Big games can often come in inconvenient times during the season. The Christmas period is such a time. The ability of a team to overcome an opponent similar to themselves in terms of ability and stature during this time can go a long way in determining that team’s progression throughout the season. Last season Liverpool completed a well deserved league double of Arsenal, with an aggregate win of 7-4. This season we have already humiliated them at Anfield. We have notoriously underperformed at the Emirates, winning only twice since Arsenal moved there ten years ago. It’s time things changed in our favour.
Arsenal are a team who have been lauded in the past for their offensive capabilities and, indeed, this game promises to be one of end-to-end entertainment. That is enough to give the average Liverpool fan a heart attack considering our apparent defensive issues this season. However, Jurgen Klopp remains steadfast in his backing of his defence despite being well aware of their shortcomings. “It’s not really a change, to be honest. It’s not that we said ‘OK, from now we do it differently’, no, the boys needed to be more aware of the different situations [and] not only the defenders, of course,” the boss told his pre-match press conference regarding his thoughts following the 4-1 defeat to Spurs in October. “So we need to be much more responsible in different moments to avoid different passes, stuff like this. We did this very often; we conceded, unfortunately, nine goals in two games so all the rest was kind of OK. So yes, we knew we had to do better, we could do better, but it was never individual problems. Yes, it was an individual problem in a few situations, but that’s how goals happen.
“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 Jermaine Defoe hit the post that not good defending. It was good pass but it should be defended. Not by the centre-halves, earlier. Then keeping the line for the offside or if you’re a bit deeper you have to react in the situation differently. There are things to work on, that’s how football is, but over the whole season that’s absolutely OK. Of course the numbers are important…but that’s the past.”
Klopp will have a couple of issues to overcome with regards to his team selection for this game, no less in defence. Joel Matip returned to training this week but it is still undecided whether he will be ready for this game or whether he will have to wait until at least the Swansea game on Boxing Day. Alberto Moreno is certain to miss out due to injury, so Andy Robertson will most likely start again at left-back. Emre Can will return from suspension while Adam Lallana is pushing for his first start since coming back from a groin injury which ruled him out for three months earlier this season.
Ahead of this game there has been plenty of talk around the attacking lineups of both sides. While Arsenal boast an impressive front line of their own, all the media hype lately has surrounded Liverpool’s “fab four”. Arsene Wenger touched on this himself in his press conference yesterday, complimenting the attacking options at his opponents dispense. “I believe that Liverpool is very good going forward so you need overall a good defensive performance. I have to analyse that well and you have to guess a little bit who will play [for Liverpool]. 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.” Wenger is struggling at left back and faces the proposition of playing academy graduate, and natural right winger, Ainsley Maitland-Niles there. However, he said he has “no worries” about playing Maitland-Niles or Sead Kolasinac against Mohamed Salah tonight regardless of the Egyptians red hot form.
Wenger is without Olivier Giroud for this game due to a hamstring injury picked up in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win against West Ham. His replacement is yet unknown but Alexandre Lacazette is the most likely candidate. Francis Coquelin also limped off in that game and is likely to miss out, as is Aaron Ramsey with a hamstring problem of his own. One plus for Wenger though is the return of Shkodran Mustafi having missed the last through games due to injury.
Arsenal are a formidable opponent. Yes, they have had a tough season and the speculation regarding matters off the pitch has obviously affected their performances on it. That being said they still only sit a point behind ourselves in the table, in 5th place. A win tonight will propel them back into the Champions League places and deliver a blow to us in our own search for a European place next season. A win for ourselves will have the same effect though. We have nothing to fear at the Emirates. We are entirely capable of beating Arsenal and beating them well. The only question seems to be this – who will score the mot goals?