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Arsenal-Liverpool Preview: Two High-Flying Teams Face Their Toughest Tests of the Season

arsenal liverpool Arsenal Liverpool Preview: Two High Flying Teams Face Their Toughest Tests of the Season

For the detractors of Liverpool’s early season success, this is the match they have been waiting for. A matchup against one of the top teams in the Premier League. In all likelihood, their critics would prefer the game were being played against Chelsea or Manchester City. But those people will just have to accept that the Reds are traveling to London to face first place Arsenal on Saturday (1:30pm ET kick-off on NBC, for viewers in the United States).

After nine matches, Arsenal are top of the table with 22 points. The only league points the Gunners have dropped were during a 3-1 home defeat in the opening match of the year against Aston Villa and a 1-1 draw in the beginning of October away to West Brom.

Despite losing two recent matches at home, to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Chelsea in the League Cup, Arsenal have won their last two Premier League matches by a combined score of 6-1. In the Premier League, the Gunners are still very much an ‘in form’ team. However, a question mark remains regarding the lack of strength among the opposition that the club has faced in the league with the only exception being their noisy neighbors Tottenham, who they defeated 1-0 earlier this season.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have done everything their supporters could have asked up to this point. Brendan Rodger’s men have navigated through their early fixture list with relative ease. They are sitting on 20 points after nine matches and are almost back at full strength.

Regarding their early season success, something Liverpool’s critics have overlooked is that the Reds have battled through their fixtures while missing key personnel. During the first five matches of the season, Liverpool were without the services of striker Luis Suarez due to the Uruguayan completing his 10-match ban that had carried over from last season. Over that period of time, the club had been playing with only one striker, Daniel Sturridge, and their offensive production was lacking. Through the first five matches of this season, Liverpool had only mustered five goals.

Since Suarez return, Liverpool have scored twelve times in four games, with Suarez scoring six goals.

Another key member of the Liverpool squad to have gone missing has been attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian playmaker was injured and substituted during the 55th minute at Swansea City with Liverpool holding a narrow 2-1 lead. Shortly after his removal, Michu equalized for the Swans and the match ended in a stalemate. Liverpool played their next match against Southampton without the midfielder (and the suspended Suarez) and proceeded to drop a disappointing 1-0 decision.

Some may argue that the loss to Southampton proves that Liverpool have just been the beneficiary of an easy fixture list. Every time they have lined up against a club in the top half, they’ve lost. But those who have seen Southampton (and have eyed the league table) should know that any club (regardless of their squad strength) will have a difficult time against Mauricio Pochettino’s men this year.

The news out of Liverpool this week is that Coutinho could be in line for a return against the Gunners. That would put the club’s attack back at 100 percent. But sometimes players returning from suspension or injury take time to reacquaint themselves with their teammates on the pitch. Liverpool did have the benefit of a League Cup match (albeit against Manchester United) to provide Suarez with an opportunity to get some match fitness and re-establish his on-the-field relationship with his teammates before they progressed into the league fixtures. If Coutinho does see time on Saturday, the Brazilian won’t have the same luxury afforded to Suarez. But last season Coutinho fit seamlessly into the North West club after his transfer from Internazionale. So chances are Liverpool will be more than pleased to have the midfielder’s name on their team sheet.

While Liverpool has regained strength in their squad, the Gunners are seeing more and more players visit the physio room.

Arsenal’s recent cup fixtures have not been kind. The club has had to play four matches over the span of ten days (Norwich City, Borussia Dortmund, Crystal Palace and Chelsea). The Gunners do not have a deep squad, so this period has proven to be very costly for the club. Fortunately their league matches have not been against teams in the top half. So Arsenal have been able to collect maximum points and remain top of the Premier League.

But over the coming days, the London club will face Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, and Manchester United. Those matches will be played over a period of eight days and right now the Gunners are low on healthy bodies.

Theo Walcott is battling fitness, but could make a return to the lineup against Liverpool. Although he hasn’t been on the team sheet since Arsenal’s Champions League match with Marseille on September 18.

Prior to the Tuesday match versus Chelsea, Arsene Wenger ruled out Mathieu Flamini for two to three weeks. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t expected to return until December, while Yaya Sanogo and Lukas Podolski will more than likely just miss the Liverpool match.

If there was any good news for the club this week, it was Jack Wilshere’s return to the Gunners’ lineup against Chelsea. The 21-year-old midfielder was able to get a full ninety minutes in during the League Cup match, which should help his fitness leading into Saturday’s clash with Liverpool.

Arsenal are two points clear of Liverpool and Chelsea. This match represents an opportunity for the Gunners to end a two-match home losing streak and head into Wednesday’s Champions League match in Germany on a high.

Over the past three seasons, Arsenal has finished in the top four and qualified for Europe, while Liverpool has slipped out of the picture. But even during that difficult time, the Reds are unbeaten in London versus the Gunners. They beat Arsenal 2-0 in August 2012 and sandwiched that win around two draws in 2011 and 2013.

