03 March 2017

Liverpool v Arsenal 03.04.17

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
4-3 Liverpool (a) 08.14.16
3-3 (h) 01.13.16
0-0 (a) 08.24.15
1-4 Arsenal (a) 04.04.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-3 Leicester (a); 2-0 Tottenham (h); 0-2 Hull (a)
Arsenal: 2-0 Sutton Utd (a); 1-5 Bayern (a); 2-0 Hull (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 11; Firmino 8; Lallana 7; Coutinho, Milner 6; Origi 4; Can, Wijnaldum 3; Lovren, Sturridge 2; Henderson, Matip 1
Arsenal: Alexis 17; Giroud, Walcott 8; Özil 5; Iwobi 3; Cazorla, Koscielny, Oxlade-Chamberlain 2; Chambers, Mustafi, Perez, Xhaka 1

Referee: Bobby Madley

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Mané Firmino Coutinho

So, are we still reactionary BURN IT ALL DOWN after last Monday's disaster or optimistic because hey it's Liverpool against someone decent and Liverpool at home and everything just might be alright again, at least for a week.

It can be both. Because Liverpool really are both.

In theory, it's not the match to ring changes. The squad's basically going to be the same as against Leicester. Henderson and Sturridge remain out, although Lovren's back in training and will hopefully be available. If not, please Klavan and not Lucas because Alexis Sanchez is pretty fast too.

Otherwise, we ain't seeing a formation switch. We ain't seeing Moreno at left-back or Milner in midfield or Origi up front. We will get the Liverpool personnel and formation we're used to, and hope that they perform as they've performed in these matches and on their ground rather than the Liverpool we got on Monday and for most of 2017.

There are no prizes for guessing where Arsenal sit in the table. Surprise! Yes, Arsenal are fourth, one point ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand. And it's February (edit: oh hell it's actually March), so Arsenal are Arsenaling.

They're on the verge of being knocked out of the Champions League. The top six are far better than they've been in recent seasons, and Arsenal's fourth-place trophy remains under serious threat despite their current league place. Wenger's under serious pressure, the rumors that this could be his last season thicker than usual.

Like Liverpool before Leicester, they've had an extended break, with no match last weekend because of Southampton's League Cup final. Which may lead to a similar rust that Liverpool suffered, but has also given them time to get players healthy. Koscielny, Ramsey, and Giroud are back in training after missing time. Elneny and Cazorla are still out injured, while Özil's questionable after a midweek illness.

There's only a couple of potential variations to the likely XI – Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Coquelin; Walcott, Özil, Iwobi; Alexis. Maybe Koscielny's not fit enough to start, meaning Gabriel or Mertesacker. The toughest guess in attack, because of Arsenal's options. Oxlade-Chamberlain could start centrally if Özil's unavailable, or on the flank for a more defensive option. Welbeck's finally ready to start matches after a long-term injury. Maybe Giroud plays up top as a long ball, set play, crossing option; sure, Arsenal don't really play that way but Liverpool sure are bad against it.

Liverpool currently have the best record against the other Top 6 sides, with four wins and four draws. Arsenal have the worst, with one win (over Chelsea back in September, Chelsea's last loss before switching to 3-4-3 and that massive unbeaten run), two draws, and three losses.

This seems Liverpool's ideal opposition at the ideal time, the ideal way to bounce back from Monday's calamity. A side that wants the ball and wants to play from the back and wants to go forward. A side whose full-backs leave space in behind and whose center-backs are prone to errors.

Liverpool have scored, early and often, in these types of matches, and you only have to go back to August to see how Liverpool's front three can take advantage of Arsenal's defensive set-up. You only have to go back two-and-a-half weeks to see how Arsenal can "defend" against a potent attack, starting strong against Bayern before collapsing and conceding four in the second half.

But Arsenal are also very good going forward, and we know what Liverpool's defense is capable of. Arsenal are battling their own demons and need the win as much as Liverpool.

Liverpool cannot be complacent. Complacency's punished the side against the "weaker" teams in the division and complacency hasn't been an issue against the stronger. But Liverpool also can't expect to suddenly turn it back on either. It ain't automatic. And Monday's demons still linger.

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