Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Liverpool

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, November 2
1:30 p.m. EDT, 17:30 GMT
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Martin Atkinson
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Mick McDonough
    • 4th Official: Mike Jones
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 2 Liverpool
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 76 Arsenal wins, 82 Liverpool, 56 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-D-W-W
  • Liverpool's League Form: D-L-W-W-D-W
  • Weather: Light Rain, 11 C / 52 F
Well, this went poorly...
This season has been a roller coaster already and it's only two and a half months old. We've gone from the lowest of low starting points on opening day to the high of beating Tottenham followed quickly by the purchase of Mesut Ozil the following day. We've seen winning streaks and unbeaten streaks and a truly dominant performance in the Champions League against Napoli. We've seen Arsenal rip teams apart and we've also seen them squeak by through strong... I guess "mental strength" is the phrase I'm looking for.

But now, the test has well and truly begun.

Third place Liverpool (they'd have been second if City could have held Chelsea to a draw last weekend and not gone all stupid at the back) comes to town on Saturday evening and there is a massive amount riding on this match. Arsenal have lost two of three and the fixtures don't get any easier: Dortmund away, United at Old Trafford, an international break, then fifth place Southampton once they return from that break.

I consider it a blessing that the distraction of the League Cup is out of the way before the matches got serious; losing the tournament under worse circumstances could have really tested that mental strength we've heard so much about. Losing to the world's most expensive B-team does not mess with the psyche like losing on penalties to a League Two side would.

This is the biggest match of the season up to this point, easily. Three points would do wonders going forward. The feeling I'll have after a draw will really depend on the circumstances of how that draw was earned. A loss could be devastating.

Try not to be nervous. I'm talking to you, Arsenal, not just the fans.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Walcott (stomach,) Sanogo (back,) Podolski (hamstring,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee,) Diaby (knee)
Doubts: Flamini (groin,) Gnabry (ankle)

I don't think anyone predicted how important this guy was
going to be this summer. And yes, I'm referring to that bald
bloke making that face.
Mikel Arteta will return from suspension, but the biggest question mark for me is the health of Mathieu Flamini. It has become increasingly obvious of the past few weeks of just how important the Frenchman has been at shielding the defenders in the holding role. He could miss two or three weeks; Arsenal therefore need to have Aaron Ramsey play the Flamini role, which is fine, but we've seen Arsenal at their best this season when Ramsey has the freedom to push forward.

That could, however, be supplemented by the fact that Arsenal have an increasingly healthier trio of Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, and Mesut Ozil in the attacking midfield, while Olivier Giroud remains in the best form of his Arsenal career. This is good news, considering Arsenal's long-term injuries in attacking midfield (Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) are not yet ready for returns.

Meanwhile, there's no reason to change a thing at the back, something we all learned on Tuesday.

Predicted XI: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil, Giroud.

Liverpool Squad News

Out: Aspis (thigh,) Coates (knee)
Doubts: Coutinho (shoulder,) Enrique (knee)

This is the cover photo for their upcoming album.
Liverpool have potentially huge good news, as Philippe Coutinho might be back in contention after missing a month with a shoulder injury. Given the positive form of Liverpool over the past few weeks, however, I would be shocked if Coutinho started. Jose Enrique is in contention to return from a knee injury, though I suspect he'll start from the bench as well; Enrique has not played since October 5. Liverpool's long term injuries include Iago Aspis, out until December with a thigh injury, and Sebastian Coates, out for the season with an ACL injury.

In terms of formation, Liverpool play a 3-5-2 with three center backs, two wing-backs that are expected to get up and down the pitch, three midfielders, and a strike partnership, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, that has 14 combined goals this season. The formation is designed to attack, meaning there will be a lot of pressure on Arsenal's midfield to retain ball possession. While the formation is designed to attack, that of course means there is a little more weakness at the back; Liverpool have not kept a clean sheet since switching to the 3-5-2.

Predicted XI: Mignolet, Toure, Skrtel, Sakho, Johnson, Cissokho, Henderson, Leiva, Gerrard, Sturridge, Suarez.

