Arsenal: Alex Oxlade Chainberlain, Abou Diaby, Lukas Podolski & Yaya Sanogo - Out; Mathieu Flamini & Serge Gnabry - Doubtful
Liverpool: Iago Aspas, Sebastian Coates, Jose Enrique - Out; Philippe Coutinho - Doutbful
Arsenal vs Liverpool is one of the greatest fixtures the Premier League calender can throw up. There has been so many classic moments between the two sides, most noticeably: Arsenal winning the league from Liverpool's clutches - on the last day; Robbie Fowler's decimation of Arsenal; Robbie Fowler's decimation of Arsenal (repeated on purpose); Robbie Fowler telling the referee he dived; Micheal Owen stealing the FA Cup from the grasp of Arsenal; Thierry Henry single-handedly preserving the undefeated record; Andrey Arshavin single-handedly destroying Liverpool's hopes of winning the Premier League and last and most certainly least (albeit still exciting), the penalty-gate affair.
Tomorrow's game promises to be memorable one, if not a classic game. It has been a long time since both teams have gone into this fixture as title contenders, therefore logic would dictate that they would keep it narrow and tight - not these two - they do not know how to do so.
They both allow teams a decent amount of shots against them and consequentially concede a goal a game.
A counter argument is that both Arteta and Ramsey had Flamini around so they purposefully adventured forward, now that Flamini is gone one of them (most likely Arteta) will dutifully hang back. Whilst a strong argument, I would argue whoever hangs back is not doing their primary role and without adequate assistance (which would disrupt Arsenal flow of attack) they could be under siege from Liverpool counter attacks.
As explained in a previous article, the movement and skill of Liverpool's Sturridge and Suarez (SAS) is enough to trouble any defence and considering both Koscienly and Mertesacker rely far more on intercepting through balls than tackling, it could be a long day for the Arsenal if their protection does not do their job properly.
However, as I expect Arsenal to have the lion-share of possession, SAS will not have too many chances unless Arsenal's defence has a nightmare. Therefore, the problem that faces Brendan Rodgers is whether to go with Coutinho or Henderson. Coutinho would provide them with the added creativity needed to keep possession in tight spaces and spark chances for SAS. As you can see below, he is also brilliant at drawing out fouls which could led to Gerrard or Suarez getting their hands at free-kicks.
Nonetheless, with Henderson such a problem does not exist. Henderson thrives on percentage passes and as such does not lose the ball anywhere as frequently as Coutinho. Furthermore, with Arsenal likely to have more possession, Henderson will be needed in the middle if Liverpool are to avoid being overrun. Last week I predicted Liverpool would struggle to beat West Brom - in the end they ran out comfortable winners. Although SAS got the plaudits, Henderson was a major reason why they won. Yes, with Henderson they will be less creative, but considering: A) that has seldom stopped Liverpool scoring so far; B) Arsenal will allow they chances to score, I do not see it as a massive deal.
Given the benefits of Henderson playing outweigh the negatives, plus Coutinho's fitness, I would assume Rodgers will opt for Henderson - he is more of a necessity. Why? Well although on paper it seems as though Giroud will be boxed in by three center backs, Arsenal's attack is fluid and if Liverpool go with two in the middle, it is easy to see players getting sucked in. Furthermore, Emirates is a big pitch so going with two in the middle is not the wisest idea. By going with three less space is available and as Walcott is unlikely to play, Arsenal width is restricted.
Overall the match is evenly poised, though what could swing it is that one side has more injuries, played mid-week, has a Champions League match coming up and has shown one or two signs the fixture is getting too much for them. If you cannot guess who your football fan pass has been revoked by me.
Arsenal 1-2 Liverpool
*All statistics courtesy of WhoScored