Arsenal vs Liverpool | Saturday 04 April | Emirates Stadium | 13:45
The Premier League returns with a cracking contest as in-form Arsenal play host to a Liverpool side desperate to get back to winning ways. Brendan Rodgers has come under intense pressure and fan frustration is reaching boiling point. The Gunners boast a better recent head-to-head record against the Reds having lost just once in their last seven encounters, winning four times and drawing twice. However, their defeat at Anfield last season left a scar on Arsene Wenger’s heart as they were thumped 5-1. The Kopites will undoubtedly cherish putting five past the Gunners, but after drawing the reverse fixture 2-2 at Anfield, Arsenal will still feel they haven’t got their revenge and a victory here could possibly see Liverpool drop out of the race for Champions League qualification completely.
To Win (90mins)
Arsenal were recently booted out of this year’s Champions League, but they’re right on course for a qualifying spot in next year’s tournament. The Gunners have been on a terrific run in the Premier League, which has solidified their spot in the top four. They are currently on a six-match winning streak in the top flight and have closed the gap on second-placed Manchester City to just a single point, amid some whispers that they could emulate Liverpool from last season and throw up a surprise in the title race. Arsenal have a chance to prove themselves in the league this year, even if first place is out of reach. The team has fought well to battle back from a very poor run of injuries and remain within striking distance of the top of the table. They have done well to prove themselves against big teams this season, with remarkable wins against Manchester City and Manchester United. The Gunners are firing at the moment thanks to impressive collective displays and game-winning individual performances. Olivier Giroud in particular is on fire with eight goals in his last ten matches and was on the scoresheet in France’s 2-0 victory over Denmark. The Gunners can also point to a settled goalkeeper with David Ospina's performances relegating the dropping of regular number one Wojciech Szczesny to a minor side issue. Even Mesut Ozil has been living up to his £42m price-tag of late. Arsenal can open up a nine-point lead over fifth spot if they beat Liverpool at home. That's a Liverpool side they've lost against just once in their last six meetings. But a slip against the Merseyside club and Arsenal will suddenly find themselves desperately fighting for their top-four lives.
Liverpool’s own impressive run came to a crashing halt after a tough 2-1 home loss to Manchester United. It was the first time in 2015 that the Reds had lost a Premier League game and the first time they had lost in the league since United beat them 3-0 at Old Trafford. Liverpool had been on a tremendous run of form going into the game but they were soundly beaten by an impressive performance by United and a masterclass from Juan Mata, who scored two excellent goals. With five points to make up, the fifth-placed Reds are in desperate need of all three points at the Emirates to close the gap on those all-important Champions League places. But it will be a difficult task with Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard both banned for three games, while Daniel Sturridge has suffered another devastating injury blow that has ruled him out for a month.
Liverpool's injuries and suspensions threaten to derail a season teetering on the edge, but the string of bad luck doesn't have to be this team's grim reaper. With the right tactical selections, Rodgers can give his team a real shot at beating Arsenal and put Liverpool right back into the thick of things for a top four spot. Philippe Coutinho has pushed Liverpool towards a top-four place like no-one else has this season. The Brazilian is the spark from which the Reds’ season finally caught light and has taken on the talismanic mantel once held by Luis Suarez at Liverpool. The playmaker operates in a different area of the pitch to the Uruguayan, but nonetheless, he is the man bringing creativity and invention—not to mention a goal threat—to Rodgers’ side. With Sturridge injured, Rodgers may opt with Raheem Sterling up front or take a gamble on the ‘unpredictable’ Mario Balotelli who scored an outstanding goal in the Liverpool All-Star Charity Match last weekend. Sterling was also on the scoresheet in England’s 4-0 trouncing of Lithuania but pulled out of the Three Lions’ friendly with Italy on Tuesday after suffering a toe injury. It appears the injury is not as serious as speculated and Rodgers will be desperate to have Sterling fit and firing against Arsenal.
VERDICT: Arsenal 8/10
Arsenal thoroughly justify their status as favourites in this match, and their squad is full of confidence given their winning streak. Liverpool lack leadership on the pitch currently and this won’t be helped by the suspension of Gerrard. It will be difficult for the Reds to stop Giroud – who has scored in each of his last five games – especially with the absence of Skrtel. The Gunners have won ten of their fourteen matches at home, losing just once. I’m going for an Arsenal win at 8/10.