Current Form

Who doesn't love a good "Arsenal in crisis" logo?
CLUB IN CRISIS! Arsenal have lost two of their last three games! EVERYONE PANIC! Never mind that the losses were to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea's fabulously expensive B-team. Tuesday's loss to crash out of the Capital One Cup was the first time Arsenal have been shut out this season. The last clean sheet kept against the Gunners was by Everton in a 0-0 draw on April 16. The last time Arsenal had lost two out of three, the losses were to Bayern Munich and Tottenham in early March, which was basically rock bottom before Arsenal rattled off an 11-match unbeaten run across all competitions to claim fourth.

Liverpool have enjoyed a surprisingly strong start to their season; they won their first three league matches before a 2-2 draw in Swansea and a 1-0 loss to Southampton (which is becoming increasingly clear might not have been a fluke.) After that loss, they crashed out of the League Cup against Manchester United, but have responded by winning three and drawing one of their last four. You could make the case that Liverpool's wins have not been against strong opponents, as Arsenal's haven't been. Yes, Liverpool beat United, but Arsenal beat Spurs. Aside from that, Liverpool's wins have been against Stoke, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, and West Brom. It's the manner with which they've been winning lately, however, that is scary. They hit three past Sunderland and Palace and four past West Brom. Their 17 league goals is good for third in the league, behind Manchester City's 21 and the 20 from, well... Arsenal.

Match Facts

Theo Walcott's goal gave Arsenal some hope against
Liverpool in this match last year, making it 2-1. Olivier
Giroud made it 2-2 three minutes later.
Arsenal took four out of a possible six points from Liverpool last year. Among Arsenal's league fixtures so far this season, this game is the first that they did not win last year. Arsenal came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Emirates on a midweek night in January just before the transfer window closed. Kieran Gibbs was injured during the match, Andre Santos deputized poorly, and Nacho Monreal was purchased from Malaga the next day. Luis Suarez opened the scoring through some poor Arsenal defense in the 5th minute and Jordan Henderson scored on the hour mark to make it look like three points for the visiting Reds, but then Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud each scored three minutes apart to level the score by the 67th minute. It was yet another instance last January, though, of Arsenal being nervous at the start of a match against a rival; they had previously lost to Manchester City and Chelsea that month by allowing early leads.

Arsenal have not beaten Liverpool at the Emirates in three tries, dating back to Abou Diaby's winner in a 1-0 victory on February 10, 2010, a midweek game I was conveniently able to watch because a massive snowstorm had shut down much of New York City. Since then, Arsenal have drawn 1-1 with Liverpool (when Emmanuel Eboue conceded a penalty in the 359th minute,) lost 2-0 (when Emmanuel Frimpong was sent off,) and drawn 2-2 last year, as explained above. That 2-0 game from August of 2011, however, is Liverpool's only win over Arsenal in their last 11 tries, dating back to the 2008 Champions League (when Kolo Toure conceded a penalty in the 359th minute.)

The Referee

"Look at my whistle. Isn't it shiny?"
The referee is West Yorkshire-based Martin Atkinson. Arsenal have already seen Atkinson once this year, in their 3-1 win at Sunderland in September. You may recall he controversially did not play advantage for Sunderland when Jozy Altidore was fouled by Bacary Sagna outside of the box; Altidore's equalizing goal that followed despite the whistle was called back, then Arsenal went on to score another to put the game to bed.

Arsenal have a bit of a mixed record on the whole with Atkinson, winning four out of seven games with Atkinson in the middle over the last two seasons.

Liverpool have also already seen Atkinson once this year, for their season opening 1-0 win over Stoke. Atkinson gave Stoke a penalty late in the game, only for Simon Mignolet to save it. Last year, for Liverpool, Atkinson took charge of their 1-1 draw at Sunderland, their 4-0 win at Wigan, and their 1-0 win over QPR at Anfield on the final day of the season.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Newcastle United v. Chelsea; St. James' Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Saturday: Fulham v. Manchester United; Craven Cottage, London
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Sunderland; KC Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Saturday: Manchester City v. Norwich City; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Saturday: Stoke City v. Southampton; Britannia Stadium, Stoke-on-Trent
  • Saturday: West Bromwich Albion v. Crystal Palace; The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Aston Villa; Boleyn Ground, London
  • Sunday (early): Everton v. Tottenham Hotspur; Goodison Park, Liverpool
  • Sunday (late): Cardiff City v. Swansea City; Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff