Liverpool vs. Arsenal
Saturday February 8 2014, 7:45am Eastern / 12:45pm London
Anfield, Liverpool, England
Form: LIV WDWWD | ARS WWWDW
TV: USA Network
SB Nation Liverpool: Anfield Asylum and Liverpool Offside
For the next two months, Arsenal will face a tough test, playing games against the best teams in England and Europe, all in a row for the most part. Saturday sees the beginning of the first of two runs, as Arsenal travels to Anfield to face fourth-place Liverpool.
Arsenal's Next Two Months
February and March will go a long way towards determining Arsenal's chances of silverware this season. Here's what we're looking at in terms of fixtures.
A win would take Arsenal eleven points clear of Liverpool, which does two things. First, it distances Arsenal from a primary title challenger - albeit one with less of a claim than they had the last time the two teams met. Depending on Manchester City and Chelsea results, it could effectively create a breakaway pack from the breakaway pack atop the table, with three teams leading, with Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur (and Manchester United, depending on how you feel about it) then left to fight for the final Champions League spot. The other benefit of a win is distancing Arsenal from fourth place itself. We haven't talked about it as much this year as Arsenal have made a real title challenge, but top four is still massively important (and top three even better), and every point of separation between Arsenal and that chase pack is helpful.
A loss would be damaging, but not a catastrophe. Arsenal can drop no further than one point behind first this weekend, as both City and Chelsea are two points back. It would tighten things up at the top, though, with Liverpool drawing within five or six points of the leader, whoever it would be. A draw would put Arsenal at worst level on points with the leader; if Manchester City wins, they would go top on goal difference. Considering it's a game at Anfield, though, a less-optimal result is certainly possible.
For Liverpool as with Arsenal, there are injury issues. Theirs, however, are mostly defensive: Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, and Glen Johnson all will miss out, as will Lucas and Jose Enrique. This should help an Arsenal attack that's still missing some of its more important players. Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both should be fine after late knocks taken in the Crystal Palace win, and Jack Wilshere could make a return to the squad. With the fixture congestion over the coming weeks, though, I would be surprised if Wilshere starts - more likely, he'll start on the bench, and spell The OC late if he needs to. Aaron Ramsey, of course, will not be available, nor will Theo Walcott. Mathieu Flamini still has a ways to go on his suspension as well.
So who plays? Here's my guess:
Sagna - Mertesacker - Koscielny - Gibbs
Arteta - Oxlade-Chamberlain
Cazorla - Ozil - Podolski
But who knows? Arsene Wenger said the squad for Liverpool will be much the same as the one against Crystal Palace, but anything could happen.
Arsenal have done well at Anfield in recent years. The last time Liverpool beat us there in the Premier League was in March of 2007 (they also won in a Champions League quarterfinal in April 2008, but that's a whole other thing). Hopefully Arsenal's great run on the red side of Merseyside continues tomorrow.
Prediction: Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal