Red-hot Arsenal welcome Liverpool to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday for what could prove a decisive clash between two teams vying for the top four. The Gunners are in the in-form team in the Premier League at the moment, having won nine out of their last 10 matches. With the injury crisis of earlier in the season behind it, Arsenal has come on strong in the New Year. Striker Olivier Giroud is playing confidently and has knocked in nine goals in his last nine matches.
Mesut Ozil too has hit a good run of form since returning from injury. While still criticized for his seemingly languid style, it was recently revealed that the German playmaker regularly covers more ground during a game than any of his teammates. Ozil’s return seems to have brought out the best in Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard has been among the standout players in an Arsenal midfield that’s also been bolstered by the presence of Francis Coquelin who’s excelled as a midfield enforcer since being recalled from his loan spell.
Alexis Sanchez, who carried the team earlier in the season, has seen his influence wane somewhat recently. But it’s a testament to how far this team has come since the turn of the year that it hasn’t really mattered. At the moment, Arsenal just seem to keep on winning.
For this weekend’s clash, Arsene Wenger may also be able to call on Jack Wilshire for the first time since the midfielder injured his ankle back in November. Things bode well for Wenger’s side at the moment, which sits currently in third, just one point off Manchester City in second. It’s a pity the Gunners didn’t pick up a few extra points earlier in the season or they might really have been able to give Chelsea a run for its money in the run-up to the title.
Liverpool, on the other hand, is in something of a state of disarray at the moment. Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel are both suspended. The situation with unsettled striker Raheem Sterling has boiled over in a very public way. Sterling, who recently turned down a £100,000 a week contract offer, gave an interview this week in which he claimed he wasn’t interested in money and only wanted to win trophies and among other things, and was “quite flattered” by rumors of Arsenal wanting to sign him. His reluctance to sign has been seen to imply that perhaps Sterling doesn’t see Liverpool as being the place where he could win those trophies. Manager Brendan Rodgers has been forced to lay down a public ultimatum stating that the 20-year-old won’t be leaving the club this summer under any circumstances.
With Liverpool fans out of sorts over Sterling’s behavior this week, it’s a loaded situation for the player who’s brought down unnecessary pressure on himself and his club, right before a match that could potentially make or break Liverpool’s top-four ambitions this season. Unfortunately for Rodgers, with Daniel Sturridge likely sidelined by injury, he has almost no choice but to start Sterling against the club whose interest flatters him so.
Having won eight consecutive matches at home, Arsenal is the favorite to win Saturday. But cornered animals are the most dangerous. With their backs against the wall and the pressure on, Rodgers and Liverpool could still prove capable of pulling off an upset. Arsenal has improved its record against the top sides this season. But Wenger’s men have still occasionally stumbled at home when the big boys are in town, having lost to Manchester United at the Emirates earlier in the season and dropped points at home to City and Tottenham.
With traumatic memories of last season’s 5-1 loss at Anfield still lingering, Arsenal must not be overly-confident as it prepares to take on a Liverpool side that for all its current troubles, is still among the best in the Premiership.