ARSENAL make the long trip from North London to Merseyside to face off against Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
The Reds have had mixed fortunes in their first two Premier League encounters of the season.
An impressive display at Anfield, against Manchester City, last Sunday should have seen the Reds take all three points, however, individual errors at the back cost Rodgers’ side dearly as the current champions came from behind, twice, to take a share of the spoils. Regardless of the final score, the performance went a long way to blanking out the memory of the side’s opening day defeat at the Hawthorns and the Anfield faithful will be hoping for more of the same when the Gunners roll in to town.
The corresponding fixture last season, played on March 3rd, saw Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool explode out of the traps. Dominating possession, the Reds created numerous chances in the opening half. Luis Suarez was at his mesmeric best as he tormented the visitors’ back four at will. Dirk Kuyt missed a penalty (won by Suarez) early on, nevertheless, the Reds took the lead on 23 minutes through a Koscielny own goal. Suarez and Kuyt both hit the post as Liverpool sought to drive home their advantage, however, they failed to capitalise further and a Robin van Persie header left the sides level at half-time. The second half proved a similar tale, domination and chance creation coupled with an increasingly frustrating inability to put the ball in the back of the net. A profligacy which was inevitably punished when, in injury time, van Persie volleyed Alex Song’s throughball in at the near post to send Wenger’s men home with all three points.
Arsenal were undoubtedly fortunate on that day; the post-match comments of Wenger and van Persie made that much clear, however, with goal-scoring again proving to be problematic for the Reds at the start of this campaign, Brendan Rodgers will be aiming to make sure a repeat performance is avoided.
This is a new look Arsenal side which will be coming to Anfield. Van Persie and Song have both left the club for pastures new and, although Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla have been brought in, the attack has yet to gel for the North London club, with the Gunners firing blanks in their first two Premier League fixtures. Two goal-less draws wasn’t what Arsenal fans were hoping for to begin this season and manager Arsene Wenger has admitted that “there is something missing” in his side’s attacking play. Liverpool will be hoping to capitalise on the visitors’ impotency in front of goal as they look to pocket all three points.
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Although the Reds defeated Arsenal 0-2 at the Emirates last season, a look back through the history books shows that Wenger’s men have had the better of this fixture in the past, even at Anfield. In the twenty games between the two sides since 2002, Liverpool have won just four times, with the Gunners racking up eight victories and the last time Liverpool beat Arsenal at Anfield was in March of 2007. The own goal and the last minute winner in last season’s Anfield showdown were by no means anomalies – quite the opposite in fact. In the last seven Premier League meetings between the two sides, there have been seven goals scored in the 90th minute or later and the Anfield fixtures have seen four own goals over the years, the joint highest in the history of the Premier League. So my advice, if you’re lucky enough to be at Anfield on Sunday afternoon, is: don’t leave early to avoid the traffic.
Looking at the team news, Liverpool will be without midfield fulcrum Lucas Leiva. The Brazilian, who’d just returned from a 6 month absence, injured his thigh in the opening minutes against Manchester City and will be out for a further 3 months. Joe Allen will likely occupy his position, with new loan-signing Nuri Sahin likely to come into the midfield three. Jose Enrique is fully fit again and will start at left-back, with Glen Johnson taking up his more familiar position of right-back. Rodgers has an interesting call to make as regards to the left hand side of his front three. With Stewart Downing seemingly being converted to left-back, will Rodgers stick with youngster Raheem Sterling or will he opt for the unknown quantity of Oussama Assaidi to play alongside Suarez and Borini?
Arsene Wenger has no real injury worries to speak of. Theo Walcott, who had been linked with a move away from the club, possibly to Liverpool, is now staying at the Emirates and could well come into the starting line-up, at the expense of Gervinho. In goal, Sczcesny will more than likely reclaim his starting place from Mannone who deputised last weekend.
All in all, the match looks set to be a cracker. Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to record their first three points of the Premier League season, whilst Arsene Wenger and his charges will be equally keen to end their scoring drought and come away, from what is a tricky fixture, with at least a point. History tells us that it will be a close fought game with little to spare either way, let’s just hope that Liverpool can reverse the recent trend against Arsenal at Anfield and give the fans three points to cheer about.
Liverpool: Reina, Enrique, Skrtel, Agger, Sahin, Allen, Gerrard, Sterling, Suarez, Borini
Arsenal: Szczesny, Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Diaby, Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.
L4L Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Arsenal
You can catch up with Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/
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