Arsenal will play Liverpool at the Emirates (3rd vs 5th) in a match that is vital to either side’s Champions League hopes. Arsenal lead Liverpool in the table by 6 points, a healthy tally, but considering the run-ins, Arsenal will probably want to extend that to 9. Liverpool, on the other hand, will be looking to minimize Arsenal’s advantage with the hope they can pull something out of this season- other than one major epiphany in December.
Predicted Lineups: Arsenal look set to continue with their free flowing 4-2-3-1 system with Santi Cazorla in central midfield and Nacho Monreal at fullback. The former has been a revelation in the middle of the park, using his ambidextrous feet to dazzle the midfield, while the latter is a tireless worker on the left side of defence, outplaying Kieran Gibbs for a spot in the team.
Meanwhile, Liverpool will almost surely continue with their 3-4-3 that has been a resounding success besides 2 defeats to Manchester United. The Reds will be hoping to get back on track, with Philippe Coutinho pulling the strings from attacking midfield and Mamadou Sakho tackling hard from centre-half in the most unorthodox way possible.
Team News: Daniel Sturridge is injured (again!), so we’ll either see misfiring misfit Mario Balotelli or that strange false nine/10 trio of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana (it shouldn’t work but it does). None of them play with their back to goal or as target men, but all three can rely on extreme pace and trickery to confuse the life out of a defensive midfielders. Steven Gerrard is obviously suspended after (literally) body checking Juan Mata and stamping on Ander Herrera’s ankle in a matter of seconds. Martin Skrtel is also suspended for stamping David De Gea in the final seconds of the United clash, which, if you didn’t watch, was quite aggressive. Jordon Ibe may return from injury, but it is unlikely.
As for Arsenal, Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain add to the long term injury absentees, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere.
What This Means in the Intense Race: The race for Champions League football (Top 3 plus 4th with an extra qualifier) is intense, and Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham and Southampton are all fighting for the remaining 3 spots (Chelsea is 13 points in the top 4 with a game in hand and they have 27 points up for grabs, the others have 24). Manchester United will benefit regardless of the result, as they are 1 behind Arsenal and would want to extend the gap between 4th and 5th so they can look up. Evidently, the United faithful would like to see Liverpool lose. Arsenal is chasing Manchester City, who has a tough trip to Selhurst Park against Alan Pardew’s Crystal Palace. A win could see the Gunners usurp the Citizens in the table. Lastly, Tottenham and Southampton would like to gain ground on Liverpool but would benefit mostly from a draw as they can gain on both teams and stay alive in the intense race.
Prediction: Arsenal is in superb form, while Liverpool’s confidence took a hit after losing so dramatically to Manchester United in one of the best derbies (between the two) in years. The Gunners’ most important player, Francis Coquelin, will face his biggest test yet since being promoted from the youth academy, and his ability to break up play may be questioned. If so, Coutinho, Lallana and Sterling will definitely expose the (slow) pace of Per Mertesacker in the Arsenal defence, and their through balls will rip the Arsenal defence. On the other side, Liverpool’s wingbacks are very weak defensively and can be exposed. Emre Can’s lack of experience at centre-half showed against Manchester United, and he is left terribly open on the counter.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-2 Liverpool; Goals, Coutinho, Henderson, Giroud (2); MOTM Coutinho
Coutinho’s individual brilliance will save Liverpool once again, effectively freezing the point difference between Arsenal and Liverpool for another week.