Arsenal will seek revenge when they meet Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday. Liverpool made a mockery of Arsenal’s status as Premier League leaders by handing out an emphatic 5-1 thrashing at Anfield last weekend. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger must now rebuild morale and belief before Saturday’s home meeting. Liverpool have won the FA cup on seven different occasions, the most recent against West Ham United, at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, in 2006 and Brendan Rodgers will be going all out to claim it as his first piece of silverware.
To Win (90mins)
Arsenal will look to bounce back to winning ways and a reliable team shape against Liverpool, but beyond that, Wenger will be looking to get safely through to the quarter-final and keep their key players fit. Wenger has maintained confidence in his Arsenal side all season, but this will now be their severest test after a defeat that was far more comprehensive than even the scoreline suggested. Santi Cazorla has been one of the Premier League’s best creative players since his move to North London from Spain. The Spaniard has created 33 chances for his team with 25 of these coming from open play. It is surprising then that only three of these have ended in assists for him. Due to the all-out attacking nature of Arsenal’s play, Cazorla has also chipped in with four goals of his own. The midfielder will be a major threat to Liverpool and has a good record against them.
It was widely publicised that Arsenal would struggle without adequate backup for Olivier Giroud and, as each game passes, the French striker is looking increasingly jaded. We may see Lukas Podolski return to the fold with the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failing to impress at Anfield. The Gunners will be relieved to welcome back Mathieu Flamini after serving a three-match suspension. Kim Kallstrom is still injured along with Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey, leaving Arsenal short of options to play in their midfield double-pivot. Per Mertesacker’s pairing with Laurent Koscielny has blossomed into one of England’s best partnerships. However, they lacked communication and looked sluggish at the back against the Reds and that may see Thomas Vermaelen return to the starting line up if he can pass a fitness test. The FA Cup isn’t a distraction or an annoyance, but it’s certainly come at a less than helpful moment for the Gunners.
Liverpool swept away the Gunners in exactly the same manner as Everton were beaten at Anfield, in a storm of speed, pressing and deadly finishing that is a testimony to the growing threat of Brendan Rodgers’ team. Liverpool have scored more goals from set pieces (including penalties) than any other Premier League side this season. More than a third of the Reds’ 63 league goals this season have come from set pieces. By contrast, they have conceded seven goals from set pieces of their thirty goals against, and that’s not counting penalties. Week by week, Steven Gerrard continues to provide strong evidence that he is the Premier League’s finest set piece taker; two assists against the Gunners last weekend won’t have done that reputation any harm.
Brendan Rodgers has deployed a fluid 4-2-3-1 system in recent games, partly due to his hand being forced by injuries to Lucas and Joe Allen, with Philippe Coutinho operating as a floating number ten behind the frontmen. While the Brazilian is probably at his most effective in this position, playing him there does slightly compromise midfield solidity, an area of the field which is vital against Arsenal. Bringing in Allen would allow Rodgers to switch to a more compact 4-3-3; the formation which was so successful in the Reds’ 5-0 demolition of Tottenham in December – Allen alongside Jordan Henderson, in front of a sitting Steven Gerrard. The tenacity of the central pairing would shield Gerrard and allow him to dictate play from deep. In team news, Liverpool will be boosted by the availability of experienced defenders Daniel Agger, Glen Johnson, and Mamadou Sakho while Lucas Leiva and Jose Enrique are the only absentees.
VERDICT: Liverpool 2/1
Arsenal are expected to make wholesale changes to their squad that were well beaten by Liverpool with Bayern Munich in mind for next week Wednesday. The Reds, who are fortunate not to be involved in European competitions, can afford to play their stars and that will certainly work in their favour. The away side is tipped.