The last time Arsenal took a trip to Anfield, they were thumped 5-1 as the Reds eyed a late coup for the English title.
But things are remarkably different this season in the absence of talismanic strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, with the Merseysiders dropping down to eleventh in the table, five points behind the visitors.
The Gunners boast a run of eight wins in their last twelve across all competitions, compared to the hosts’ five in their last fourteen. Likewise, Arsenal have scored two or more goals in five of their last six matches against the Reds, who are currently averaging 1.2 goals per game themselves, so it’s the London side who enter the fixture as the favourites.
That being said, matches of such magnitude are often decided by who dominates the individual battles, so with that in mind, here’s a list of FIVE that could determine the outcome on Sunday.
Following the shock decision to drop Liverpool No.1 Simon Mignolet for ‘an indefinite period‘ ahead of their Manchester United clash last Sunday, Brendan Rodgers has confirmed this afternoon that understudy Brad Jones will retain his place between the sticks against Arsenal.
The Anfield gaffer’s declining faith in the Belgium international is certainly understandable, having produced a catalogue of individual errors in recent weeks, including this atrocious pass against Chelsea:
And this blundered save in the Champions League:
Yet, Brad Jones is hardly an improvement. In fact, the hap-hazard Aussie, in my opinion, is a drastic downgrade.
Only Chelsea and Manchester City have averaged more shots on target per game than Arsenal this season:
So if they maintain that level of firepower against Liverpool, it’s likely the 31 year-old stand-in can be forced into the kind of errors his career has become synonymous with.
He certainly won’t be getting much help from Liverpool’s backline – they’ve committed the most defensive errors of any Premier League side this season and the second-most leading to goals:
With Mario Balotelli serving a one-match suspension for his social media fiasco, Daniel Sturridge still injured and Rickie Lambert seemingly unable to even bribe his way into the starting Xi at the moment, it’s likely Raheem Sterling will be utilised as an unorthodox centre-forward again on Sunday.
He didn’t have much luck in that role against Manchester United last weekend, with his four shots on target producing a flurry of exceptional saves from David De Gea.
But the 20 year-old recorded a brace against Bournemouth during the Capital One Cup’s midweek action – his first goals since September – and that will fill him with confidence ahead of the Arsenal affair.
Furthermore, Sterling will fancy his chances against Arsenal’s make-shift centre-back partnership of Per Mertesacker and Mathieu Debuchy, with Laurent Koscielny out injured until the end of the month.
Although highly-talented, Mertesacker is still amid a bit of a World Cup hangover following his triumphs with Germany, whilst the 6 foot 6 centre-half’s infamously limited mobility is something Sterling will feel more than capable of exploiting.
Thus, the 30 year-old will require constant cover from Debuchy to handle Liverpool’s most potent attacking threat this season – Sterling’s currently topping the Anfield charts for goals, assists, chances created and successful dribbles:
But a right-back by trade, positional mistakes from the France international seem almost inevitable.
It remains to be seen how Arsenal line up on Sunday, but with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott facing late fitness tests, logic suggests Alexis Sanchez will retain his role on the right side of an attacking midfield triplet, having provided two assists in that capacity against Newcastle last week.
That puts him up against Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno, either in a back four or as a left wing-back, and the Spain international might fancy his chances the Gunners’ £35million summer signing, having faced him on a plethora of occasions during their La Liga careers.
That being said, stopping the Chilean from influencing the scoreline on Sunday will be no easy task. He’s leading Arsenal’s charts in goals and assists this season:
Likewise, his impeccable industry, both with and without the ball, has endlessly terrorised countless Premier League defenders this season, so Moreno will have to be at the top of his game. Here’s a clip of Sanchez in action for the north Londoners:
Of course, this individual battle comes with an interesting sub-plot; Liverpool came close to signing the former Barcelona star this summer, before his eventual move to the Emirates.
Assuming Brendan Rodgers pursues in his 3-4-3 formation that produced Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth in midweek and Danny Welbeck retains his first team place for Arsenal, this looks set to be an incredible battle of physicality out wide.
Jordan Henderson and Danny Welbeck are top-class workhorses with enormous athletic ability and never-say-die attitudes, and they’ll both want utilise that to dominate the flank when opposing each other on Sunday.
There are certainly more notable stars in Arsenal and Liverpool’s line-ups and this indivudual battle may not have a huge influence on the match in tactical terms, but for the spectator it should be a more than enjoyable 90 minute watch, a real war of attrition, filled with feisty tackles and duels.
Furthermore, both England internationals are capable goalscorers, so a failure to adequately track each others’ runs could quickly impact the scoreline.
Santi Cazorla ran absolute riot against Newcastle last weekend, grabbing a brace from five efforts at goal – including this audacious penalty lob:
He’s returned to his No.10 role in the absence of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, and is proving far more effective in that capacity than his often indifferent performances out wide – the Spaniard’s ambidexterity gives him a huge advantage in central positions.
Meanwhile, tough-tackling Brazilian Lucas Levia missed out on Liverpool’s 3-0 win to Manchester United which, in my opinion, was a huge mistake on Brendan Rodgers’ part.
The 27 year-old has been nothing short of outstanding since recently returning to the Reds’ starting line-up, as shown below:
And I resultantly expect him to be back at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield against Arsenal. His priority job will be protecting that ever-unstable back four whilst keeping Cazorla’s threat contained as much as possible.
In addition however, he’ll need to provide the energy both offensively and defensively to compensate for Steven Gerrard’s waning stamina.