After slumping to a 3-1 draw against Leicester City on Monday, Liverpool have a chance to bounce back on home soil on Saturday, as Arsene Wenger takes his Arsenal team to Anfield.
Despite the Foxes’ recent troubles, plenty associated with the Reds anticipated their team would have problems coping with a side that’ll sit deep, seek to restrict space and counter-attack. And so it transpired, as Jurgen Klopp watched his side unravel and chances of a top four finish take a big hit.
Liverpool have a fine reputation as a team that bounces back, though, meaning they’re well fancied to get the better of the Gunners despite Monday’s horror show. Indeed, in their last two home games in the Premier League they’ve drawn with Chelsea and beaten Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal, by contrast, have not acquitted themselves well in these types of matches. Since December they’ve been well beaten by Everton, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich away from the Emirates Stadium. Those making the trip up to Merseyside will want to see these woes on the road remedied.
Matches between these two sides have been thrilling encounters recently. The first match of the season saw Liverpool win 4-3 at the Emirates, while last season Liverpool rescued a late 3-3 draw at Anfield.
Not only should this contest be similarly enthralling, there’s a lot riding on it too. Manchester United face Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime and could have leapt ahead of both of these sides by the time kickoff comes. As a result, the loser will have a lot of work to do if they’re to secure a UEFA Champions League spot for next season.
Where to find the game on US TV and streaming:
Date: Saturday, March 4, 2017
Kickoff time: 9:30 a.m. (PT) / 12:30 p.m. (ET)
US TV: NBCSN and NBC Universo
US Streaming: fubo Premier (free 7-day trial)
It’s clear that Klopp still has a lot of work to do with his Liverpool team to find an antidote against opponents who set up in a low block. And next time the Reds come up against that type of outfit, there’ll be scrutiny on their approach.
But for the visit of Arsenal, it’d be a huge surprise if the German made all encompassing changes following the loss to Leicester. Liverpool, after all, have the best record in the Premier League against other sides in the top six and were imperious at home against Spurs the last time they were at Anfield.
While the aggressive, pressing approach will remain the same for Liverpool, there may be some tweaks in personnel. After Jamie Vardy ran amok on Monday against makeshift centre-back Lucas Leiva, Klopp surely won’t risk the Brazilian up against Alexis Sanchez; Lucas may step up into midfield if Jordan Henderson isn’t fit, with Emre Can struggling for form.
With the title essentially gone, those who follow the Reds have sunk into a lull following the Leicester game; they’d been taken so high by some of the absorbing football played by the team in late 2016. However, a Champions League place is still up for grabs for Liverpool, something those tied to the club would have been delighted with at the start of the season.
Klopp will be looking for a response from his players in this one. They were so sluggish and imprecise in the early stages against Leicester, a far cry from the furious pace with which they started the game against Spurs.
If Liverpool allow Arsenal room to breathe and a chance to grow into the game, the Gunners are good enough to cause problems for their hosts. But the Reds are seemingly masters at negating the attacking quality of the league’s best sides and putting their own mark on the contest. Expect nothing different here.
Should Arsenal arrive at Anfield and revert to their usual possession-based, expansive style, they’ll be playing into Liverpool’s hands in a manner similar to the Reds’ own approach against Leicester on Monday.
Wenger needs to have something up his sleeve for this one to buck the trend of disappointments against the top six. In the matches you’d expect an elite side to puff their chest out in, the Gunners have so frequently wilted under the spotlight; it’s one of the major criticisms levied at the manager by those who want to see him depart come the end of the season.
Nevertheless, Wenger is no fool and having seen Liverpool run riot at the Emirates Stadium for a spell earlier in the season, Arsenal will surely take a more pragmatic approach on Merseyside.
In a big boost for Arsenal, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud are set to be in the squad for the match. The latter has only started six Premier League matches in 2016-17, but up against a brittle Liverpool defence that was so vulnerable from crosses against the Foxes, the Frenchman might come into the setup .
It’s around this time of the season, following a winter slump, that Arsenal tend to pick up pace again and given they’ve had a two-week break, they should be vibrant from the first whistle in what is a crucial game for them.
But it’s so difficult to hang any hopes on this side given their chronic issues in these types of fixtures, especially against a team in Liverpool who have showcased expertise in these matches. It’s about time the manager and the players turned in a display befitting their talent on one of these grand stages.
Key Battle – Roberto Firmino vs. Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi
While he still plays an important tactical role for Liverpool at the point of the attack, Firmino is one of a number of Liverpool players who has lost his spark in the final third of the field.
The Brazilian hassles defenders, finds spaces between the lines and brings others into play well. But in terms of his own return, Firmino has found the net just three times in his last 19 matches, failing to set up an opponent for a goal in any of those. As the most advanced player in the attack, that has to improve.
Mustafi and Koscielny will be the two players in closest proximity to the Liverpool No. 11 on the night and the Arsenal team as a whole will be wary of his quality. Indeed, Firmino netted twice in the 3-3 draw against the Gunners at Anfield last season.
The Liverpool man teases defenders out of position with his astute movement in the final third. Deciding when to engage with him and when to hold position will be a challenge for Mustafi and Koscielny, but if they can stem his influence as sides have done so well in recent weeks, then Arsenal can limit the Reds’ devastating passing patterns.
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