Arsenal travel to Anfield to take on Liverpool in a battle of the two top clubs in the Premier League coming into the weekend. The teams will face each other twice more in the next two months — in early January in the FA Cup 3rd Round and at the Emirates in early February in the PL. It’s not a stretch to say that the outcomes of those three matches, especially the two in the league, will go a long way towards determining whether the Gunners and / or the Reds achieve their goals this campaign.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool have been a nightmare for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. Before the Gunners’ “monkey off your back” win over the Reds at the Emirates in October ‘22, Arsenal had lost 13 of 14 Premier League matches against Liverpool and had failed to score against them in six straight matches in all competitions.
The Gunners nearly did the double over the Reds last season but were pegged back by an 87th minute Roberto Firmino goal at Anfield. Liverpool are unbeaten in their last 10 matches against Arsenal in the Premier League at Anfield (7W, 3D). And Anfield has been a fortress this season: until a 0-0 draw against Manchester United last weekend, Liverpool had won all their matches in all competitions at home.
Key to today’s contest is which side gets the kind of match they want. Arsenal want control. Liverpool want chaos. The Gunners have the best defensive record in the Premier League this season, suffocating opponents out of matches with sustained possession, measured play, and quickly regaining control of the ball in the attacking / middle third when it turns over. Liverpool, on the other hand, want to break quickly and thrive on unsettled situations. The Reds have struggled in matches with high numbers of fouls, perhaps indicating that if you slow the game down, turn it into a grind, and limit the opportunities for flowing, fast attacks, you’ll find success.
I fancy Arsenal’s chances of dictating the tempo, mostly because Declan Rice and Martin Ødegaard have more quality than any and all of Jurgen Klopp’s midfield options and should control possession. David Raya, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, and Oleksandr Zinchenko will also play an important role. Liverpool press high to create their chaos, so if the Arsenal “first passers” can find those vertical, linebreaking passes, the Gunners will have an edge. Liverpool have lost the most attempted tackles in the league and have the lowest tackles success rate. You want to make them chase out of their pressing structure and lose their shape. Arsenal can do that if they play within themselves.
But playing at Anfield could be the equalizer / edge that Liverpool need. Jurgen Klopp recognizes that, too. The Liverpool manager called out his home supporters after his side’s midweek match in an attempt to ensure that they’re at their loudest, ravenous, imposing atmosphere-creating best for today’s match.
If you think back to recent Arsenal-Liverpool matches, you might remember that several turned on a flashpoint — the Klopp/Arteta sideline tiff, a coming together of players, etc. Matches shifted from Arsenal control to Liverpool chaos in those moments. The home crowd contributes to that, firing up Klopp’s players and making Arteta’s uncomfortable, and increasing the chances we see one of those momentum-shifting incidents.
If Arsenal, Mikel Arteta included, can avoid getting wrapped up in the emotion and play their game, I think their style lines up quite well against Liverpool. Easier said than done.
In the category of more X’s and O’s, less vibes, the Gabriel Martinelli / Kai Havertz vs. Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Wataru Endo cluster matchup is one to watch. Martinelli, who hasn’t been in his top form, at least from a goal-contribution standpoint, has given Liverpool fits. He should find space and joy today running at TAA, who he has consistently torched in the past. TAA won’t get much help from Szoboszlai, who I think is pretty soft defensively. That means Endo, who gets his fair share of yellow cards, will have significant defensive responsibilities helping out.
On the other side of the ball, Martinelli and Havertz will have more defensive responsibilities than usual to ensure that TAA can’t pick open the Arsenal lock. They’ll also have to track back more to help Oleksandr Zinchenko against Mohamed Salah.
Arsenal will be without a number of players for the trip to Anfield, but no new additions to the injury list. Fabio Vieira, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Thomas Partey, and Jurrien Timber are all out. Jorginho and Mohamed Elneny are both doubtful. UPDATE: Both Jorginho and Elneny are fit enough to make the bench.
Liverpool will be without Joel Matip, Thiago Alcantara, Diogo Jota, Andy Robertson, Alexis Mac Allister, and Stefan Bajcetic.
Arsenal - Raya, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Rice, Havertz, Ødegaard, Saka, Martinelli, Jesus
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) December 23, 2023
Saliba at the back
⚖️ Rice in the middle
Jesus leads the line
Let's go, Gunners pic.twitter.com/3PIWqD80aY
Liverpool - Alisson, Endo, Van Dijk, Konate, Diaz, Szoboszlai, Jones, Gakpo, Tsimikas, Alexander-Arnold
WHAT: Arsenal at Liverpool
WHERE: Anfield Stadium
WHEN: Saturday, December 23rd 9:30 am PT | 12:30 pm ET | 5:30 pm BT
US TV: NBC and Telemundo
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