Venue: Emirates Stadium, 17:30
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Positions: Arsenal – 1st, Liverpool – 3rd
Current Form (all comps): Arsenal – DWLWL, Liverpool – LWWDW
Managers: Arsenal – Arsene Wenger, Liverpool – Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool and Arsenal lock horns this Saturday with both teams looking to consolidate their positions as current league leaders. If the two clubs have had a fairly kind fixture list so far then this game provides the acid test for two of the league’s most exciting teams. While the Gunners have benefited from the barely believable capture of the mercurial Mezut Ozil, Liverpool have thrived with the emergence of the league’s deadliest duo: Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez.
One of the key battles in this game will be between the Arsenal centre backs and Liverpool’s attacking pair. Per Mertersacker coped with Luis Suarez better than most defenders last year, but the German still couldn’t stop the Uruguayan from scoring during the early exchanges at the Emirates. Arsenal will also be without the resurgent Mathieu Flamini for this encounter with the Frenchman suffering with a groin problem – this could possibly leave the Arsenal back four vulnerable with the slightly less mobile Mikel Arteta and the offensive Aaron Ramsey looking to shore up the midfield (the Spaniard is available after serving his one match ban vs Chelsea during the midweek Capital One Cup clash).
Form wise, both teams are looking solid after losing jut one game each during the opening nine weeks of Premier League action – Arsenal lost to Aston Villa on the opening day and Liverpool were bowled over by Southampton at Anfield. However, this fixture is often kind to Arsenal with the London side losing just one of the last twelve fixtures.
Arsenal’s injury list reads significantly longer than Liverpool’s at this point in the season with casualties including Theo Walcott (abdominal surgery), Gnabry (knee), Sanogo (back), Mathieu Flamini (groin) and Lukas Podolski (hamstring). The Gunners have some long term absentees too in the shape of midfielders Abou Diaby and Oxlade-Chamberlain who are both suffering from serious knee injuries.
Whereas Arsenal have an injury list as long as your arm, Liverpool have a much healthier squad at present and that means Rodgers will have a selection headache ahead of the London clash. Joe Allen returned to the Liverpool squad during last weekend’s victory over West Brom – the Welsh midfielder played the final ten minutes of the 4-1 victory – but shouldn’t be expecting to start at the Emirates with match fitness still not up to scratch and Liverpool’s central midfield looking great against West Brom. More importantly for Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho is now available after minor shoulder surgery following the Reds 2-2 draw with Swansea during matchweek four. José Enrique remains sidelined with a knee complaint – meaning Aly Cissokho will continue to operate on the left hand side of the Reds defence. Coates remains Liverpool’s only long term absentee.
Wenger will be forced to change his midfield with Flamini’s absence, he could also recall Jack Wilshere (however, the midfielder is now a doubt for the game with an ankle injury) but the in form trio of Cazorla, Ramsey and Ozil will be difficult to break up meaning the young Englishman might have to play a deeper role – unless Ramsey is deemed the better defensive option. Formation: 4-2-3-1.
Arsenal: Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Ramsey – Cazorla, Ozil, Rosicky – Giroud
Expect Rodgers to stick to the same XI that beat West Brom last weekend. Formation: 3-5-2.
Liverpool: Mignolet – Toure, Skrtel, Sakho – Johnson, Gerrard, Henderson, Lucas, Cissokho – Sturridge, Suarez
I think I’m going to go for a draw between these two very talented and even sides. Both teams will be looking for the win but I think if you offered the two managers a draw they’d take it – so I’m so not sure it’ll be the open and flowing game we’re hoping for. I’ll say 1-1 with Suárez and Giroud on the scoresheet.
On Twitter: @UponTheSpionKop