. Having one out-of-form keeper and another who has played 16 league games since 2010 doesn’t help, either. Neither does the increasing reliance on Raheem Sterling. At the beginning of the season, Brendan Rodgers assured anyone who would listen that he wouldn’t overplay Liverpool’s brightest prospect. On Monday, Sterling turned 20 and has completed 90 minutes in a Red shirt 49 times. At the same age, Cristiano Ronaldo had finished 30 matches, Lionel Messi just 25. Sterling may have been roundly mocked for telling Roy Hodgson he was tired on England duty, but surely a rest is on the cards.
Arsenal may not be quite as mired in crisis as a couple of weeks ago, but the Wenger Swingometer is never far from lurching violently back towards “out”. Irresistible against Newcastle last time out but regressive against Stoke the game before that, the mixed bag continues apace. Yet, for all the negativity, the Gunners have a winnable last 16 tie in the CL against Monaco to look forward to, as well as their best football of the season against the Magpies to bask in. The return of Olivier Giroud is especially important. Danny Welbeck has been solid enough as the lone forward, but the Frenchman’s aerial threat and more consistent end product should provide the spark for an upturn in Christmas fortunes. Throw in an increasingly in form Santi Cazorla who is still trying to get over that penalty last week and you’d have to fancy Arsenal to get revenge for 10 months ago.
Dejan Lovren pulled a groin against Bournemouth midweek, so expect Mamadou Sakho to start in the Croatian’s place. Mario Balotelli will have a late test, but is more likely to miss out (and Sterling to continue up front) than feature. Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan, Daniel Sturridge and Suso are so far from fitness, we should probably stop mentioning them every week.
Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil all remain mid- to long-term absentees, while Nacho Monreal and Theo Walcott could make the squad after approaching fitness from their respect foot and groin injuries. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is struggling with his own groin after being forced off in the final minutes of the Newcastle game. He’ll be assessed on Saturday.
Facts and figures
Alexis Sanchez has scored (7) or assisted (4) 11 of Arsenal’s last 17 Premier League goals. Liverpool vs Arsenal has seen more hat-tricks than any other fixture in Premier League history (5). There have been 4 90th-minute or later goals in the last 6 Premier League meetings between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield.
Head-to-head league record: Liverpool wins 70, draws 47, Arsenal wins 63
Jones, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Hendo,Gerrard, Leiva, Markovic, Coutinho, Lallana, Sterling
Szczesny, Debuchy, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gibbs, Coquelin, Flamini, Sanchez, Carzola, Welbeck, Giroud
Liverpool 2-2 Arsenal