Unlike other London venues (Stamford Bridge, White Hart Lane, even Upton Park), the Emirates is not one of the stadiums opponents dread coming to. They know they will be facing a top club in Arsenal, but the 60,000 in attendance do not create a menacing atmosphere. Perhaps that is the reason Liverpool have done so well against Arsenal over the years at the Emirates. The Reds have taken points in six of the nine matches they have played in the stadium since it opened in 2006.

Another storyline entering this match will be Luis Suarez and Arsenal’s interest in signing the striker. The story has been well-documented, but this will be the first time the player will step foot in London after the transfer fiasco that took place between the two clubs a few months back.

Suarez has been nothing but professional on the pitch so far for Liverpool. That’s all his manager, teammates and supporters could have hoped for. But behind the scenes (according to various publications), the player still wants to leave the club. So there’s no doubt this angle will be played up by some of the media.

Regarding Suarez and the two failed bids from Arsenal, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had this to say:

“It was a difficult summer for him but it was for everyone. But we managed it as a club and he managed himself well and he has come out of the other side and he is performing as he does, to a very high level.”

“I knew once I got the commitment from him in the summer he wasn’t going to walk out,” said Rodgers. “He’s been great from then on.”

Regardless of that, if the two clubs’ league form continues as it has, on Saturday, fans will be in for a free-flowing, attacking contest. It should be one of the more memorable games of the early season.

After spending the past few seasons on the outside of the top four, Liverpool supporters will be in full voice while filling every seat of the Emirates’ away section. The players will step off their bus in London knowing they are within striking distance of the league leaders and ninety minutes away from silencing their critics.

Arsenal are looking to right their ship and maintain hold on the top spot in the league.

“It’s better to win,” Wenger said of his club’s recent form. “It’s difficult, but that’s part of the season. We know the games. 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.”

For both clubs, this match represents a difficult test.

Editor’s note: Stay updated on the latest Arsenal news, opinion and analysis on our Arsenal team page, as well as the latest Liverpool news, opinion and debate on our Liverpool team page.

About Peter Quinn

Although a college basketball coach for sixteen years on the NCAA Division I and II levels, Peter has been an avid football fan for more than half his life. He considers himself a student of coaching and team management. As well as coaching, Peter has spent time working in Sports Information at various colleges and universities. His articles on European football have been picked up by International Business Times UK and USA Today. Twitter: @CoachPeteQuinn
View all posts by Peter Quinn →

9 Responses to Arsenal-Liverpool Preview: Two High-Flying Teams Face Their Toughest Tests of the Season

  1. bennett311 says:

    A draw only suits Chelsea, hopefully one of the teams has a proper go and throws down a gauntlet for the title.

  2. Clampdown says:

    Even if Liverpool get a result from this match, I don’t think people will be convinced until the end of the calendar year. Away matches to Spurs, Man City, and Chelsea within a two-week period to end the year. That’s pretty brutal. I’m hoping for the best.

    As for this weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing what Rodgers does from a tactical standpoint. Two excellent attacking teams but both are vulnerable on defense. Should be fun.

  3. Marcus says:

    “Suarez has been nothing but professional on the pitch so far for Liverpool. That’s all his manager, teammates and supporters could have hoped for. But behind the scenes (according to various publications), the player still wants to leave the club.”

    Seriously? Why do we continue to promote these baseless rumors?

  4. Nick says:

    After leading 2-0 after 60 minutes at the Emirates last season, I bet we have a little extra drive to avenge those lost points and finish the job on Saturday. YNWA

  5. goisles01 says:

    This marks the closest that LFC is been to full strength all year. Wish Enrique was available, that way Liverpool would have 2 WB with pace enough to neutralize Arsenals outside threats. It will be a huge challenge regardless and a win would be 1 step closer in recognizing LFC as a legitimate threat.

  6. Mike says:

    While this game will be the toughest one so far this season for both teams, it’s rarely what happens between the top sides that determine their fate but how well they do against the other teams. Arsenal have consistently beaten teams they should beat which is why they are always in the top 4.

    Liverpool on the other hand always play well against the top teams but are very inconsistent in beating the other teams which is why they haven’t been in the top 4 for a while. It’s too early to tell if this season’s Liverpool will be more consistent or not. Losing to Southampton at home and failing to beat 10-man Newcastle is a worry as these are the types of teams Liverpool have to beat to have any chance of getting back into the top 4. We’ll know more about this Liverpool side after about 15 games as it won’t be until the Christmas period that they will play another top-tier team when they have Man City, Spurs and Chelsea in a space of a few days. Till then they play teams they should beat.

    Man United are where they are this season because they are not beating the sides they should. This proves again that consistency against the lesser teams is very important.

    • goisles01 says:

      I agree on most of your points but ill argue that Southampton shouldnt be in the category of lesser teams this year. They’re proving that they are a quality side so far, only conceding 3 goals, and Liverpool played without Coutinho, Suarez & Johnson.

      • Martin J. says:

        Southampton may not be a lesser team but if Liverpool want to get back into the top 4 then they have to beat teams like Southampton regardless of who lines up for Liverpool. Also you have to win at home. Not beating Newcastle who played with 10 men for all of the second half shows that Liverpool are far from having the consistency needed to get a top 4 spot.

        Early days yet so we’ll have to wait and see how things unfold.

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